Consider the following three articles:
- Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions — Protests over secret study involving 689,000 users in which friends’ postings were moved to influence moods
- How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election — Google has the ability to drive millions of votes to a candidate with no one the wiser
- The new mind control — The internet has spawned subtle forms of influence that can flip elections and manipulate everything we say, think and do
Go ahead and click through to the above. I’ll wait. Just skim them for now, but when you get a moment definitely go back and read them. They’re not from your favorite conspiracy site, and the people sounding the alarm have impeccable, mainstream academic credentials. You may think you’re immune to most of the techniques outlined above, but you’re not. And even if you were, what matters is that the country as a whole is not immune, not by a long shot.
To understand just how effective these manipulation techniques are, you need only consider how large Facebook and Google’s profits have grown based on their ability to get users to buy things via advertising. These companies’ ability to alter user behavior on a mass scale has been validated again and again by the one entity that you just can’t fool, and whose judgement isn’t clouded by political agendas: the market.
First they came for the jihadis, then the right-wingers…
With all of this in mind, consider the very latest news on Google’s Jigsaw project, which is a deliberate use of all of its tools and techniques for the purposes of explicitly political behavior modification — first against would-be jihadis, and next against right-wing “radicals”.
GOOGLE HAS BUILT a half-trillion-dollar business out of divining what people want based on a few words they type into a search field. In the process, it’s stumbled on a powerful tool for getting inside the minds of some of the least understood and most dangerous people on the Internet: potential ISIS recruits. Now one subsidiary of Google is trying not just to understand those would-be jihadis’ intentions, but to change them.
Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank—until recently known as Google Ideas—has been working over the past year to develop a new program it hopes can use a combination of Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and ultimately dissuade them from joining the group’s cult of apocalyptic violence.
The Intercept reports on Google’s plan to turn the aforementioned tool against right-wingers:
A GOOGLE-INCUBATED PROGRAM that has been targeting potential ISIS members with deradicalizing content will soon be used to target violent right-wing extremists in North America, a designer of the program said at an event at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday…
“We are very conscious — as our own organization and I know Jigsaw are — that this [violent extremism] is not solely the problem of one particular group,” Frenett said.
“Our efforts during phase two, when we’re going to focus on the violent far right in America, will be very much focused on the small element of those that are violent. The interesting thing about how they behave is they’re a little bit more brazen online these days than ISIS fan boys,” Frenett said.
He noted that this new target demographic is more visible online.
“In the U.K., if someone in their Facebook profile picture has a swastika and is pointing a gun at the camera, that person is committing a crime,” Frenett said. “In the U.S., there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. So we found that when we’re looking for individuals that are genuinely at risk of carrying out violence, that they’re relatively open online.”
Adnan Kifayat, head of global security ventures at Gen Next Foundation, said he is optimistic about applying the ISIS approach to North America. “Our interest is in countering extremism … particularly in the homeland,” he told The Intercept.
Taking all of the above into account, what comes next is crystal-freaking-clear: a coordinated, private sector, mass behavior manipulation campaign aimed at stigmatizing and suppressing gun ownership and disguised as an effort to “do something” about the “gun violence epidemic” and “right-wing extremism.”
When the CDC was in the heyday of their smear campaign against guns, a PR effort that a prominent CDC official likened to the public campaign against smoking, that was just the warm-up. Those guys with their billboards and their op-eds were just pikers compared to the power of Google andFacebook.
When these two private sector behemoths, who know everything about you and who are wildly successful in using that knowledge to manipulate you, turn their sights on the “public menace” that is guns, then you’ll long for the days when the anti-gun movement was mostly just sad astroturf groups funded by a single New York billionaire. These companies can flip national elections, state and local elections, and public attitudes, all in secret and without spending nearly the kind of (traceable) money that Bloomberg does.
I don’t know what to tell you to do about it. I’m just warning you that it’s coming. These companies willbegin to manipulate public opinion on gun ownership, and it will have an impact. It’s going to be up to us to figure out how to counter it.
Frankly, I don’t have a ton of confidence in the Fudds at the NRA to fight the digital battle that lies ahead. We’re gonna need something else entirely. I wish I knew what that was.