Tag Archives: Social networks

Do social media algorithms erode our ability to make decisions freely?

Social media algorithms, artificial intelligence, and our own genetics are among the factors influencing us beyond our awareness. This raises an ancient question: do we have control over our own lives? This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the science of free will.
By Lewis Mitchell and James Bagrow – Have you ever watched a video or movie because YouTube or Netflix recommended it to you? Or added a friend on Facebook from the list of “people you may know”?

And how does Twitter decide which tweets to show you at the top of your feed?

These platforms are driven by algorithms, which rank and recommend content for us based on our data.

As Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, Boston, explains:

If you want to know when social media companies are trying to manipulate you into disclosing information or engaging more, the answer is always.

So if we are making decisions based on what’s shown to us by these algorithms, what does that mean for our ability to make decisions freely?

An algorithm is a digital recipe: a list of rules for achieving an outcome, using a set of ingredients. Usually, for tech companies, that outcome is to make money by convincing us to buy something or keeping us scrolling in order to show us more advertisements.

The ingredients used are the data we provide through our actions online – knowingly or otherwise. Every time you like a post, watch a video, or buy something, you provide data that can be used to make predictions about your next move.

These algorithms can influence us, even if we’re not aware of it. As the New York Times’ Rabbit Hole podcast explores, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms can drive viewers to increasingly extreme content, potentially leading to online radicalization.

Facebook’s News Feed algorithm ranks content to keep us engaged on the platform. It can produce a phenomenon called “emotional contagion”, in which seeing positive posts leads us to write positive posts ourselves, and seeing negative posts means we’re more likely to craft negative posts — though this study was controversial partially because the effect sizes were small.

Also, so-called “dark patterns” are designed to trick us into sharing more, or spending more on websites like Amazon. These are tricks of website design such as hiding the unsubscribe button, or showing how many people are buying the product you’re looking at right now. They subconsciously nudge you towards actions the site would like you to take. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

When giving feedback, focus on the future
By Sarah Kuta -When managers give performance-improvement feedback to employees, they presumably want the conversations to result in positive changes—not to inspire defensiveness, excuses for poor performance, or skepticism of the managers’ point of view.

Offering forward-looking feedback can help keep such conversations productive, suggests research by Humanly Possible’s Jackie Gnepp, Chicago Booth’s Joshua Klayman, Victoria University of Wellington’s Ian O. Williamson, and University of Chicago’s Sema Barlas.

Performance-improvement feedback often fails when managers spend too much time diagnosing or analyzing what went wrong in the past, according to the researchers. When managers and employees talk about possible next steps and solutions, however, employees tend to be more receptive to the feedback and more likely to intend to act on it, the researchers find.

Recipients respond just as well to predominately negative feedback as they do to positive feedback, so long as the conversation focuses primarily on how the recipient can best move forward, the research suggests. more>

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The European minimum wage will come—but how?

The principle of a European minimum wage is established. How it should be set is not.
By Torsten Müller and Thorsten Schulten – In June the European Commission published a further consultation paper on possible measures to introduce fair minimum wages in the European Union. The commission thereby launched the second phase of an official consultation of European trade unions and employers’ organizations, ending this month, with a view to presenting a proposal for a legal instrument in the autumn. It remains open, however, what exactly the commission means by ‘fair minimum wages’ and how they can be guaranteed.

After years of political discussion, the central question is no longer whether a European minimum-wage regulation will be introduced but in what form: a non-binding recommendation, a binding directive or a combination. Otherwise, the discussion focuses mainly on the level of the minimum wage, its scope (given numerous national exceptions), the procedures and criteria for its regular adjustment, and the involvement of trade unions and employers’ associations in setting it.

The commission’s objective is to develop common European standards on all these points. In view of the great differences across Europe, however, the commission is explicitly not seeking to introduce a single European minimum wage, nor to harmonise existing minimum-wage regimes.

In concrete terms, this means that countries in which minimum wages are set by collective agreements, such as Austria and the Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland and Sweden—as well as Italy and Cyprus, will not be forced to introduce a statutory minimum. The basic idea is to define common criteria for fair minimum wages at European level, implemented at national level according to prevailing customs and practices. The challenge then lies in defining the criteria for an appropriate minimum wage. more>

Updates from Adobe

Jimmie Robinson & the Teenage Heroes of East Oakland
By Jane Selle Morgan – Jimmie started this cover-to-cover practice as a kid, drawing what he saw on television. “I would create one scene,” he remembers, “and then I would create another scene, and I didn’t even know it, but I was creating sequential artwork at the time. I would staple them all together to make my own books.”

