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How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections
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How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections

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WASHINGTON – October 24, 2018

The media began to play an important role in shaping society’s political views in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Its influence gradually began to grow with each decade.

Today, the influence of television and the film industry on public opinion is great. At the same time, by the beginning of the 21st century, personal computers were more accessible, which led to society’s saturation with information through the internet, which constantly presents new avenues for societal influence.

Social networks today occupy a significant space on the internet and become an integral part of our lives in just a short time.

Many people spend a significant part of their time on social networks, which have made them a powerful means for shaping social and political preferences. Social networks are now being actively used for election campaigns as well.

For example, New York has a population of 8.7 million people, with just over half that number using Facebook, 2 million on Twitter, and 1.5 million on Instagram. Social networks users are more often city dwellers. Of the accounts from these people, approximately 30% are fakes, bots, duplicate pages, abandoned accounts, and so on. In all, about 7 million New Yorkers are registered on some kind of social network.

The most common way to influence voters is via a social network page or blog, followed in second by fake news—President Trump’s biggest enemy—and native advertising following in third.

Of course, many politicians are themselves on social networks. The most effective means of campaigning there is through the independent administration of a page, which gives people a sense of a real human component on the page. People are more responsive to such pages, with a real person on the other end reporting on his daily life and work and are more likely to like and comment on such pages.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the upcoming Congressional midterm elections.

As social networks are a relatively recent phenomenon, sociologists have not yet been able to properly assess their impact on our lives and minds, and even the methods for such research have not been hammered out yet. Thus, the work of leading political scientists, psychologists, and analysts from California University in San Diego together with the Facebook Corporation is continuously ongoing.

Using Facebook’s capabilities, researchers conducted a study with more than 60 million users (about 20% of the US population) that should be carefully considered. The study included relevant topics, such as the impact of social networks on political elections, which we heard so much about during and after the 2016 presidential election.

The participants were sent a news message including a link to the nearest polling station, an “I voted” link, and the number of users who had already clicked on the link. There were also photos of up to six “potential friends,” with a message saying they had already voted. This was known as the “social message.”

Others (more than 600,000) received a “formal message,” with the same link and “I voted” button, but without the photos of friends.

The third control group (also more than 600,000 users) did not receive any messages.

How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections

The researchers monitored how many users visited the website of the nearest polling station (as a measure of political activity), how many clicked “I voted” (evaluation of a political expression, demonstration of political interest), and how many actually voted. The real number of voters was estimated from polling station lists. Comparing real and virtual political activity, the researchers were able to assess both the participants’ real political behavior and the representativeness of the sample.

How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections

Researchers found that the social message had a 2.08% impact on clicking the “I voted” button compared to those who had received the forma message. There was a .39% impact as far as those who actually voted, and .26% for those who went to the link of the nearest polling station.

Here it is important to emphasize that the difference in electoral activity between the social group and the control group (which received no message at all) was also 0.39%. This means that online incentives work mainly when they are associated with familiar people.

The question of how close a friend has to be to influence your decision to go to the polls was the most time-consuming part of the study. The researchers assessed how the frequency of online messages correlates with friendships in real life. It was necessary to create special questionnaires and to collect auxiliary data on real friends and friendly communications between users, and then to estimate their correlation with the frequency of messages in “virtual reality.”

This was all to confirm a rather trivial fact: The closer two friends are in real life, the more they interact online. However, this conclusion was necessary to serve as a guide for the gradation of virtual friends in terms of closeness The more virtual contacts between two users, the more likely they are close friends in real life. Information from polling stations again revealed the activity of friends as compared to users who received the social message. Only those friends who most actively communicated online, and are thus friends in real life, showed increased political activity in response to the social message and actively showed up to vote.

Therefore, it is easy to conclude that real political activity is influenced only by close social contacts. At the same time, political self-expression and interest in the activities of polling stations are increasing for all users, almost regardless of the degree of closeness to the friends who appeared in the social messages.

