If deception is the real enemy of trust, then it’s getting harder and harder to spot…

Just a quick share dump, with a few links on the new age of digital politics. The relate to the hype about what the internet can do and what it cannot. First, that story about Facebook likes getting used (on an industrial scale) for cleverly segmented marketing:

Cambridge Analytica has marketed itself as classifying voters using five personality traits known as OCEAN — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism — the same model used by University of Cambridge researchers for in-house, non-commercial research.

The question of whether OCEAN made a difference in the presidential election remains unanswered. Some have argued that big data analytics is

Some have argued that big data analytics is a magic bullet for drilling into the psychology of individual voters; others are more skeptical. The predictive power of Facebook likes is not in dispute. A 2013 study by three of Kogan’s former colleagues at the University of Cambridge showed that likes alone could predict race with 95 percent accuracy and political party with 85 percent accuracy.

Less clear is their power as a tool for targeted persuasion; Cambridge Analytica has claimed that OCEAN scores can be used to drive voter and consumer behavior through “microtargeting,” meaning narrowly tailored messages.

Nix has said that neurotic voters tend to be moved by “rational and fear-based” arguments, while introverted, agreeable voters are more susceptible to “tradition and habits and family and community.”

Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center at Arizona State University, said he was skeptical of the idea that the Trump campaign got a decisive edge from data analytics. But, he added, such techniques will likely become more effective in the future. “It’s reasonable to believe that sooner or later, we’re going to see

“It’s reasonable to believe that sooner or later, we’re going to see widespread manipulation of people’s decision-making, including in elections, in ways that are more widespread and granular, but even less detectable than today,” he wrote in an email.

It’s not just in politics that these new digital monopolies are getting used to manage behaviours:

To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals — alerting them that they are ever so close to hitting a precious target when they try to log off.

It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. In Uber’s case, this means sending drivers their next fare opportunity before their current ride is even over.

And most of this happens without giving off a whiff of coercion.

“We show drivers areas of high demand or incentivize them to drive more,” said Michael Amodeo, an Uber spokesman. “But any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button — the decision whether or not to drive is 100 percent theirs.”

Uber’s recent emphasis on drivers is no accident. As problems have mounted at the company, from an allegation of sexual harassment in its offices to revelations that it created a tool to deliberately evade regulatory scrutiny, Uber has made softening its posture toward drivers a litmus test of its ability to become a better corporate citizen.

The tension was particularly evident after its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, engaged in a heated argument with a driver that was captured in a viral video obtained by Bloomberg and that prompted an abject apology.

But an examination by The New York Times found that Uber is continuing apace in its struggle to wield the upper hand with drivers.

And as so-called platform-mediated work like driving for Uber increasingly becomes the way people make a living, the company’s example illustrates that pulling psychological levers may eventually become the reigning approach to managing the American worker.

But hold the paranoia. The flip side is the hysteria that comes when algorithms displace human editors/managers/gatekeepers. On Fake News, the Tablet magazine shows that some liberals who protest most loudly about Trump’s transgressions are retaliating in kind:

Since the phenomenon captured public imagination in the wake of Trump’s victory, the term “fake news” has evolved from describing the product of websites deliberately pushing false stories, hoaxes and conspiracy theories to now include pretty much any claim of dubious nature.

Robbed of its original and specific meaning, “fake news” is now used, often sarcastically, to describe any piece of information that someone doesn’t like. For instance, perhaps the greatest-ever beneficiary of fake news—the 45th President of the United States—now regularly calls CNN “fake news.” So too did former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon label as “fake news” press reports damaging his hopes to become president of South Korea.

Knowingly telling a falsehood used to be called “lying.” Depending on your point of view, that’s most likely what Trita Parsi, the Iranian regime’s most suave dissembler in the West, did when he tweeted, in regard to the Trump administration’s executive order establishing restrictions on travel into the United States by citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (which happen to be the same seven countries singled out as potential terror threats by President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security), that green-card holders were being “asked their views on Trump” by customs officials at airports over the weekend.

Like many Trump administration critics, Parsi falsely claimed that the executive order amounts to a “Muslim ban,” when the most populous Muslim countries, like Indonesia and Pakistan, are not affected by it at all. Parsi repeated his claim regarding political litmus interrogations on MSNBC, and it was picked up by The Guardian, neither of which bothered to confirm his claims independently.

