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Techlash: The Great Digital Depression

The battle for our personal data is intensifying.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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The Techlash is upon here.

People (and their gov­ern­ments) are get­ting frus­trated with algorithms and the exploits of our per­son­al inform­a­tion to influ­ence our think­ing and actions.

The Techlash is here.

Here we go:

A Strong Emotional Reaction

Where should we focus our atten­tion? Big Tech is doing what it can to earn more money, legis­lat­ors are doing what they can to secure more con­trol, and users are exchan­ging their per­son­al inform­a­tion for free services.

In a Facebook dis­cus­sion yes­ter­day, sev­er­al people I con­sider intel­li­gent and thought­ful argued that social media com­pan­ies would des­troy our soci­ety if left unchecked for ten more years.

Social media divides us, but is it also “des­troy­ing society?”

The recent Cambridge Analytica scan­dal broke the last seal and stirred our emo­tions. It broke open a can of sil­ic­on worms. And there’s no short­age of social media issues to discuss:

Were the social media pess­im­ists cor­rect?
Was Techlash always a fore­gone conclusion?

Blue State Digital and the 2004 US Election

Before closely examin­ing the Cambridge Analytica scan­dal, let’s start with Blue State Digital. 1According to BlueState’s web­site: “We move people to elect pres­id­ents, change laws, fall in love with brands, donate mil­lions, and more.”

Blue State Digital was foun­ded by former staffers of Howard Dean’s 2004 US pres­id­en­tial cam­paign and provided digit­al ser­vices for the 2008 and 2012 US pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns for Barack Obama.

So, what does Blue State Digital’s soft­ware do for a polit­ic­al cam­paign? Well, it’s like a large-scale CRM sys­tem with pro­gram­mable auto­ma­tion rules. For instance, if someone donates $5 to the cam­paign, this per­son will be auto­mat­ic­ally tar­geted with a string of mes­sages dif­fer­ent from the series you would be tar­geted for if you donated $50 instead.

Of course, donat­ing money is one way to inter­act digit­ally with a polit­ic­al cam­paign. But there are many oth­er trig­gers, too. 

You could inter­act with the can­did­ate on social media, sign up for their news­let­ter, or be affil­i­ated with the party or the pres­id­ent in some oth­er shape or form. 2In 2010, sev­er­al Scandinavian polit­ic­al organ­isa­tions became inter­ested in Blue State Digital. However, per­haps the pop­u­la­tion of Scandinavian coun­tries was too small for these tech­no­lo­gies. I guess … Continue read­ing

I first came in con­tact with the immense power of big data in 2007. I was respons­ible for launch­ing a Swedish online ser­vice to veri­fy broad­band speeds (Bredbandskollen). Later, in 2009, my employ­er, Springtime, acquired Early October to use their pro­pri­et­ary tech­no­logy, Social Media Lounge, for online monitoring.

A few years later, around 2012, long before the Techlash, every­one talked about the poten­tial of “big data,” but few people under­stood the implications.

Beyond Basic Demographics

Cambridge Analytica was foun­ded in 2013. Their busi­ness mod­el was sim­il­ar to Blue State Digital, focus­ing on data min­ing, broker­age, and ana­lys­is — and some con­sult­ing. 3This is sim­il­ar to the social media intel­li­gence agency Whispr Group, where I served as the COO from 2010 to 2013.

Segmenting people based on their com­mu­nic­at­ive beha­viour is more power­ful than tra­di­tion­al demo­graph­ic seg­ment­a­tion. 4Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/

But it wasn’t only the data-min­ing com­pan­ies that could sense poten­tial. So did the social net­work­ing sites. 

As Facebook went pub­lic in 2012, it took the lead and embarked on an aggress­ive jour­ney to mon­et­ise social media usage.

In short, Facebook went hard for the advert­ising dollar.

  • I can still hear the echo of Mark Zuckerberg’s words, “Senator, we run ads.”

Advertising is hardly a new mon­et­isa­tion mod­el, but Facebook trans­formed the self-ser­vi­cing tar­get­ing func­tions. With Facebook mov­ing for­ward aggress­ively, Cambridge Analytica decided to take a short­cut. 5Anyone involved in pro­gram­mat­ic advert­ising should know Facebook’s Business Manager and tar­get­ing cap­ab­il­it­ies.

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

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The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

A research­er at the University of Cambridge, Alexsander Kogan, approached Facebook and told them he was col­lect­ing data for aca­dem­ic purposes.

For his “study”, he launched a Facebook app called Your Digital Life. The app was used by 270,000 users who were per­mit­ted to col­lect data on their friends, which allowed the app to mine data on 87 mil­lion users. 6Cambridge Analytica. (2024, May 13). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​C​a​m​b​r​i​d​g​e​_​A​n​a​l​y​t​ica

Soon, this data ended up in Cambridge Analytica’s database.

