Bitter facts

Big corporations exploit human psychology to satisfy the business ventures and political aims of their shareholders

Syed Haris Nawaz January 07, 2023
The writer is a freelancer based in Mardan. He can be reached at [email protected]

For the past one or two decades, tech corporations have been boosted manifold, showing paradigm shifting from physical affairs to online. Today millions of people — from all socioeconomic backgrounds, high and low — use social media sites as a source of information to acquaint themselves with the happenings in their surroundings. Whether it is a social issue or political incident, people are mostly resorting to social media sites — Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter — to build their so-called critical comments. Unfortunately, this layman analysis shapes their cognition and psychology that whatever they read and listen to is true and in their larger interests; and whoever they follow is a messiah who will uplift them — through using populist shortcuts — from their deep-rooted miseries and grievances. This sort of sealed ideology, which is immune to dynamic changes, blinds them to peeking into the present and future implications of the systemic problems which have a long history.

Social Dilemma, a documentary on Netflix, shows and analyses the disturbing tactics being employed by big tech corporations to manipulate and change human psychology through sophisticated algorithms. It shows that big techs have 24/7 surveillance on us — encroaching on our domain and integrity —shadowing our evaluative and decision-making process. Most people, especially of young age, would wonder as to why online tech giants would censor them. The answer is pretty plain. Google, and the likes, are not going to uncover your browser history in your social circle. After all, they believe in your ideological construction which in turn will give them political and economic clout.

Understanding foundational parameters of human psychology are pivotal to tech companies. How dopamine and serotonin, and positive reinforcement work in human psychology, etc, are some of the areas around which the tech corporations have designed their algorithms. When you post your photo on Instagram or a mini video on TikTok, you will have an instant inner urge to intermittently open your phone as to who has liked and commented. They all know when to send you useless notifications so that you open your Android or ios and watch — even if you do not want to — the ads of Coca Cola, for instance.

You think that you are using Facebook, or any other social media site for that matter, for free but what Daniel Hovermann says is counterintuitive. According to him, if you are not paying for the product then you are the product. Among other bone-chilling realities, Social Dilemma dissects the implicit partnership of manufacturers and social media giants.

The Great Hack is another documentary that shows how data (personal information) is being used for political purposes. It uses two case studies: one, the Trump election campaign; and two, Brexit. The documentary reveals that Cambridge Analytica, a private firm, had access to the data of users (their age, region, education, etc) which were then evaluated, and used as a manipulating tool during the Trump election and Brexit. The company had selected vulnerable areas which were more prone to ideological manipulations. Massive ads of Trump would come to those users in their news feeds. Whenever they opened their phone, they would show just Trump and Trump. Due to this tactic, Trump’s popularity rose to an exceptional level, and then propounded the populist discourse of Make America Great Again (MAGA). However, his ground realities were quite opposite. He diminished the role of America in international politics by cutting welfare budgets and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. But people who are hardly hit by the toxic wave of populism, eulogised by social media sites, have no capacity altogether to look into the practicality. The same tactic was applied during Brexit when millions of people said that the European Union had negative impacts on Britain’s sociopolitical and economic condition.

Yuval Noah Harari, an Israel-based historian and social critic, in his two books — Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century — argues that with the mingling of biotech with InfoTech, humans’ activities will be shattered which will unleash disastrous consequences for the human race. The preparation of sophisticated algorithms will bring huge social upheaval, political dictatorships and economic disruptions. For instance, when a teacher or a doctor is replaced by a robot, where will they both meet their livelihoods? In that grim scenario, the developing world will lag vis-à-vis developed countries and especially Silicon Valley.

In the ongoing unprecedented technological advancements, big corporations are exploiting human psychology to satisfy the business ventures and political aims of their shareholders. In the throes of these developments, including online dictatorship, marginalised and disenfranchised segments are at the receiving end. They have no right to elect their representatives; they have no secure future because they are the ones who will experience first the severe form of full-time unemployment brought by the robotics revolution, the effects of climate change, and looming nuclear wars. Isn’t humanity on the precipice of a complete collapse? The answer seems absolute yes — at least right now.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2023.

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