Humans are pattern-seeking storytelling beings. But they cannot endure an absence of meaning. In this regard, we (humans) have a hard need for myths, princesses, and superheroes. No matter if we look geographically, or even when we look historically there is a story as old as time. The saga of the Hero. Often on a quest to accomplish something everyone knows to be humanly impossible. He is rewarded for his accomplishment with great wealth, status, maybe even a measure of divinity for himself. In past years almost anything involved fantasy elements and heroes, no matter what the medium was: comics, novels, children’s books, film, TV, games. Basically, those stories were what it means to be human.
The rise of the Digital Age connected with bots and trolls, phishing, and fake news changed the paradigm. Turned down old identities, beliefs, and old myths, allowing the creation of a new narrative. One that revolves around the internet, with its status updates, news feeds, hatred comments, political bias, reviews, rankings, and ratings. It came at a critical point when our lives have seen the technological speed we are facing. This omnipresent connection offered a cheap passage for a complex world manipulating emotional certainty at the cost of rational understanding. With this departure from rationality, the “professionals” can now control, limit options, and disrupt the functional capabilities of certain communities or individuals. Facts are not necessary and truth could be hidden easily in the online misinformation age.
What makes a story, a naive post on social media powerful? Today the engagement not the content inside the story. Not the myth. Hence in that sense of profit, it makes no difference whether the content is “good” or “bad,” true or false if he generates engagement. So truth can be overwhelmed with constantly repeated falsehood. Wait! our posting, sharing, commenting, liking, and tweeting produces behavioral and demographic data that makes a profit? Hell yeah!! In this connection economy, one that transcends platforms, hateful or false representations are easily converted into ad-sales products as truthful ones. Some software platforms are even moving towards “persuasive computing.” From programming computers to programming people. Under the label of nudging these technologies got into the world of politics also making disruptions.
We changed from the individual outcome and power to those who understand and deploy digital emotions, be they large states, large corporations, or religious and cultural communities. This process was clear in Ukraine, in Brexit, in the creation of alt-right and other far-right and left communities in many countries around the globe. The mechanism flourishes when citizens overwhelmed with bad information give up on trying to figure out the truth. An example is Facebook where analysts have concluded that political misinformation “performed better”, the faker the better in terms of its viral potential. The more interactivity with certain types of content on the platform, the more its algorithms have fed more of that content telling people exactly what they wanted to hear. Making them feel very comforted and getting them to react positively to false information without even noticing they were false. An additional economic factor in the profitability of fake news and misinformation is the exploding use of bots or non-human actors. Much of their bad activity being focused on avoiding looking like a bot or fake account. More like an influence operation as opposed to an automated operation. Although disinformation has been closely associated with the activities of nation-states or intelligence services, these are not always performed for political, geostrategic, or military purposes. Over the past years, the reports on disinformation showed that the targets are organizations and individuals in a variety of industries, for a range of motives. Can take many forms and have many objectives. There are websites such as CloneZone that used to impersonate genuine news websites or tools such as BotMasterLabs and ZennoStore. Also in the past “Pump and Dump” service called TheInsider advertised on the dark web using social media posts to inflate share prices of crypto or other assets.
Ok!! What’s next? Increasingly sophisticated tools with the help of AI means that more influence targeting companies or individuals are probably just around the corner. In order for them to stay unnoticed, local trends are gradually reinforced in repetition leading to the “ bubble groups”.(all we might get is our own opinions reflected back at us) Causes social polarization, resulting in the formation of opposed groups that no longer understand each other. This means that personalized information will unintentionally destroy social cohesion. The result: a fragmentation, possibly even a disintegration, of society as we know it today, currently observed in American politics where the political compromises become almost impossible. We can argue but manipulative technologies restrict the freedom of choice. As we become overwhelmed with information complexity, our tendency is to retreat into simpler narratives or groups. Under this paradigm with the remote control of our behavior, we would only execute decisions that were actually made by others. If our judgments and decisions are predetermined by algorithms, however, this leads to a brainwashing of the masses or a kind of digital prison for our thinking. In summary, all of these are shaping our societies for better or worse. The end result: a centralized system controlled by few creating the bricks to new dictatorships. Or maybe not?