Facebook Cambridge Analytica is a non-issue, the elephant in the room is something different.

Human Gossip — a sliver that gets amplified.

Photo by Larm Rmah

Could it be about influencing elections using data? Not really.

Mainstream media from Guardian to NewYork Times have an implicit belief — people are gullible enough that they are influenced by ads — to decide on how to vote. It is usually other way round, as humans we find data points and activities that support our belief system.

Could it then be about data? Not really. Here is the real story in short form.

A researcher Aleksandr Kogan created a survey that effectively asked people to give him access to their address book and conversations (likes etc) in return for money. 270,000 people participated and willingly made the trade [gave access to their digital address book with Facebook] and were paid for it. Some small amount. The users clicked “allow” when a pop up happened with information like this under the banner — request for permission

If it is not about swaying elections, if it is not about data, what is the elephant in the room?

The real issue is something different.

People could somehow sway their connections in ways similar to a TV ad or news can.

Here is the subtle difference.

Implicitly with mass media, we grade information based on the sharing source.

On social media, when a friend shares/likes something, he/she becomes our source. That is the problem.

The assumption Zuckerberg and team have implicitly made — people will self-police content. If that is true — then, likes and shares are key algorithmic determinants of virality.

We will not admit — we humans gossip. We do have tribal instincts. We like debates. We sometimes agree to disagree. We fight among ourselves. We are not the strongest species but the most dominant one on this planet. We are the human race.

Bringing it all together.

For social media:

Old assumption -we humans know how to rationally self police on rumor.

Media reality -a healthy respect for the power of gossip and how to mute its virality.

Thank you Cambridge Analytica– your bragging and the whistle blower effect of your former employee could precipitate diverse media working together for the betterment of this race. Our minds are malleable and we are realizing the limits of logic.

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