The readings this week highlight social media's characteristic mass epistemological uploading and downloading of information to the public consciousness. Data scientists and surreptitious data analysts study these agendas, truths, and sociopolitical challenges are made visible.
By combing large sets of Twitter usage researchers in Spain (" Social Media Fingerprints of Unemployment") are able to gain a more real time and nuanced perception of the unemployment problem from microblogging's "digital exhaust." Similarly, Chris and UNICEF have been able to take a reading on a situation almost in an instant when they directly ask U-Reporters in Uganda to reply to a question regarding sex bribery in the school systems. They can attempt to use technology to gain purchase on problems that escalate and mutate in real time.
In the fascinating "The Data That Turned the World Upside Down," we get an understanding of Psychometrics, a field which looks at people's quantifiable psychological traits and defines them on scales of the OCEAN personality rubric - openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The story of Kosinski's early Facebook "hack" and subsequent cooption by the snakes at Cambridge Analytica is straight from a movie. The way that Nix is able to target their propaganda efforts with such nefarious accuracy is remarkable.
And when Gilad Lotan looks at other social media data and attempts to analyze the shifting currents of election season as it played out online on Facebook and Twitter, we gain an even more unnerving sense of the post-truth media landscape. Chris holds up the concept of "information poverty" as a daily kilobyte threshold that people must eclipse in order to be equal citizens of the world, which stands in stark and bewildering juxtaposition to the western world's firehose stream of echo chambers and agenda-driven coordinated obfuscation techniques which Lotan decodes in "Fake News is Not the Only Problem."
Questions for Panelists --
The word data is synonymous with truth, or of concrete pixels that make up a large and accurate picture, if we can decode it properly. Over the past 5 years, Big Data scientists and statisticians are becoming the powerful storytellers and gate keepers (or in some cases the censors) of our digital information systems. Do the companies that hire these computer scientists ever hire people from philosophy and ethics backgrounds?
Are any companies or government bodies adding these kinds of advisory members to their teams to help ensure they behave as good actors, to provide moral guidance into complex territory?