elasto wrote:It's certainly true that, say, peoples' Facebook feeds can be turned into echo chambers...
That's not what I'm referring to. Let me cook up an (admittedly cartoonish) example.
The Mustard Gazette is a news delivery entity - what we used to know as a newspaper, but it has a website, apps, and all the acoutriments of what now passes for a modern "journalistic" enterprise. It is not in business to inform, or to educate, or to guide people. It's in business to make money, just like newspapers were in the old days. It makes most of its money by selling ads on their website, and to make the most money it needs lots of people to keep coming back to read its articles. In the old days, good old sensationalism worked: "If it bleeds, it leads." It still works, but more subtlely.
Some piece of news comes out: it turns out that the president's wife was once an illegal alien who did nude modeling. So, the journalists do the research, discover some interesting tidbits, some interesting background, do some analysis, and write "an" article. But it's umwelt time; the article is actually done in a software-rewritable way (of which there are several, the details of which are not really relevant).
Fred, whose profile indicates that he's influenced by emotional appeals, has little tolerance for analysis, likes primary colors, eats beef, owns three guns, and has only a high school education, clicks on the news feed and sees:"Shocking nude photo shoot in the Oval Office!"
The article has lots of pictures and speculates about the West Wing being turned into a bordello.
Audrey's profile indicates that she's an engineer by trade, an artist by avocation, has done archery but not recently, enjoys the culinary arts, and is drawn to pastels, but most importantly, immigrated from Norway. She sees (in the exact same space) the headline:"Evidence shows president may have cheated on federal work visa program"
The article has one photo, of the form in question, a graphic timeline of events, mentions the photo shoot (which took place in Serbia, before she was married but while she was dating the man who is now in the White House), and has a sidebar about the perception of nudity in various relevant countries and eras.
Intrigued, Audrey sends the link to her friend George, whose profile indicates that he lives in DC, is vegetarian, gay, and athiest. He never sees the headline in the link, but the article has the headline:Sex and the White House - the end of basic human decency?
It deals with the impact of objectifying women in the White House, and the reaction of several Senators railing against the destruction of family values.It's the same article, being rewritten by software for the individual that is receiving it.
In each case, the article is written in a manner that will most likely get the recipient to click some more. But in doing so, as a side effect
, it polarizes the perception of the event. This polarization alters the political backdrop and paves the way for some really dangerous hate mongers to succeed politically where they would not have otherwise had a chance.
Now, this example is a cartoon, but the rewriting can be as subtle as active vs. passive tenses, the inclusion or omission of weasel words, substituting paraphrases for quotes... whatever it takes to get people to respond the way the website is looking for.
This massive surveillance by advertisers, and the subsequent misuse of the data, is extremely dangerous
; this is not to be minimized by talking about targeted advertising. Stuff may be customized for
you, but it is not for your benefit
. It is for the benefit of the advertisers and the content providers, not you. And the fallout is extremely toxic and long lived.
elasto wrote:If I believe that it's moral for me to look at advertising in order to fund websites...
... then you can go ahead and look at advertisements. But by supporting a model that sees theft of privacy
as a moral right, you are backing a huge and insidious transfer of autonomy away from the individual and towards the data corporations.
elasto wrote:If you think that the very concept of advertising itself is immoral...
I don't. What is Wrong is the concept that theft of privacy is a moral right
of content providers. These individual transactions, each small in itself, ultimately pollute the information space of the minds of the citizens, using the internet as the medium. It's a form of pollution even more insidious than lead paint or tailpipe emissions. It strikes at the very heart of our ability to make our own decisions in anything but a nominal manner.