Close

The Engineering Of Perception

0

In our current times, we interact within many social paradoxes. On one hand, we have more means to communicate, educate, and merely experience the world in more interconnected ways than ever before, and yet on the other hand, we feel far more isolated, alone, and enervated in our personal lives and in our outreaches to society. Both of these contrasting states occur within the same spaces, happen on the same platforms, and exist within the same societies the world over. Simultaneously, what seems to bring us together often also is the same thing that divides us, and increasingly, there’s a looming problem occurring in the latter sense.

With more of our interactions online, there’s increasingly a reality that the very platforms we use to connect are also disconnected from being held accountable themselves, that their interest in connecting others is largely there for clicks and control, and that many of the services we place our faith into are oftentimes taking advantage of that faith for nefarious and outright shady purposes. This post wishes to attempt to articulate some of the issues of how social media, services, and our vile governments, often foolishly seen as a force of “unification” and “good”, can and are being used to not only create conflict, but be held completely unchecked for this.

The victims here are largely the public, as usual. These ills are very rarely shared in the open, and when they are, it’s well after a problem occurred. When most of the plebeians could care less, if they ever even could care. One of the greatest dangers we face is an ever growing “post-truth” society, wherein truth isn’t merely in the accountable and observable, but entirely in one’s narrative and what one is exposed to. This particular danger is one where companies and governments engage in, often to take advantage of others. While par for the course with big corporations and governments, the technology we have today makes it far too easy and effective for these nefarious institutions to manipulate and control our very perceptions!

Unlike the days of old where governments had to expend great resources and exercise great force upon a population in order to control the minds of the people, today it can be done by a handful of programmers, psychologists, and propagandists. With the aid of large corporations and a whore media run by just a few special interests, power has become far too consolidated for the good of the average person. I will delve into just a few examples below, but there are literally legion.

 

Concerns about YouTube

To begin such an examination, let’s look at YouTube, one of the most used websites on the planet. You can learn skills, encounter viewpoints, and even discover news that may be left unexplored in one’s given community in a local sense. And yet, this very same service is one that allows multiple narratives that oppose one another. In principle, this doesn’t seem like an issue, but increasingly with YouTube’s algorithm, that platform is used to move people into continuous content, with the sole purpose of keeping eyes glued to the screen, watching more and more. Why is that if, for example, you watch content from the leftist YouTube channel “h.bomberguy” one can likely assume you are familiar with other leftist channels like ContraPoints, The Young Turks, Three Arrows, and others, with striking accuracy?

Flipping even the political compass (at least by YouTube video standards) the other way, why is it similarly likely that if one is exposed to content of Ben Shapiro, they’re also just as likely to be exposed to Jordan Peterson, Stefan Molenyeux, Steven Crowder, and Lauren Southern? The algorithm YouTube has often filters these similar channels to one another, often giving one a particular “flavor” of content. Shouldn’t it be the least bit worrying that a company has a behind-the-scenes system that can properly target people with such accuracy that my prior assumptions have consistent validity, that by being exposed to X I am more likely than not correct in assuming one is also exposed to Y?

This isn’t to examine which group, if any, is more true than another, but instead is about how YouTube tends to help manufacture a lens of consumption for its users, often with the user seldom aware or even curious as to why they are being given such a curated slice of content. This creates an “echo-chamber” effect, that is dangerous to all sides of the political spectrum. Dividing the minds of people into compartmentalized “camps” or “tribes” if you will.

So what’s the problem with YouTube doing that?

One may ask “sure, YouTube filters content, but isn’t the point of a service-based platform to do that in order to keep customers?” While the answer is “yes”, even Google employees themselves have admitted concern to the use of these algorithms. One of the largest issues with YouTube’s algorithms is that in order for you to be seen in their system, you have to make appealing content to their system. The reason the above channels are often recommended in such a predictable manner is they cover similar topics and themes, typically from the same political perspective. However, what’s key to note is that if you fail to make content that keeps eyes on the service, that means you’re not getting your own content recommended, which also means you’re likely not getting income. You are not making your way on the proverbial plantation or reservation they have created for you and your mind.

