15 Oct

Govor s panela “Not only Cambridge Analytica. Manipulations in the Information Space”

Nedavno sam bio pozvan na panel na Ekonomskom forumu u Poljskoj koji se bavio tematikama vezanim uz obranu i sigurnost.  Ime panela je bilo; Not only Cambridge Analytica. Manipulations in the Information Space. U daljnjem tekstu prenosim govor u cijelosti

Povezana slika


Slika 1 – Conceptual map of various BSD/SBD interpretations in the related literature. (ref)

“Besides electrical engineering theory of the transmission of messages, there is a larger field [cybernetics] which includes not only the study of language but the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society…” — Norbert Wiener, In Cybernetics (1948)

Thoughts on the topic by Sergej Lugović

First of all I would like to comment on the introduction text to the panel. We have to be clear about what we are talking about. There is a difference between social media and social networks.

Before going to the deeper analysis of the issues we are facing, we have to clarify lenses used to observe phenomena. In the context of social media we can separate it into three different levels, user perception of information, how people communicate and how they cooperate based on social media. For example the questions that arise are; what is the level of trust toward social media information sources, how do people check facts about data that is retrieved and so on. Another set of questions related to the communications that can be asked are; which social media platforms do people use for certain tasks, what the messages sent between agents convey, who is communicating with whom, and what is the capacity of the communication channels and so on. And then we are coming to the cooperation level, where we can ask questions on how people actually act when using these platforms and by doing so change the environment they operate.

In my view problem is that people actually act less, but at the same time spent more time on the social media. I would like to give a recent example. One small farmer in Croatia recently posted on his Facebook wall about his legal case with the government. In the post he criticized the government, but did not mention why he had problems with them. Hundreds of comments were posted, and the post reached 550,000 views, everybody was an “expert” in the law, agriculture and business and was sharing their expertise in the comments – but the question is how many of those “experts” actually bought his products. If only a portion of them bought his product – he will be out of his financial problem in just a day.

Another interesting indicator is related to the dollar value of the time people spent on Facebook. FB has 2,3 billion users, that spend 50 minutes a day on it, multiplied by 365 days and multiplied by global average income of 8,3 PPP[1] dollars per hour.

This comes to 5,6 trillions of PPP dollars. Total EU GDP is around 22 trillion, Poland is about 1,1 trillion and Germany is around 4,5 trillion.

The thoughts above are related to the analysis that place a user in the central point of the observation. It is important that we are aware of another analytical perspective – the information system perspective, in which we look on social media as an information system (consisting of social, technology and information artifacts). In my view this is more appropriate question to ask.

First of all social media as information systems are more open and adaptive then classical information systems that we use in our daily operations. By being as such they are more advanced and powerful, but with power comes responsibility but also attraction to it. This is the reason some governments are trying to control social media platforms (without much of success) or use them in fulfilling their agenda. Usually in a discourse we are finding finger pointing toward developing countries governments, but the case I like to use is of ZunZuneo – a Cuban social network developed by US agencies with an aim to oppose communist system in Cuba.

A recent example that related to the events in Chemnitz where a messenger service owned by Facebook was used to distribute the photo of an arrest warrant. As it consists of information (photo), technology (WhatsApp) and social (people involved) – it is an information system in a true sense.

Here we can ask the question; if this is illegal content then is Facebook responsible for allowing its distribution? Silk Road was also just a platform.

This shift from classical social media (or information systems) toward the messengers and primary non text social media such as Youtube and Instagram calls for new types of social media listening paradigm, that we are calling Social Media Listening 2.0. Under such a paradigm quantitative methods are not enough, as we still do not have access to computing power that could analyze large amounts of multimedia content. Also as messengers are more closed in terms of machine based data collections (such as Twitter or FB API’s) digital anthropology methods should be applied to collect data.

Because of their complexity such information systems are called Ultra Large Systems in which users are not just users but are elements of such a systems and data are collected from the users and the systems interaction features open possibilities to manipulate those interactions. It’s done by implementing mechanisms that enable such a information systems to be adaptive. The problem with this mechanism are the motives and goals behind the operations they perform. An example is the recent US election. Advertisers used the implemented advertising mechanisms in Facebook to manipulate the voters and those mechanisms are fed by data about the users activities on the Facebook. At the other side being able to use the same advertising system is very valuable for a business trying to reach their customers more efficiently then through classical media channels.

So now to come back to the question this panel is considering, I will say that its not about the avoiding the risk of social media in terms of manipulation, but about accepting those risks and using different available methods to manage risks. It’s all about acceptance but not avoidance, because avoidance will mean no actions. Control and communication always go together and manipulation is an essential attribute to it. But understanding and accepting risks is the name of the game and makes the world better place.


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