Are the social media giants trying to depress us?

Earlier this week I had just been listening to a podcast called Big Picture Science, which has a guy called Douglas Rushkoff, (author of  Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus see below for a link) who was interviewed about the way that Facebook and some other people to use technology and data.  One of the things he talked about was how they predict what we are going to do, this allows them to advertise appropriately.  The accuracy of this about 80% correct, which is pretty impressive but still leaves a lot of ambiguity.

So what about that 20%?  What do they do about that?  Work with the algorithm to improve its predictive accuracy? You would think wouldn't you, but supposedly, they don't what they do is change what they present to you in your feed or sponsored adds to to try to influence us to make sure that their prediction is accurate. Therefore placing all their efforts to populate these feeds in order to lead us to behaving in the way that has been predicted.

So if their predictive algorithm works out that you are likely to buy a new car, a simple thing, then you'll get more things about the fancy new car, are you worried about how bad your current car is, etc. Harmless enough?  Maybe, Maybe not

Maybe the algorithm predicts that you are going to change your job, it starts feeding you add for job sites, articles on bad bosses, adverts about being unhappy having a bad boss, what to do about a terrible boss.  10 reasons to get a better job, and so on.  Again fairly harmless?

If you look at it from another point though it could be quite scary. Imagine the situation that the algorithm works out that 80% likelihood you are going to have a serious depression, so if unchecked the algorithm may start to try to influence this. And therefore, in order to lead you to that serious depression, they automatically start providing things about being depressed, mental health, being unhappy, etc, etc, whatever that could be.

And if that happens, then well, what does that mean? Does that mean that an increase in depression just to make a number more accurate, is that what they're trying to do? Fundamentally are they trying to match the book/video/tv show/perfume to you or bend you to match the book/video/tv show/perfume they are selling

If you couple these two together you could have someone who is potentially depressed,  unhappy at work and needs treatment but the goal of these major organizations would be to fulfill that. They leave their job, they get a new one or try to get a new job and fail,  have depression following on from leaving and they this could lead to a serious incident quite scary.

I am not sure if this is me taking the conversation further than naturally leads but it is a concern so maybe we need to think about what is in our social feeds and think is this "them" just try to get me to comply or is it just them pitching to sell something.

Don't have nightmares :-)



By the way I used to generate this as a transcript from my voice.  Great app and free for the first 600 minutes of transcription.


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