How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections

These results suggest a minimal, but still non-zero impact of network contacts on voter activity. For American realities, even this minimum can be crucial. Recall that in the presidential election of 2000, George Bush won over Al Gore with a margin of only 537 votes. Who knows, maybe this meager advantage was determined by social network users?

It is interesting that this article from American researchers was published not in the American journal Science, but in its European competitor Nature. The reasons for this can only be guessed at, but they’re hardly exclusively formal. Note that previous studies on this topic have shown wide-ranging results, from a huge impact to almost none (N. A. Christakis, J. H. Fowler, 2009. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives; R. Huckfeldt, J. Sprague, 1995. Citizens, Politics, and Social Communication: Information and Influence in an Election Campaign), not excluding some averages. This present work appears to have avoided the flaws the lack of a well-developed research method and of an inconsistency of results.

Those are the results for the past, but midterms are coming, and social networks have become more complicated today, and now the same Facebook is allegedly trying to remove all election-related content from its pages. Of course, in reality this is not so—let’s discuss this now.

Facebook is in fact a menace to grassroots political organizing today, and to free and fair elections in general. The social media giant announced this week it is banning “misinformation” about the elections. According to Reuters, "Facebook Inc. will ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations ahead of next month's US midterm elections ... the latest effort to reduce voter manipulation in its service."

But not to worry, in reality it is not so: "The world's largest online social network, with 1.5 billion daily users, has stopped short of banning all false or misleading posts, something that Facebook has shied away from as it would likely increase its expenses and leave it open to charges of censorship."

Don't believe it. Facebook is already in the censorship business. In an article published last month titled, "How Facebook Policy Hinders Political Speech," Ruth Papazian explained in excruciating detail just how difficult it has become to place political ads on Facebook. What this monopolistic communications behemoth has done to the abilities of grassroots groups to spread their messages far and wide cannot be understated.

Facebook has selectively disabled the most effective means of grassroots organizing ever devised. The timing of the move, a few months before one of the most pivotal midterm elections in American history, denies every small neighborhood group and individual activist the capacity to quickly tailor the content of their ads to local voters.

Moreover, richly funded, well-established campaigns, however, are relatively unaffected by Facebook's new policy. They have the money, connections, and expertise to treat this new policy as a speedbump. And, of course, it isn’t just Facebook.

With growing assertiveness, an assortment of mega-corporations that, for all practical purposes, control virtually all online communications in America, some of them the largest companies on earth, are making a concerted effort to influence the 2018 elections. And their ambitions reach far beyond this November.

These corporations have left-leaning employees and left-leaning top management. They possess the ability not only to suppress viewpoints with which they don't agree and promote viewpoints with which they do agree, but they can also use search results and personal search content to shape behaviors and values dramatically.

Big Tech is rewriting history

To present an embarrassingly obvious example of how Big Tech is rewriting history, take a look at the result that comes up on Google if you search for “American Inventors.” Google gives you 21 black men, 11 black women, and 18 white men. Curiously, no white women are included on the list.

This flagrant distortion of historical facts matters more than might be readily apparent. First, it's part of a widespread pattern whereby the left-wingers who control high-tech companies are rewriting history. But it is more harmful in its consequences than just that. How will a 10-year-old African American view his role in society, if he believes that two out of three of the most significant American inventions came from the minds of genius African Americans but that these contributions have been deliberately neglected? Won't that be evidence to support the leftist assertion that racism, and only racism, accounts for the lack of a prominent place for blacks in American history?

If this were an isolated example, it might not matter. But it is emblematic of how Big Tech is controlling not only who can communicate and what we can see, but how we view ourselves, our society, and our descent.

When we say “Big Tech,” that's no exaggeration.

How Big Tech Impacts Upcoming Midterm Elections

Financial power of some of the primary players controlling how we learn and communicate.