This is one way YouTube may filter content that’s deemed acceptable: propose a topic of theme that seems of issue to potential advertisers and your channel can be gutted in attention. David Pakman, a YouTuber who has spoken at length about this on his channel, argues that the system plays favorites. Similarly, YouTube faces an issue where people exploit the system to nefarious gains. This problem has also happened with their YouTube Kids service, which was often abused and exploited, with action only being taken when advertisers couldn’t turn a blind eye to it. YouTube ended up losing the case, having to pay a $170,000,000 fine, and yet this fine was so low they didn’t even have to announce to shareholders this as a loss, making such issues a literal slap on the wrist. The problem here, simply put, is where various bodies of power and authority act almost as if they’re in the shadows, and are very rarely, if ever, held accountable for what they do or allow.

Seeing a problem here yet? Now if only I could remember what they called government and corporations colluding to control their “human resources”… Ah yes! Fascism, a totalitarian mindset that, just like communism, creates a farm where the livestock are sucked dry by a class of parasitical bureaucrats and their petty lapdog peons.

 

Concerns about Google

It doesn’t stop at YouTube, Google’s platform for video content. Their own search engine has cause for concern, most recently their plans to create a censored service for China. Their ability to even accomplish this means they already have the tools and understanding on how to distribute and circulate content while being able to curb specific types of content. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist myself, but if they planned to enact this for another government, who is to say they haven’t already done this before? Even people on this end draw cause for concern in regards to the lack of accountability from a policy level, as it seems Google is only interested in what seems beneficial for business, even if that business is made in a lot of shady states.

For reference, the United States is the third largest country involved in requesting censorship in regards to Google search data, eclipsing China, even when they were planning Dragonfly, a far more censored search engine for Chinese consumers. While one can assume a lot of it is DMCA claims, but those are also used in false ways, to help take down content that may be critical to a user or get in the way of a company’s ambitions, there is an established history, even on just the local, individual level, that these are used incorrectly.

What else are they up to?

Google is also currently part of a lawsuit regarding being a potential monopoly and violating antitrust laws, which includes 48 states pressing this issue. While they face ongoing lawsuits from some former employees, some who have argued come from a bias against conservatives at the company with James Damore the figurehead of this assertion, what makes the former suit noteworthy is how nearly every state in the country is a part of the suit, meaning that most of the country is concerned that Google may be using its power in nefarious ways. The states missing, interestingly enough, have significant ties to Google. California is the home that Google and much of the Silicon Valley tech industry lives within its borders, so their omission is entirely predictable, but Alabama’s omission is most interesting. May it have to do with the fact that they’re currently benefitting from a construction project being made by the company? When a company can expand into a state and they find it as a net-positive, how easy will they look away from larger issues? Examples of this issue on a local level will be expanded later on in this post.

 

Concerns about social media (Facebook & Twitter)

 

Google isn’t the only offender, of course, but they seem to have been taking much of the spotlight. Facebook faces similar accusations of banning conservatives for complaining about their censorship, their covering up third party ad partners access to data, and they have no meaningful response to deepfakes. In a world where people consume information primarily through these services, the apathy of getting ahead of very clear, obvious issues is remarkable to see, only ever making a comment when it’s covered nonstop. And this is a particular company that wants to create its own currency? On what brand of trust? If the user is the consumer, much like with the pharmaceutical companies and the banks, then they’re the product to be exploited. Consider how in regards to the censorship and data selling that occurred on Facebook, they didn’t come clean right away. They’ve tried to downplay all of the issues they are facing, of course.

Twitter leans left? No wai!?

Similarly, Twitter is a haven for bots and shadowbanning. In a similar context to Facebook, twitter has been accused of censoring conservative views on their platform. Their CEO even admitted to having a left leaning bias, which was subsequently overshadowed in the media with the typical Russian hate mongering propaganda on the platforms in question. And many prominent public personalities on the platform have their followers padded with countless bots. Making their accounts look more important and popular than they actually are, and doing so for pennies on the dollar.

