The Internet and Mind Control


On 9 April 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, testified before the American Congress about the misuse of user information on the pretext that information was used by “Cambridge Analytica”; a company responsible for preparing targeted campaigns. Cambridge Analytica was hired to run Donald Trump’s presidential elections campaign, and thus, the question was raised: Did the leak of user information help this Company manipulate and control the minds of voters? In a wider sense, do social networking sites—such as Facebook, twitter, etc., and search engines—manipulate and control the minds of their users?

Facebook’s announced purpose is connecting people and it does connect people; after all, Facebook is a social platform for almost a seventh of the world’s population. Yet, does it really connect people or provide an unrealistic version of reality? Active users spend several hours on Facebook every day; do they really do it to connect with others?

The hours spent on Facebook come from our addiction to likes because it makes us feel fulfilled, appreciated, and loved. When we post something and get many likes, dopamine—a chemical responsible for feeling good—is released. This makes us ask for more by posting more stuff every single day and checking who has given us a like today. The problem with the instant feel good is that it is short term and easy; rather than working on long-term goals to create true happiness, you are stuck in your addiction to Facebook likes.

On the other hand, what we like on Facebook gives a pretty good picture of who we are; our preferences indicate our personalities and in that way, we are vulnerable. Marketers, promoters of presidential campaigns, etc., can target us better because they know who we are, based on what we share and like.

Google can also manipulate our minds. We are not safe when we make a rational Google search to search for specific information. When we search, we normally pick the first or the second link that pops up. Thus, we fall under the effect of what Psychologist Robert Epstein calls the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME). There are several websites that are relevant to our search, but we pick what Google has decided to put at the top of all other search results.

In an experiment conducted on a mock search engine where people were expected to choose candidates they had no prior information about, it was noted that people favored candidates based on their ranking among other search results on the search engine. As such, even if we believe we are in control of what we search, it turns out we can be manipulated by what we can easily find.

With all the data about us on social media, with the good feelings Facebook triggers in our brains when we feel loved and appreciated through likes, and the information Google decides to put on our way while conducting a search, we are not as free as we think we are. Our feelings and choices are manipulated by people who have access to our data and can therefore use it to their own benefits. They can convince us to vote for a certain candidate or buy a specific product. In today’s world, we are what we see on the Internet.


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