Among Cambridge Analytica’s founders and investors was the con­ser­vat­ive pun­dit Steve Bannon. Bannon divested his hold­ings in the com­pany in April 2017 when he was appoin­ted White House Chief Strategist. Still, at that point, he had already been work­ing as the CEO for Donald Trump’s pres­id­en­tial bid in August 2016.

And what soft­ware did they use to per­suade the American opin­ion to vote for Trump? Cambridge Analytica, of course.

To run a US pres­id­en­tial cam­paign on the back of illeg­ally (and uneth­ic­ally) acquired data was, of course, a scan­dal in its own right.

In addi­tion, with large data volumes on vari­ous online beha­viours of US cit­izens, Cambridge Analytica pro­filed voters match­ing their psy­cho­graph­ic behaviours.

Psychographic tools (such as Myers-Briggs and The Big Five Aspects Scale) allow people to be assigned to groups based on their past beha­viour and pre­dicted future activ­ity. This gave answers on who to tar­get and how to trig­ger them psychologically.

Cambridge Analytica’s use of data ana­lyt­ics and microtar­get­ing in polit­ic­al cam­paigns, com­bined with psy­cho­lo­gic­al tac­tics, helped secure Donald Trump’s vic­tory in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.“
Source: Proceedings of the 1st Pedagogika International Conference on Educational Innovation 7Gatra, A. (2023). The Power of Data Analytics and Microtargeting in Political Campaigns, Cambridge Analytica Strategy, Donald Trump Victory the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Proceedings of the … Continue read­ing

The whole scan­dal sur­round­ing Cambridge Analytica brought the gen­er­al pub­lic and politi­cians one step closer to under­stand­ing the immense power of big data.

Learn more: Techlash: The Great Digital Depression

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The Techlash is Here To Stay

Expect a power struggle between the big tech com­pan­ies on the one side — and legis­lat­ors and the news media on the other. 

In the wake of the scan­dal, Cambridge Analytica closed its oper­a­tions in 2018. Several exec­ut­ives moved to Emerdata, owned by the same par­ent com­pany and reside in the same build­ing in London.

But the Techlash has already gained too much momentum to stop. 8Techlash, accord­ing to Financial Times: “(noun) The grow­ing pub­lic anim­os­ity towards large Silicon Valley plat­form tech­no­logy com­pan­ies and their Chinese equi­val­ents.”

This is a war for our minds.

I think of Jan Stenbeck (1942 – 2002), the legendary Swedish entre­pren­eur. His busi­ness philo­sophy, as described by bio­graphy author Per Andersson, can be summed up: 9Jan Stenbeck. (2023, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​a​n​_​S​t​e​n​b​eck 10Per Andersson (journ­al­ist). (2024, January 10). In Wikipedia. https://​sv​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​e​r​_​A​n​d​e​r​s​s​o​n​_​(​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​ist)

  • Someone has an idea.
  • However, money defeats ideas.
  • But then, polit­ics defeats money.
  • Ultimately, tech­no­logy defeats politics.
Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Social Media Issues

Social media issues.
Social media issues.
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List of Social Media Issues

Social media isn’t just sun­shine and rain­bows. With massive change come new social media issues we must deal with.

Here are a few examples of social media issues:

Read also: Social Media: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 According to BlueState’s web­site: “We move people to elect pres­id­ents, change laws, fall in love with brands, donate mil­lions, and more.”
2 In 2010, sev­er­al Scandinavian polit­ic­al organ­isa­tions became inter­ested in Blue State Digital. However, per­haps the pop­u­la­tion of Scandinavian coun­tries was too small for these tech­no­lo­gies. I guess that nations much smal­ler than the US will decide to wait.
3 This is sim­il­ar to the social media intel­li­gence agency Whispr Group, where I served as the COO from 2010 to 2013.
4 Silfwer, J. (2015, June 11). The Publics in Public Relations. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​s​-​i​n​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/
5 Anyone involved in pro­gram­mat­ic advert­ising should know Facebook’s Business Manager and tar­get­ing capabilities.
6 Cambridge Analytica. (2024, May 13). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​C​a​m​b​r​i​d​g​e​_​A​n​a​l​y​t​ica
7 Gatra, A. (2023). The Power of Data Analytics and Microtargeting in Political Campaigns, Cambridge Analytica Strategy, Donald Trump Victory the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Proceedings of the 1st Pedagogika International Conference on Educational Innovation, PICEI 2022, 15 September 2022, Gorontalo, Indonesia. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​4​1​0​8​/​e​a​i​.15 – 9‑2022.2335937
8 Techlash, accord­ing to Financial Times: “(noun) The grow­ing pub­lic anim­os­ity towards large Silicon Valley plat­form tech­no­logy com­pan­ies and their Chinese equivalents.” 
9 Jan Stenbeck. (2023, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​J​a​n​_​S​t​e​n​b​eck
10 Per Andersson (journ­al­ist). (2024, January 10). In Wikipedia. https://​sv​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​e​r​_​A​n​d​e​r​s​s​o​n​_​(​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​ist)
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has

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