Great Firewall & Great Shield, Cambridge Analytica, Surveillance-based and behavior-driven advertising model, AfD – Alternative für Deutschland, Reconquista Germania, meme jihad, Hacker Ethic, WELL – Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link, Electronic Frontier Foundation, 4chan, Scientology raid, Operation Payback, Daily Stormer, Breitbart, MAGA3X, subreddit the_donald, Pepe the Frog, Robert Mercer, Koch Industries, ACORN, Government Accountability Institute (GAI), big data, psy-ops, five-factor model, behavioral micro-targeting, APT 28, legends of the Bohemian lakes, Department D, Operation Neptune, reflexive control. Olympics – for the Whites Only, The Patriot – AIDS story, Yanks to the Rescue, VKontakte & Yandex, Nashi, CyberBerkut, spear phishing, Bots & Cyborgs, Kyra, Rodrigo Duterte, I voted, the Twitter Revolution, featured posts, Custom Audiences, Opinion Leaders, Project Waterloo, dark posts, Guano, real-time ad exchange, Secure America Now, Grenfell Tower fire, selfie nationalism, DeepMind, Personal Learning Platform, Waze, big data policing, Sidewalk Labs, Aadhaar, burden of proof, Article 21, E2A – Singapore, WeChat filter, Social Credit system, Oikophobia, Brexit, National Internet Network – Iran, Justin Bieber law, Middleman paradox, Field of dreams dilemma, Audrey Tang, Sunflower Movement, Scalable Listening, Digital Estonia
I picked up this book as it discusses a topic that has got me interested since 2014 general elections in India. The influence of social media platforms in democratic elections. It was the first election in Indian history where a lot of campaigning happened in social media platforms. With no controlling body to check genuineness of the statements, to separate information from misinformation or to control online abuses/harassment, digital brigade of political parties did not stop at anything. Though this book is set in global stage and mainly focuses on USA, Russia, China and mentions India, Singapore,Germany, Estonia etc. This book is divided into three parts:
1. Hackers (people and their motivation in doing it)
2. System Failures (how Facebook, Google and Twitter failed to control misinformation)
3. Alternative Futures (what kind of alternative futures we are looking at)
The book starts with results of elections in recent past (mainly USA), that showed parties who knew how to use the social network platforms and invested in it, ripped the results. Motivated groups like Reconquista Germania hacked the Internet to trend hashtags for AfD (German far right party) resulting in AfD winning 13.3% votes and entering Bundestag. Plutocrats like Robert Mercer funded Breitbart.com, transforming it from a basement blog to far-right American news network and infamous Cambridge Analytica, that used data mining and analysis on Facebook data of millions of people without their consent for political advertising. By psycho-graphic profiling, users were appealed at an emotional level. Cambridge Analytica wrote on its homepage, “uses data to change audience behavior”, not to change people’s minds. Like money, the author mentions, now plutocrats can back their favorite candidates providing the technology and cause a bias in democratic election. States interfering in democratic elections of other states is not new but the digital revolution has made it easier. The author focuses specifically on Russian interference in USA elections and provides some details.
The author then write about holes in the advertising models of Google and Facebook. 90% of Google’s earnings are from advertising and that number for Facebook is 95%. They were never prepared for the political use and abuse of their advertisement systems. They collected data about the users to make their platforms an invaluable asset for sellers. However in the absence of scrutiny of those advertisements, one can propagate misinformation/hatred. Also by showing advertisement on extremist or fringe websites, Google financed them as the online advertising is real-time and did not check the content of the website. While both Google and Facebook are fighting against these holes, when the fix one another appears. The fact is they were not prepared for their products to be used in democratic elections. The CEO of Twitter has also admitted that they have failed to address the abuse of people on their platform and abuse of their platform itself. Bots and cyborgs are used to make something trend in Twitter. Another effect is people now rely heavily on the social media for news, that has caused dip in serious journalism. The author cites example of Grenfell Tower fire, which could have been avoided if regular number of ground reporters were doing their job.
Lastly the author speculates the three kind of futures that may lie ahead. First one in which the platforms like Google, Facebook, Amazon etc lead the democracy. All the governance is done through them. However the technocrats may not be the right people for politics as their perspective is different. Driving everything with data may leave some people behind. Second in which the government takes control of user data, they may use it for autocratic purpose. The authors gives us examples of Russia, China, Iran, Singapore etc. The last possible future is to re-hack democracy i.e. making technology drive a nation in a truly democratic way. The author gives example of Estonia, which is a digital use champion country but the data of the citizens are safe even from the government. The data of the citizens can not be sniffed even by the government without proper notice.
Conclusion & Rating:
Ton of information and a lot of research. Few things I have did not like are: 1)I did not like the way it is organized. Sometimes there are sudden changes in narrative, you feel like you are reading a different book. 2) Somehow I found the last part a bit boring, it seems like the concluding part could have been a bit more elaborate. But overall it is a very good book for anyone interested in this topic.