This speaks to the depth of the bot problem: When people are able to make successful apps and websites dedicated to discovering who isn’t even human on the service, it goes to show how it’s allowed to run rampant. If it inflates the user count, to give the impression of a large platform – while they hemorrhage users in the United States, and only 7% of Americans even actively using the platform at all – everything’s fine in the eyes of those who run Twitter. If it means you can’t even verify if you’re talking to a human being and you’re being exposed to propaganda from people who can push the bots, this doesn’t seem to upset Twitter because they’re a part of traffic.

 

Concerns within local communities

 

Similarly, Amazon acts in the same way, trying to market themselves as job creators and a booster to a given community, while downplaying serious labor issues that they themselves produce, and even going so far as to employ a hilariously obvious marketing campaign using the aforementioned Twitter bot issue to get ahead of it (which didn’t work, because of course it didn’t). There’s an incredible level of nerve such companies have wherein they want to offer a platform, talk about accountability and verifiability, when it seems their entire business relies on underhanded tactics, coded terms of service statements, and PR campaigns. One major example of this that applies to the local scene while also having a larger presence is Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair owns a lot of smaller, local networks, and instead of allowing them to be independently run, they often have to adhere to the parent company, often without disclosing this fact. This 1984-esque piece that took the internet by storm is just one example so blatant people caught on. Imagine if people couldn’t connect the dots that this was all a pushed project on behalf of Sinclair for their own agenda and influence: I’m sure people who live in the communities where their local news stations were unaware that such a message was pushed onto them in such a way. It comes off as something one would expect from a literal state-run TV network.

Local level propaganda and control

It’s not merely news, but also policy. In the city of Phoenix, Arizona, the community was asked if they wanted to see the expansion of a light-rail within their community. This, as one would presume, would be seen as an issue the locals of that given community should have a say in. And yet, outside influence played a role. More specifically, the influence of money and the agenda of the Koch family. One may ask “why would a family of incredibly rich people have against a light-rail?” as it seems to be a bit of a conspiracy, to paint naysayers as associated or influenced by a shadowy boogeyman. But one of the companies that this family owns produces seat-belts, something that naturally benefit them if it meant more cars on the road. Further, their think-tank group, Americans for Prosperity, largely advocates to the expansion of roads and fights against various public transportation projects for the same end.

In this way, a local community, thinking and wondering about projects that exist in their own neck of the woods is at a political battle with a group of people who don’t live there and will never likely to visit there, who only have an interest in that community because they may support a project that hurts their profits. Ultimately, at least in this case, this influence failed, but this isn’t to say such acts of influence always fail.

 

Concerns about government

 

Of course, and unfortunately, this doesn’t end with companies, and special interest groups. As expected world governments are cashing in on technology and perception control at an alarming rate as well. And it’s not just China, as one normally assumes. The PRISM program was a project that would spy on American citizens, one that seems to mostly work on suspects already under direct investigation. Like most of the “War on Terror” propaganda, this is argued as a net to get the “bad guys” but is a catch-all information project, one that was exposed by Edward Snowden. What’s noteworthy to memory is how James Clapper, self-proclaimed “public servant”, lying right to congress about the existence of such a program. If people representing our own governments can lie about what they’re doing, how are they ever possibly be held accountable?

At least with companies there’s the risk of advertisers and their stocks, people can still vote with their wallets. With governments, the illusion of choice is all we have left, where voting is little more than a census and simply voting in a politician does nothing for direct issues. The politicians almost always just lie while running then do nothing but line their own pockets once in office anyway. Government rarely produces anything of value, but they have the people convinced that they are needed for life to go on, and even for it to go on productively!

When a government gets power that they sought after, they never relinquish it, they only ever expand on it, and with the surveillance state apparatus, this is a powerful and chilling axiom. With no say of the people, governments take the ‘liberty’ to create such systems with the excuse that “its for your own good” or “for your protection”. You then have to believe these surveillance programs actually produce incredible results, and that they’re not just an excuse for enhanced spying, yeah right! They engender evil ideologies like: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.

