This Sunday Edition is a continuation from last week, let’s review. We discovered that Big Tech is collecting big data, publishers aren’t platforms, the government has rules to regulate both, but they aren’t great, and finally we are constantly giving away our data to mass collection programs. We ended last week’s letter with a few questions: Who do we hold responsible for our political divides? Do government leaders enjoy special exceptions to censorship rules as a matter of policy distribution? Is there anything that can be done to help alter the impact of big data collection?
As we established last week, Big Tech collects massive amounts of data in just about every category in an effort to better tailor your experience to their advertisers and paying clients. They track how long you look at a post, where you are when you look at it, what time it is etc… They use this data to create small behavior patterns and alter your behavior in tiny incremental ways as you use their services. This is their true monetization plan, the ability to alter millions of people’s behavior. That may seem harmless when they recommend a perfect pair of pants or movie to watch, but what if they take a political party’s policy line, say, climate change denial? They can apply this messaging to millions of people’s feeds and potentially alter their thinking and behaviors. This becomes not just a powerful marketing tool but then has real world impacts. Impacts that are exactly what Russia and now Iran are utilizing to influence the 2020 presidential elections. For more information I recommend this article from the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/us/politics/iran-russia-election-interference.html .
So how do we thwart these threats? Take back our own thought process and decision making? A subtle but growingly popular idea has taken shape and has been endorsed by experts in the field. Saadia Madbjerg is the managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation. She recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times describing the impacts of a data collection tax. The premise is that Big Tech companies don’t pay anything for our data. They perform mass collection activities and then turn around to monetize this information. By imposing a data collection tax, the goal is to impact Big Tech’s bottom line and make them think twice about what data points and in what quantity they are collecting them. Madbjerg writes, “The tax would pull money back to the public, from an industry profiting from material and labor that is, at its very core, our own”. She goes on to describe it as a sales tax of sorts, saying that this is a well-established concept and should not drastically impact the financial stability of these companies but would have significant implications for the public services sector. She proposes that a 0.8% tax on a $250 billion industry could potentially generate around $2 billion in collected tax annually.
Not all in the field are convinced that this tax is the end all solution. In an article for TechCrunch, Paul Salama the CEO of ClearRoad, is quoted saying that there are, “A lot of unknowns on that data governance side”. The hope is that tech companies conducting mass data collection will now have to think twice about what information they collect since they will now be paying for it. For the most part companies such as Facebook and Twitter have been focused on social justice issues as well as political/election security issues. While skeptics and critics say the companies don’t go far enough in their policies/measures, others worry that they are close to infringing on free speech rights. Regardless, there is growing consent that we the people should not leave our privacy, integrity of democracy and other inalienable rights up to the good will and decision making of a private CEO beholden to shareholders and the bottom line.
Regardless, public policy, can take years to change and implement, however many private organizations have recommendations on how to stop the influence of social media on your behavior. As we noted in last week’s letter, The Center for Humane Technology is a non-profit organization with a focus on this exact subject, I highly suggest you check out their website here: https://www.humanetech.com/ . Their sentiments are reiterated by the The University of Colorado Boulder in this article: https://www.colorado.edu/health/2020/03/02/stop-scrolling-4-things-you-should-be-doing-social .
Finally, I want to be very clear, the argument made here is not meant to change your beliefs or values. Rather, I want to help empower you to take ownership of your viewpoints. To do research on topics you are passionate about and make them your own. I want to encourage healthy debate, conversation and broaden all of our horizons. If we continue to allow or social media platforms to do the opposite by narrowing our world views and only showing us information they think we “want” to see, we will surely lose our greatest asset … Our diversity in thought and background.
While we continue to grow and evolve here at The Political Muse we would greatly appreciate your feedback on this story and others! To do so please comment or email your thoughts to
Ben Velardi, Founder/Author