As journalists get paid less and their are fewer of them, so too does the quality of the product go down, and journalism enters a rabbit hole era where it’s constantly chasing its own relativistic tail.

Joe Brewer (@cognitivepolicy), writing on Facebook this evening noted this:

…the most essential overlooked problem on Earth today is the INABILITY TO DISCERN what is going on in the midst of painful upheavals and social turmoil. The world is too complex and the misinformation campaigns too sophisticated for most people to understand what is really going on.

These are all byproducts of what some glibly call the democratisation of public voice. Some of Onora O’Neill’s insights from her 2002Reith lectures were remarkably acute/prescient:

…high enthusiasm for ever more complete openness and transparency has done little to build or restore public trust. On the contrary, trust seemingly has receded as transparency has advanced. Perhaps on reflection we should not be wholly surprised.

It is quite clear that the very technologies that spread information so easily and efficiently are every bit as good at spreading misinformation and disinformation. Some sorts of openness and transparency may be bad for trust.

She goes on to point out that honest mistakes are far less morally harmful to society than deception:

…deception is the real enemy of trust. Deception is not just a matter of getting things wrong. It can be pretty irritating to be misled by somebody’s honest mistake, but it is not nearly as bad as being their dupe.

Deceivers mislead intentionally, and it is because their falsehood is deliberate, and because it implies a deliberate intention to undermine, damage or distort others’ plans and their capacities to act, that it damages trust and future relationships.

Deception is not a minor or a marginal moral failure. Deceivers do not treat others as moral equals; they exempt themselves from obligations that they rely on others to live up to.

Deception lies at the heart of many serious crimes, including fraud and embezzlement, impersonation and obtaining goods by false pretences, forgery and counterfeiting, perjury and spying, smuggling and false accounting, slander and libel. [Emphasis added]

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Brian Walker

    My very cautious conclusion is that liberal society is doing a pretty good job at finding ways through the maze. Paradoxically Trump is a great help. He provides a focus for so many interconnecting themes: fake news, wikileaks, Russian connections, big data and the global Facebooks, Googles.
    There is still a canon of quality, just about, in the democratic institutions. Different disciplines and areas of expertise are now participating in what used to be called the political debate. Few people can take it all in, but somehow we’re just about keeping up- although we can’t be sure what’s going to happen next. We’re stiil living through the effects of the great crash.

    The tradtional virtues of integrity and evidence- based analysis are as relevant as ever, as we struggle to understand new languages and ideas which can land on our screens almost without warning.

  • mickfealty

    What journos do (and the scale of the loss in capacity is a big problem here) is provide resonance and narrative framing. Now, that’s much more being handled by the marketers and PR folks.

    You’re right to play it down (Dan Gillmour’s quote is masterly and instructive above in this regard), since loss of faith is almost an instruction from these digital Svengalis.

    Totally agree re Trump. Like peeling an onion there are layers to this that just go on and on. Business of democracy is endless and probably should be exhausting.

  • Korhomme

    Two further examples from the weekend.

    Firstly, from the ‘Telegraph’


    We’re told that Celsius is less accurate than Fahrenheit. Perhaps the “thinking” is that as there are 180 Fahrenheit degrees between water freezing and boiling, but only 100 Celsius degrees, temperature can be better expressed in Fahrenheit. You might wonder if the writer had never heard of the decimal point. A moment’s reflection shows his assertion to be nonsense.

    He also wants the return of imperial units; he neglects to mention that the UK Metrication Board began work long before 1973. Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention a preference for £sd compared to decimal currency; perhaps he remembers that this, too, predates 1973.

    Secondly, an undercover reporter from the Irish edition of ‘The Times’ went to a Dublin clinic which professed to offer advice about abortions. She secretly recorded the encounter. She was told, amongst other things, that the risk of breast cancer decreased continuously during pregnancy up to term. The video is here:

    This is a variant on the old ‘abortion causes breast cancer’ story common in the US. So ingrained did this become, that it was researched from the data from thousands of women, and the unsurprising conclusion was that there is no risk of breast cancer from abortion. Pro-life anti-abortionists have a long history of dissimulation when it comes to such facts, where ‘dissimulation’ means lies.