That is a lot to ask for when people aware of these programs lie to congressional bureaucrats, and the bureaucrats are colluding with them in the first place. But if companies are now openly admitting that their automated services actually have human beings listening to them, including private information, what can a far more sophisticated and criminal filled system like a government accomplish? If China can be seen to be doing it out in the open, America’s risk is they’re doing it in secret, and if it ever gets out, it’s always about getting the “bad ones”. Is one really right to assume, with good faith, that the supposed surveillance balloons being used in the United States will really and only be used to traffic narcotics rings? Should this really be a state of affairs we get comfortable with?

 

The final example I’d like to share brings all of this together. One can attempt to handwave when power is used to manipulate what you’re exposed to consume, or what ads are being marketed to you, or even when you’re being spied on. A line gets drawn when that manipulation leads to illness, injury, and death. In particular, the United States is facing a profound crisis in multiple parts of the country when it comes to its citizens becoming ill through the water supply. Recently, there’s been issues with Newark, New Jersey, and it’s said it may take nearly a decade to fix the problem. Most famous was Flint, Michigan, a genuine crisis that is still downplayed in its severity. Frontline alone in its striking documentary, goes into incredible detail in regards to what government employees interfered with the investigation, to downplaying the risk despite knowing of it for nearly two years before the public did, to blaming a local hospital because they didn’t want to take accountability, to even preventing the investigation of the water supply in the homes of individuals.

All of that abuse was handwaved away when Barack Obama played propagandist and drank clean water where he even repeated that same stunt later that same day. His lips not even drinking the water given to him is irrelevant: his actions of implying it was all okay, when countless people suffered and still currently suffer from Legionnaires’ disease – a disease gotten primarily through water – afflicts the people of Flint even today.

 

Flint may seem like the biggest case here, and yet, it doesn’t end there. A similarly damning situation exists elsewhere in the United States that has gone under the rater, and when brought up to the public has an even more absurd game of deflection put upon it. The “Black Belt” of Alabama has a water crisis where nearly a third of the population are afflicted with parasites, an area facing such destitution it was investigated and declared by Phillip Altson of the United Nations Human Rights Council to be one of the poorest place in the First world, referred to the level of issues as “torture” to the people who live there, and all our current form of government could do is present a marketing piece talking about how “free” Americans are, and how dare the United Nations look into human suffering within the borders of the United States. What’s most egregious with this is it wasn’t merely that response: the United States pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council the same day this report was introduced in the council report for the Human Rights Council, before this report was made public in July. Worse still they have tried to manufacture the numbers the report argues about those who live in third-world conditions within the United States, moving it from what the report claims of around 18,000,000 to merely 250,000. Alongside this, they’ve proclaimed the “War on Poverty” has been “won”, likely driven to create a counter-narrative to what the data shows.

The deflection against reality, against data, is one where in this case allows the normalization, handwaving, and even manufacturing away real suffering and ailments that affect regular people. If government is supposed to be the body that represents us, it’s examples like this that show us, in the words of the late Terrence McKenna, we are led by the least among us.

Conclusion

It is often people and groups that cannot be held for their actions that take advantage of us all. It’s not just algorithms, or social media bots, or even the government as singular, particular sources of trouble. It’s where vacuums of power coincide with a lack of accountability. Wherever these two meet, time will eventually produce a torrent of abuses, and not a soul in charge of it all will be held responsible.

This is why centralization of power is so dangerous, and why every government that has ever existed has come to a bloody end. Because institutions of power that attract parasitical manipulators, mendacious criminals, and duplicitous deceivers – will always grind humanity into dust. They exist to destroy the individual, break down the masses, and feed themselves on the remains of those they profess to protect and serve.

This is why cryptology and counter-economic technology is so important. Because we the people need to level the playing field with the greater powers, and we can only do that together. The least we can do, in these times, is to shine a light into these dark corridors. And the most we can do is develop open-source and agorist solutions that empower the masses, truly protecting ourselves from the ever growing reach of the ravenous and insatiable power hoarders.