We all know what happened in 2015-2016.
Our personal information — our “profiles” — were bought and sold, not just for advertising, but for political gain. Like the episode in The Twilight Zone pictured above, something we think of as a service for our benefit (social media) turned out to have ulterior motives behind it (data collection and sale).
What kind of manipulation will the internet bring in 2019, with elections coming? How will consumers be consumed?
To be sure, there’s a big baby of good in the bathwater of the internet. We may decide some exchanges are worth the cost. Free service for exposure to ads is an example. We’ve been making that trade for decades. More concerning is the new and hidden level of advertiser access, which isn’t just one way (sending ads to our device) but two-way (sending ads and collecting data). Because that’s not a trade we’re making consciously, it doesn’t feel right.
The extent of quiet intrusion has been surprising, and mentioned in various news reports. Now that we know, what do we do?
Humans are great at fooling ourselves, so we have to watch out for “I’m not affected by propaganda, not me!” thinking. We are affected by propaganda. We are gullible, and need to guard against appeals to our own prejudices.
More we all can do toward a more accurate internet:
- Use your dollars. If the market shows that people value privacy, companies will follow suit.
- Don’t click on links to websites you’ve never heard of. CNN, NPR, or the Wall Street Journal are going to take responsibility for their reporting. Thousands of other “news” websites exist just to draw clicks. Don’t get lured in.
- Avoid forwarding lurid, extreme news. Whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on, it’s giddy to imagine that the other side is committing crimes so foul they’ll be jailed for life. But that rarely happens. Reputable reporters (see above) will discover and describe crimes more accurately than clickbait creators.
- If a friend or relative sends out irresponsible headlines, consider having a gentle word. Funny memes are one thing, stories that pretend to be news are a step beyond.
- You vote with your mouse. You define yourself and your community — even, in a way, humans as a species! — with your clicks. If you’d like to see better quality stories, don’t click on the shallow ones.
- Use incognito web browsing, but do recognize its limitations.
- Support the good guys on the internet. Donate to Wikipedia. Subscribe to legitimate online newspapers and magazine.
- Use the controls available to you: Check your browser’s privacy settings. Use Facebook’s and Google’s settings.
- Support legislation like the Honest Ads Act. Fight back when internet companies protest that their usage policies are easy, obvious, or even a choice (what if you *don’t* agree with Facebook’s privacy agreement? It’s not negotiable, and the service has no real competitors.)