Social networks and mind games: ethical concerns and ideas for proper usage
It is true that if we use social networks, we are the product.
Social network that want to push us advertisement need to learn more about us, what we like and what we do not like. They will push products, and now even news, and they will influence us on our decisions. As some colleagues say, “we are the product”.
“Being the product” is good if you want to get more of what you like. Social networks will read your personality and give you more of what you seek, and maybe do not know it exists. It may help you to find more news and products you care about. This is beneficial as it can save you time from searching or learning something new.
But in order to push you information, social networks build a model of you, based on your data. A statistical model of what you like and do not like. They can thus show you more products and news, and you will be tipped to consume more of such product and information — there are many studies on this. You may spend more, and maybe be pushed a bad products, usually not, as products come with reviews and feedback from other humans.
News, on the other hand, cannot be tried and evaluated like a product. We consume them instantly from titles and short sentences in social networks, sometimes even bypassing the actual content of a larger set of information.
We do not read
We instead rely on our network to trust the information, and we often absorb it whethere it is real or not. We just do nto spend the time to check every fact, and we are getting a lot of facts with social network, more than we can consume and more that we can evaluate and validate.
These news get in our heads
Ideally the social network only passes us true and verified information. But how can it do that? Humans are required to validate information, and humans have bias.
Human bias twists the information
All media have human bias, and it is the culture of a media channel that decides what the bias is and how much bias is added.
Then there is fake news
Fake information created for the purpose of manipulating people’s mind is unethical. But what is the difference between extreme bias and fabrication of information? How can we draw the line? We all know the may be one truth, but we also all know that there are many points of view of the same truth. Each one of us adds a bias. A pedestrian was hit by a car. Was it the pedestrian fault to walk at night with no lights? Or was it the car driver fault not noticing the pedestrian?
We have all been fooled by fake news, often because we did not read all the information, or we did not verify its source, or because it told us something we wanted to read. As this reference says:
“consumers face a tradeoff: they have a private incentive to consume precise and unbiased news, but they also receive psychological utility from confirmatory news”
Regardless of the motive of why fake news is instilled in social network, we consumers need to pay more attention to sources and spend more time validating facts. The social network cannot possibly validate facts, because there is too much information flowing through the platform and not enough automated tools to do this. We yet do not have machine intelligence to verify news and information sources reliably. Social networks and all us free-speech advocates do not want, of course, to filter information, so we cannot afford to have imperfect machine intelligence tools to filter information. We need these tools to be at least a bit better than human-based filtering.
And then there is the echo chamber
Your social network also biases you towards people like you, removing you with potentially enriching dialogue with people that are not like your circle and have different ideas from you. Unlike the real world in social network you can carefully draft your circles, and this be more prone to this potential negative effect of living in isolated bubbles with less communication.
social networks can isolate as much as the can connect
Your data is thus important to you and social network to give you more of what you seek, but it also has to be protected, so we do not give social network and other parties the ability to control your mind.
As many others predict, these problems will only increase. One reason is that
algorithms that use your data are still not very good
Many people like myself and my group work on intelligent algorithms to mine and analyze data. And the machine intelligence revolution has just started, yet our tools are most likely very crude. Often deep learning algorithms based on neural networks have provided super-human abilities in focused tasks, examples: one, two, three, etc. But in other tasks, as for example behavior analysis, video understanding, action recognition, understanding of text and video — we are still in infancy.
As algorithms and intelligent learning machines become more powerful, placed in the hands of the wrong people, they will be able to create fake content, images, videos that will be hard for us humans to validate and verify. As intelligent algorithms have more information about us, they will be able to create better and better model to fool us. They will play a reinforcement game with us, trying on purpose to fool us and drive our decisions. We may not be in control of our own future. We may be brainwashed just like we can be from a fellow human con artist. Or even worse, these algorithm will evolve super-human ability to control our minds.
Ideas for improvements
If you want to use social media and protect your mind from brainwashing, we suggest:
- read all the information, not just the titles
- as yourself, where does this information come from? Can it be trusted?
- limit the information you allow social media to use
- ask for rules and regulation protecting our data
- ask for regulations that set the data sharing to zero, so you can be in control of how much you want to share, not a default option
- bring down the mightiest hammer on industry that abuse your data
- teach ethics of social information to all people you can interact with
- talk and learn about these issues — we all need to learn more
- verify all sources of information
- be aware of the bias that media sources come with, and allow multiple sources to affect your final understanding of information
- do not rely on one source alone, use as many as possible
- do not rely on friends and family to send you real information, always verify it yourself and correct them
- teach friends and family ethical issues, that it is not ok to share fake news, and teach them about bias
- protect your friends and social network: use the more conservative setting to prevent others to obtain information about your network
- be aware reading anything affects your mind
- be aware of our human biases that look for confirmation in thing we already believe in
- be aware many things we already believe in may be fake or unreal
- remember our human mind is imperfect and designed to live on the emotional space rather than the factual space
- constrain your emotions when they collide with reality
- read all you can on a topic before forming permanent biases
- make a priority list of issues dear to you, and learn them one by one in depth
- do not read little of too many topics, be more of an expert in at least some
- in topics you are an expert, serve as judge for quality of information
- in topics you are not versed, be curios and avoid quick sentiments
- be human, but also be smart
This list will grow..
good luck to us