    A piece of non-fake news was that during a debate in Belfast Council on protection for women attending a health clinic, three SDLP councillors did not vote to support the motion.

  • Korhomme

    One problem is the lack of scientific awareness among journalists; not from want of trying, but based on their educational background. Often it seems that journalists and writers merely repeat what a handout tells them without much if any enquiry. Thus, Simon Heffer in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ can tell us that Fahrenheit is ‘more accurate’ than Celsius. (See above.)

    One of my many bêtes noir is the story of Samuel Pepys and his operation for ‘gallstones’. This first occurs in a biography of either Wren or Hooke, I forget which, and is frequently uncritically repeated by people who really ought to know better. Pepys had an operation, it’s true, and it was an operation for ‘stone’, but the stone was in the urinary bladder not the gallbladder; it’s the operation referred to in the Hippocratic Oath.

  • mickfealty

    I retweeted that last one. Ouch!!

  • Korhomme

    Meanwhile, we have moved on; even the Prime Minister is involved in the row about the National Trust, Cadbury’s and Easter eggs.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick,As far as i can see, the ” debate” is being framed by much more than journos and marketing. It depends on which debate you’re paying attention to. Two thoughts help me, One the blessed absence of a dominant ideology you have to take trouble to refute. And two,harking back to the warning against dividing ideas into Two Cultures in my youth, to guard against the development of not two, but many cultures which fail to communicate with each other, The huge expansion of applied and analytical academia in the public and private sectors is having a huge transformative power. which eventually gets transmitted. Scepticism, evidence, peer group review and a free and lively public sphere are more important than ever.

  • Brian Walker

    The lesson.. don’t believe everything you read?.. and yes, very few journos are scientifically literate or decently numerate. Guilty your honor as a victim of the two cultures split. But I can respect what I don’t properly understand. We all have enough learning to do that.
    Simon is really good at imperial history..

  • Oggins

    It was a crazy news story, couldn’t, but then could believe when i heard more

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    I imagine the Joseph Goebbels would feel completely at home in the present. But it all comes down to common sense regarding what is plausible, and awareness of your own prejudice. The latter quality is of course reasonably rare, and awareness is not the same as putting the awareness into effect – sometimes partisan motivation trumps awareness.

    One man’s ‘freedom fighter’ is another man’s ‘terrorist’. However, I prefer “war is the battle of the rich against the poor – terrorism is the battle of the poor against the rich’

  • Oggins


    Found this funny at the time, but alarm that the journo didn’t do the necessary research

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “What journo’s do” is generally outlined very plainly by ‘Media Lens’ and sometimes ‘Sodium Haze’ and ‘Dissident Voice’.
    ( http://www.medialens.org. http://www.sodiumhaze.org. http://dissidentvoice.org. )

    No aspersions are neccesarily being made re this site, which I find to be probably the most lively news site in the British Isles – I wish we had something similar to it in Scotland. But also, I think that even here there are, quite obviously, particular axes being ground. Even the sites I mentioned above have a viewpoint – this is impossible to avoid. However, constant awareness of your bias is supremely important if your journalism is going to make worthwhile reading.

  • aquifer

    The use of firearms and explosives in modern cities against civilians is armed blackmail, often by people who have lost their argument. Terrorism uses fear as a weapon, often against their host population first, to enforce compliance.

    There are too many versions of the one true way to admit terrorism as fair when other means of persuasion are open, otherwise we risk mass murder.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yes. Violence is failure. Sometimes however, it is the only option left when the people in power are using violence first, and refuse to listen to any alternative. These occasions are of course not common, but they exist.

  • Nevin

    “trust seemingly has receded as transparency has advanced”

    The information content of minutes has also shrunk as decision makers have attempted to evade scrutiny in the wake of the Freedom of Information Act. I’m sometimes offered a telephone number should I have any further queries – but that would leave a gap in the paper trail!

    During the course of the Drumcree debacle in 1996 the BBC was complicit in spreading misinformation and disinformation. This can be a very serious issue as the wrong folk can get blamed and there can also be fall-out and over-reaction.