Jimmie is a California native who grew up in Oakland, so it tugged his hometown heart strings to learn that advocacy group ​Oakland Kids First was looking to produce an original comic book as part of a statewide initiative. Oakland Kids First wanted a​ fun and visually engaging community resource to communicate complicated issues that continue to oppress and challenge the everyday lives of the people of East Oakland—and the group needed an artist to bring it to life. ​Jimmie applied and was quickly chosen to illustrate the book.

In this ​mini-documentary​, you’ll meet Jimmie and hear about his process, while getting to know more about the perspective of Jimmie, Oakland Kids First, and the four high school kids sharing their experiences while collaborating on the Town Force One Comic Book. more>

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A European pivot from space to time

By Kalypso Nicolaïdis – Although Europe has never ceased to reinvent itself, we the peoples of Europe love to announce to the world that peace, like diamonds, is forever. That is a nice thought. But peace is never a done deal. Its foundations need to be reinvented by every generation, every polity, every era. Deep peace is not an inheritance but a way of life. It is not about harmony but struggle. It needs armies of defenders, with all sorts of clever strategies, all sorts of ingenious weapons, all sorts of parochial accents.

Journeys of reckoning often have to do with re-knowing something anew that we had almost forgotten. Can we know peace anew?

We can do so through many different paths. One such path is this: a European pivot from space to time. The EU and its critics have focused on the politics of space, a space made single by markets, regulators and judges, a space where free movement reigns supreme and from which we can choose who and how to exclude. What if the EU were to refocus on the politics of time, time when we reflect back and look ahead, time that can be slowed down better to engage with the needs of the next generation, time to allow for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions …

Would it not be okay to renationalize space a little if we could radically Europeanize time? Inspired by the journey of Er, who at the end of The Republic comes back from the dead, can we shape our present life to serve future lives through the virtues we abide by? more>

Violence, fabricated news, and responsible media

By Egemen Bağış – In history no medium of any kind has evolved as the way media has. From radio broadcasting to large box-sets, to today’s social media networks and online viewing capabilities.

In 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck, a powerful Hollywood producer at 20th Century Fox, said that television wouldn’t last because “people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Today we can only smile with amazement at the sheer inaccuracy of this prediction.

Another prediction by British journalist, publisher, and politician C.P. Scott was slightly truer when he proclaimed, “Television? The word is half Latin and half Greek. No good can come of it.” While it is not true that no good comes of media, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched call to assert that modern day mass media exposes society to violence, degradation, and vulgarity.

The effect of media is profound and far-reaching. It influences our values, our daily routines and even our thinking with our deep-seeded ideologies and beliefs. Also today media is much more accessible. Media is in our homes and our mobile phones.

It is through TV and internet that our communities are introduced with extreme visions of violence. Social media brings forth a steady stream of live atrocities at the touch of a finger. Video games teach our young how to handle weapons they would otherwise never even heard of. We must, therefore, take extra precautions to ensure that our families and communities do not get contaminated from this toxic fallout. more>

Let us now stop praising famous men (and women)

By David V Johnson – We live in an age of excessive praise for the wealthy and powerful. The upper echelons of society bathe in a sea of honors, awards and celebrity. We see it in the glossy magazines and at the so-called ideas festivals, where billionaires are fawned over for their bons mots. We applaud philanthropists for their largesse, even if their charity will do little ultimate good for society, and even if their conduct in acquiring their fortune was reprehensible. We commend them for dabbling in politics or pushing school reform, before we see any results, and even if we have reason to doubt the good that they will do.

To criticize our praise for the wealthy and powerful as excessive inevitably raises the question of meritocracy. To what extent do we live in a meritocracy, and is that a good or a bad thing? Meritocracy is a form of social organization that is founded on praise and blame. People signal who deserves power and status by praising them for their character, their talent, their productivity and their actions, and who merits demotion in status and power by blaming them for their vices, their ineptitude and their failings.

Insofar as people’s assessments of praise and blame are accurate, they will promote those deemed better up in the hierarchy of power and status, and demote those deemed worse down. Better people will do better things with their superior power and status. When the system works, we have an aristocracy – rule by the finest people. Or so thinkers from Aristotle onward have thought.