This data makes plain that behind the monopolies or near monopolies these companies wield in data search, social networks, videos, online retail including books, movies, and music, smartphones, and web browsers, there is almost unimaginable financial power. These seven companies together are sitting on $385 billion. The smallest of the seven, Twitter, has nearly $4 billion sitting in its bank account

The pieces are in place for these companies, if not literally to take over the world, then at least to play a crucial role, if not the crucial role, in shaping what kind of world we leave to the next generation. For all practical purposes, they have monopolistic control over how we learn and communicate. And they have more discretionary cash than any other private interest, anywhere. The tools of influence they wield are only beginning to be developed.

To explore the dystopian potential of these dawning technologies, you don't have to rely on conservative analysts. Arguments aplenty can be found in the liberal media; you would think they'd connect the dots and recognize what could happen if and when Big Tech is no longer controlled by liberals.

Writing for The Atlantic, Yuval Noah Harari suggests "perhaps in the 21st century, populist revolts will be staged not against economic elite that exploits people but against economic elite that does not need them anymore." He suggests that the AI revolution may transfer the relative efficiency of a nation's political economy from one currently favoring democracies to one favoring dictatorships. He argues that the power of massively connected networks, incorporated into everything we use and present everywhere we go, controlled by powerful AI systems, flips the equation, explaining that "the main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century—the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place—may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century."

Elaborating on this point in his recent article published by The Guardian, "The Myth of Freedom," Harari describes human beings as “hackable.” He writes, "Propaganda and manipulation are nothing new. But whereas in the past they worked like carpet bombing, now they are becoming precision-guided munitions. When Hitler gave a speech on the radio, he aimed at the lowest common denominator, because he couldn't tailor his message to the unique weaknesses of individual brains. Now it has become possible to do exactly that."

Think about it. Your Fitbit, always connected, monitors how you react as you click on various links online. This means that not only your clicks but your simultaneous physical reaction to what you are seeing are monitored and compiled. Eventually, the machines know you better than you know yourself. Your brain has been hacked.

Even the hyper-liberal New Yorker has alluded to how technology enables totalitarian regimes, in the closing paragraphs of a September 2018 article, "What Termites Can Teach Us." Writer Amia Srinivasan refers to the RoboBee, "a mechanical bee, smaller than a paper clip, that can take off, fly, and land." She cites a paper published by the Center for a New American Security, "Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm," which holds up the RoboBee as evidence of the possibility of 3-D-printed, less-than-a-dollar-a-piece drones that, in vast quantities, "could 'flood' civilian and combat areas as 'smart clouds.'"

Big Tech grabs the entire network

Consider the map feature on Google as an example. The planet's nations and cities include bitterly disputed borders and place names. But even physical features require subjective decisions. Shall higher altitudes be depicted in summer or winter? A summer image might feed the imagination of anyone inclined to believe the “planet has a fever.”

Call up Google's satellite view of the vast savannas of Africa or the steppes of Asia—are they summer brown or spring green? A vastly differing impression is created. And how green is the green? Are the watered areas of earth verdant and lustrous with life, or tepidly broaching a bit of tentative foliage wilting on a warming world? What about snowpacks and glaciers? What view? Winter or summer?

When it comes to political geography, Google is an international actor with enormous influence. It's a tough job, drawing borders on a map when everyone on earth uses your map.

According to Google, the city of Srinagar is no longer part of Indian Kashmir. Instead, it's in a region with dotted borders indicating uncertain sovereignty. Similarly, the entire northeastern portion of Kashmir is lopped off, with dotted lines again, indicating that this area may actually be part of China. A province in the extreme northeast of India, Arunachal Pradesh, now has a dotted line drawn through its middle, questioning whether the northern half of that province belongs to India or to China. Ditto for the eastern border of Tajikistan, where Google’s dotted line asserts that nobody knows where Tajikistan ends and China begins. But among Google's mapmakers, who decides? Where's Tibet? Why no dotted line to delineate that occupied land?

