Tag Archives: voters

Is Facebook Playing with Your Emotions?

Is Facebook playing mind games? Toying with your emotions? The answer is yes and its been going on for some time.

A recently leaked confidential document prepared by Facebook revealed the social media giant offered advertisers the opportunity to target advertising at 6.4 million teens some only 14 years old. The document exposed that Facebook was using keywords such as “worthless,” “insecure,” “stressed,” “defeated,” “anxious,” and like a “failure,” to focus ads.

Facebook prepared the 23-page report for a potential advertiser to show that Facebook has the ability to micro-target ads. Specifically to target ads at vulnerable teens at “moments when young people need a confidence boost.”

According to The Australian’s report, Facebook monitored teen social media activity in real time including posts, photos and other Internet activity to track these emotional lows. Although Facebook has confirmed it did indeed create the report it has declined to respond to questions.

According to Facebook the research may not have been approved by company leadership.Facebook issued a public statement claiming the article was misleading. “Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.”

Facebook has become notorious for privacy invasion but claimed that the research “was never used to target ads.” Facebook went on to write that the analysis on young users violated Facebook’s research review protocols and they would  be “reviewing the details to correct the oversight.”

But here is the problem with Facebook’s claim. They’ve manipulated user’s emotions before. In 2012 Facebook ran an experiment on 689,003 users in an attempt to discover if they could manipulate user’s emotions by carefully placing posts in their news feeds. Some users were fed stories with positive words filtered out. Another group were fed stories with negative words filtered out. Even though the overall effect on the group as a whole was small it still shows Facebook’s attempts to affect emotions. The question must be asked; what would have happened if the outcome of the experiment was different?

Facebook’s experiments revealed that relatively minor manipulations of its pages can have tremendous and reverberating social effects. One 2012 study showed in 2010 Facebook reminded user to vote. The result was that 340,000 more people voted than otherwise would have. (“How Facebook Drove Voters to the Polls”).

Breaking It Down

Yes, Facebook is playing mind games and they are extremely dangerous at that. Zuckerberg is starting to become a Dr. Frankenstein. This experiment, even though they claim not to have sanctioned it, reveals that the monster is out of control. What kind of internal culture would even allow this type of thinking? What has Zuckerberg preached to his employees that they would believe it was ok to even try emotional manipulation of vulnerable teens? Are we looking at a company that is moving toward outright mind control? Lets take this a step further. There are laws governing human experimentation. I would wager they have probably violated at least the spirit of these laws. You simply cannot manipulate information in order to control human actions. But Facebook seems to be trying. And something needs to be done. There’s a new word in our vocabulary for this activity, “Fake news!”


Breach Brief – Nationwide Voter Database

 voting-boothA massive and mysterious voter database has been exposed online and no one knows who it belongs to, how it got there or when it will be removed.

An independent security researcher by the name of Chris Vickery discovered the database. The files contain the names, phone numbers home addresses, birth dates, genders, ethnicity, dates of voter registration, party affiliation, e-mail addresses belonging to 191 million Americans from all fifty states and Washington, DC.  To make matters worse the database contains information on who the voters voted for since 2000. The voting records do not include driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, financial records or any kind of familial information. Vickery reported the discovery to DataBreaches.net, which keeps track of massive online security blunders. 

The FBI and the California Attorney General’s Office have been contacted regarding the breach. These organizations have the power to remove the database but have not done so yet. The researchers have not revealed where they found the database.



Countable.us Website Can Empower Black Voters

MLK voteIn a democracy you have a right to speak and be heard. A new website has begun to funnel the voice of the voter directly to the halls of Congress.

Internet start-up Countable.us is just the latest website focusing on delivering the desires of the voter directly to their elected representatives. Launched just this week Countable.com gives voters a quick and understandable explanation of  the bills their representatives in Washington are currently considering. The website lets the voter instantly dispatch emails to their representatives expressing how they would like them to vote.

The creators of Countable.com, Peter Arzhintar and Bart Myers, decided they wanted to improve the political process using the Internet. The result was a website that explained to the voter the basic issues of the bill in plain English. 

In order to use the Countable website you need a Facebook account. Countable uses your Facebook profile to determine your name, location, and your national representatives. The website then displays a series of bills your representatives are expected to vote on. Each one has a short summary of the bill’s pros and cons. The voter can click “yea” or “nay” to automatically send an e-mail to their representatives, or simply click “skip” it.  If the voter desires more details they can click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.

Countable also tracks how your representatives voted on bills compared to the way you wanted them to vote. This produces a “compatibility ranking” for each one. But since every websites need money to survive a lot of the data is used for advertising. Countable is currently working on a Apple app for smartphones.

One of the things Countable is aware of is the complicated nature of bills. The company is challenged with providing enough information for voters to develop informed opinions without overwhelming them. “Fortunately, most pieces of legislation can be reasonably straight forward,” Myers says. “It’s when you get into complicated legislation with different political motivations associated with it that things get hard.”

Bills moving through the halls of Congress become more byzantine and shadowy as they pass from committee to committee. Politicians are famous for adding amendments to bills that increase spending or add regulations that are completely unrelated to the original bill. They are called earmarks. Countable.com will post updates to bills that have such riders. “Being able to call that out is actually a benefit in what we do,” says Myers.

But is this form of communication really as powerful as it seems? Anyone can email their elected representative and there is no method for verifying if the person is actually a constituent.  Countable  has no way of verifying this information either. This fact leaves the information open to unsavory influences. For example a lobbyist, advocacy group or political action committee could somehow skew the information an elected official may receive. But according to  Myers most representatives are looking for ways to gather data from their constituents. “Most of them would still prefer to get feedback by phone,” he says. “But millennials can barely call their parents, let alone their representatives.”

Other websites using the power of the Internet to stir up democracy include the Madison Project a product of the OpenGov Foundation. The Madison Project is an open source software platform for writing, publishing, and annotating legislation.   The OpenGov Foundation was founded by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca).

“For people who are not inside of government, it really sucks standing on the outside looking inside seeing the government working on something you know about and not having a way to contribute,” says Seamus Kraft, who co-founded OpenGov and served on Issa’s staff. “If you’re an elected official, you don’t have an efficient way to listen to constituents. Those are the two technical things we’re trying to solve.”

The first bill created with Madison was the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the OPEN Act) in 2011, a response to a Senate bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and a House bill called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). So far no bill created using the Madison Project has become law.

Breaking It Down

Black people have been killed for trying to vote. In our country, our democracy, black people have fallen short of the dreams of Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders when it comes to using the power of the vote.  Let’s change that.  I have signed up for Countable.com and I encourage you to do the same. But Countable.com is not perfect. I didn’t expect it to be. It’s explanations of bills is too short for my tastes and over simplifies the issues. They can do better. But it does offer a channel for black people to speak up to the elected representatives in Washington and stop being so easily ignored.

Using Countable.com will allow black voters to be heard. Is Countable fool proof? No. But if enough black people use it, trust me they will notice. Its the duty of black people to speak to power. A lot black people seem to live for the latest news about Beyonce, or whats happening on the television program Scandal. They spend hours a day on Facebook. But many of these same black people have no clue as to what is happening in the highest circles of power. These elected officials control how you live!

I am going to say this and I won’t back down; as a black person if you know more about Kanye West than you do about what is happening in Congress then you can consider yourself a tool of the white power structure. Its no secret that some people enjoy the fact that black people have such a poor voter turnout. They count on it! They count on our chosen ignorance. We only hurt ourselves.

We as black people need to participate in the democracy we have here. We need to stand up and speak out everyday and not just when someone offends us. This what the Internet and websites like Countable can help us do.  Do you feel me?