This system doesn’t work and can’t work on its own terms. Assessments of praise and blame tend to reflect existing hierarchies of power and status, thereby reifying them. This is because praise and blame have as much to do with the person judging as the person being judged. If everyone in a meritocracy wants to get ahead, assessments of praise and blame will be influenced by whatever helps people to get ahead – namely heaping praise on the powerful and respected, and castigating those without power and status. more>

Europeanization from below: still time for another Europe?

By Donatella Della Porta – Progressive social movement organizations have long been critical of the European Union—and progressively more so. Yet at the same time they have sought to promote ‘another Europe’.

They Europeanized their organizational networks and action strategies, developing cosmopolitan identities.

Research on social movements and Europeanization had indicated a move away from protest towards advocacy, understood as an adaptation of movements to EU structures. But there was also evidence of a repoliticization of EU issues, which saw the selective use of unconventional, protest-oriented strategies among groups forming part of the GJM (global justice movement).

The increasing criticism of existing EU institutions has targeted their democratic deficit, perceived as worsening during the financial crisis and counterposed to national sovereignty, but also their policies, perceived as less and less driven by considerations of social justice and solidarity. There has been criticism too of the definition of Europe as an exclusive polity, with proposals to go instead ‘beyond Europe’. more>

I’m a hacker, and here’s how your social media posts help me break into your company

By Stephanie Carruthers – Think twice before you snap and share that office selfie, #firstday badge pic, or group photo at work.

Hackers are trolling social media for photos, videos, and other clues that can help them better target your company in an attack. I know this because I’m one of them.

Fortunately, in my case, the “victim” of these attacks is paying me to hack them. My name is Snow, and I’m part of an elite team of hackers within IBM known as X-Force Red. Companies hire us to find gaps in their security–before the real bad guys do. For me, that means scouring the internet for information, tricking employees into revealing things over the phone, and even using disguises to break my way into your office.

Social media posts are a goldmine for details that aid in our “attacks.” What you find in the background of photos is particularly revealing–from security badges to laptop screens, or even Post-its with passwords.

No one wants to be the source of an unintended social media security fail. So let me explain how seemingly innocuous posts can help me–or a malicious hacker–target your company.

The first thing you may be surprised to know is that 75% of the time, the information I’m finding is coming from interns or new hires. Younger generations entering the workforce today have grown up on social media, and internships or new jobs are exciting updates to share. Add in the fact that companies often delay security training for new hires until weeks or months after they’ve started, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Knowing this weak point, along with some handy hashtags, allows me to find tons of information I need within just a few hours. Take a look for yourself on your favorite social apps for posts tagged with #firstday, #newjob, or #intern + [#companyname].

So, what exactly am I looking for in these posts?

There are four specific kinds of risky social media posts that a hacker can use to their advantage. more>

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting

By Cailin O’Connor -Arms races happen when two sides of a conflict escalate in a series of ever-changing moves intended to outwit the opponent. In biology, a classic example comes from cheetahs and gazelles. Over time, these species have evolved for speed, each responding to the other’s adaptations.

One hallmark of an arms race is that, at the end, the participants are often just where they started. Sometimes, the cheetah catches its prey, and sometimes the gazelle escapes. Neither wins the race because, as one gets better, so does its opponent. And, along the way, each side expends a great deal of effort. Still, at any point, the only thing that makes sense is to keep escalating.

Arms races happen in the human world too. The term arms race, of course, comes from countries at war who literally amass ever-more sophisticated and powerful weapons. But some human arms races are more subtle.

As detailed in the Mueller report – but widely known before – in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the Russian government (via a group called the Internet Research Agency) engaged in large-scale efforts to influence voters, and to polarize the US public. In the wake of this campaign, social-media sites and research groups have scrambled to protect the US public from misinformation on social media.

What is important to recognize about such a situation is that whatever tactics are working now won’t work for long. The other side will adapt. In particular, we cannot expect to be able to put a set of detection algorithms in place and be done with it. Whatever efforts social-media sites make to root out pernicious actors will regularly become obsolete.

The same is true for our individual attempts to identify and avoid misinformation. Since the 2016 US election, ‘fake news’ has been widely discussed and analyzed. And many social-media users have become more savvy about identifying sites mimicking traditional news sources. But the same users might not be as savvy, for example, about sleek conspiracy theory videos going viral on YouTube, or about deep fakes – expertly altered images and videos.

What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. more>