While Google ignores Tibetan claims to nationhood, they recognize every indigenous tribe in North America. With the lower 48 filling about half your screen, you'll see the names of each state. Zoom in one notch. Suddenly the Navajo, Blackfeet, Crow, Yakima, Cheyenne and dozens of other tribes all have nations—reservations with borders and place names written in faint but capitalized fonts larger than those used for names of major cities. It’s the same for Canada and South America.

Even if Google's mapmakers didn't have an agenda, millions of people would disagree with their choices. But billions more would accept the lines they draw, solid and dotted alike, as truth. The manner in which Google arbitrates international borders constitutes real power. Google controls 92% of the global mapping and GIS market. The company also controls more than 90% of the global internet search market, and through YouTube, it controls 79%  multimedia websites and video portals worldwide. And Google has more than $100 billion in its bank account.

Big Tech is reprogramming our minds

That the founders and the employees of big tech companies are overwhelmingly Democrats should by now be beyond serious debate. And evidence is mounting that these biases inform how they write their algorithms. There’s nothing objective about an algorithm—it may process every query with complete impartiality, but built into the logic and lookup tables are the preferences and priorities of a human being.

One widely reported study claims that biased search results can influence elections in close races. The study, authored in 2015 by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson and published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, reached four conclusions regarding search engines and search engine manipulation: First, they identified a positive feedback loop, whereby when search rankings affect voter preferences, those voters then search on terms that are, for example, favorable towards a particular candidate. This results in those favorable search results receiving more clicks which in-turn causes them to be ranked higher still, generating more views and clicks, and so on.

Second, search engine manipulation is very hard to detect, leading those influenced by it to believe they have formed their new opinions voluntarily.

Third, unlike explicit campaigning, where candidates have equal access to conventional means of voter outreach, search engine manipulation occurs at the discretion of the company that owns the search engine, leaving out-of-favor candidates with no means to counter its effects.

Fourth, conventional means of voter outreach continue to lose effectiveness relative to the impact of online resources such as search engines.

The elephant in the room here is Google, and even if that company isn't directing its programmers to introduce liberal bias into their search results, the culture within Google suggests their programmers would be doing it anyway.

After all, this is the company that fired James Damore for circulating an internal memo that committed the heresy of arguing that disparities in group achievement might be due to something other than racism and sexism. This is the company where, in a leaked email, their former head of “multicultural marketing” described efforts she led on behalf of the company to increase Latino turnout in the 2016 election and bemoaned the fact that not enough of them voted for Democrats. This is the company where 90% of reported political donations by executives and employees went to Democrats in the period between 2004 and 2016: over $15 million.

And it isn't just Google, of course. Twitter “shadowbans.” Facebook suppresses conservative commentators. YouTube restricts conservative videos. Apple bans “controversial” programs from its App Store. Can Amazon and other eBook purveyors even rewrite classic literature? Well, why not? The tactics these companies employ are difficult to detect and nearly impossible to counter.

Increasingly, this handful of giant corporations have the power to rewrite history, to determine who is permitted to have a public voice, and to decide what is a fact and what is not a fact. And it extends to nearly every facet of life, not just election manipulation, but the very foundations of Western Civilization: culture, race, gender, patriarchy, nationalism, patriotism, meritocracy, underachievement, and even the reasons for climate change.

As Big Tech judges the premises of reality, facts, according to their own beliefs and biases, a complicit media follows suit. For example, the BBC recently updated their guidelines for future reporting on climate change issues. Suddenly certain conclusions are no longer heard. But facts are based on data. And data can often be analyzed and interpreted, with integrity, to yield diametrically opposed conclusions. Facts are often opinions. This skepticism used to be the lifeblood of both science and journalism, but skepticism is only selectively encouraged anymore. Big Tech reduces that range when it ought to be expanding it.

Pessimists frequently refer to George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 as representative of where we’re headed. But more likely we are being herded into a future more reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. That novel, written in 1931, is astonishingly prescient. In his forward to the 1946 edition of Brave New World, Huxley writes: "There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianism should resemble the old. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced because they love their servitude."

Author: USA Really