Today is my turn to host Matthew Blakstad, author of Sockpuppet and Lucky Ghost, on Cover to Cover. I would like to thank Matthew for the guest post (which is brilliant!) and Rosie from Hodder & Stoughton for including me in this blog tour.
ALL THE FEELS is an interesting and thought provoking article about why we should be worried when tech companies start tracking how social media users feel… or you know, they probably already do it… yeap! Check this out… ⇓⇓⇓
Liz, Over & Out.
ALL THE FEELS by Matthew Blakstad
Why do you see the things you see online? Do they make you feel happy? Angry? Motivated? Disheartened?
That’s not an accident.
More and more of our time is spent staring at a screen; and the data we share while we’re on there – photos, status updates, likes, locations, steps and heartbeats – are giving Google, Apple and Facebook an increasingly lavish flow of insights into our thoughts, loves, hates and susceptibilities. At this point, the methods these platform providers use to analyse this fire-hose of data remain quite rudimentary; but rest assured, they’re more than good enough for advertisers to target us with highly personalised content, designed to elicit specific responses. Specific feelings.
A few years back, Facebook was taken to task for running an experiment in ‘emotional contagion’. This involved showing one randomly selected group of users a raft of depressing content, while also showing uplifting material to a second group; then measuring the emotional fallout on the users’ timelines. The surprising thing about this scandal wasn’t that Facebook was running this kind of so-called ‘A/B test’ upon its unsuspecting users. That happens constantly, all day, every day, whenever a user loads a screen. The surprise was that they told us about it. And that was only because it was written up in an academic study, unlike 99.9999% of the tests they run on us.
We’ve all become emotional lab rats – a thought that was on my mind at the start of 2016, when I started writing my second full-length novel, a thriller called LUCKY GHOST. The book, which is set in the near future, imagines a digital environment called the Strange – an augmented version of the real world, whose users live out emotionally-charged fictions, and win rewards for the strength of the feelings they experience as they play. Something that enables the company behind the Strange to sell them stuff with unprecedented accuracy. The story kicks into gear when persons unknown start using the Strange to manipulate people on an epic scale.
Could this happen in reality? I’d argue it already has. Take last year’s US Presidential Election. Nobody knows quite how much of a role fake news played in swinging the country to Trump. But it does seem clear that his campaign, aided and abetted by the psychometric targeting algorithms of a firm called Cambridge Analytica, was bombarding susceptible voters on an epic scale with Facebook ads designed to enthuse those leaning to the Donald; and dispirit those who might have persuaded themselves to vote for Hillary. And how did they learn so much about the motivations of tens of millions of Americans? By scraping up Facebook data. Simple as that. According to CA, they only needed to capture a couple of hundred of each user’s Likes to understand them better than their own families ever could.
Never mind Russian hackers – here was a handful of wealthy Americans, manipulating millions of fellow-citizens using only social media and some nifty psychological software. And if all that feels a little distant for a UK reader, you might want to know that the exact same thing seems to have taken place here, in the run-up to the Brexit vote – and doubtless in many, many other places we haven’t yet heard about. It seems the only people exempt from this kind of digital chicanery are those who opt out of social media altogether.
The early advocates of the open internet presented the ‘digital superhighway’ as an electric utopia where all the information known to humankind would be accessible to all. To a certain extent, this has come to pass; especially if by ‘all the information known to humankind’, you mean ‘pictures of my breakfast’. But what those tech cheerleaders failed to recognise was the way the online realm would also become an hyper-efficient platform for tweaking and nudging people’s deepest motivations, in the interest of corporations and politicians – and who knows, maybe criminals, too?
That, at least, is the idea at the heart of LUCKY GHOST. I hope you might choose to read it. And – since I’m not averse to a little emotional manipulation of my own – I hope it scares the crap out of you.
There we have it, guys! You can’t imagine how often I have been in conversations with people about situations such as Matthew writes about and each and every time I am stamped as either a crazy person or conspiracy maniac: ‘Oh, you think you’re being watched? How fantastically paranoid of you!’
Seeing the instant and very personalized advertisement across my social media accounts, it makes me frown every time. I book a flight or a hotel for a colleague at work and my personal FB feed is full of ads/offers to the exact destination for a ‘brilliant weekend getaway’. Or, my Gmail account starts getting those ad banners… or when I was looking at purchasing website hosting, my Outlook account got this big flashy banner for a hosting company. Or when I had a Skype conversation with a colleague about a Hitler related book and bam!- spam is full of emails with Hitler in subject line… come on!
It’s all connected and it annoys me. Much like the over enthusiastic sales people who get in your face the moment you step into their shop- ‘Can I help you? Are you looking for something specific?’… just geez, get out of my face and personal space, I am an able adult and I will approach you when I need to. But anyway, I guess the algorithm isn’t quite 100% sophisticated yet- obviously it can’t make a difference in between personal and professional lives, but I’m sure they’re working on ironing that out…
Keep scrolling down… Info about Lucky Ghost and Sockpuppet below 🙂
Lucky Ghost by Matthew Blakstad (Martingale Cycle #2)
Here’s my review in case you missed it. I’m one of those annoying sales people now, aren’t I? 😀
Early one Monday morning, much like today, journalist Alex Kubelick walks up to a total stranger and slaps him across the face. Hard.
He thanks her.
They’ve both just earned Emoticoins in a new, all-consuming game that trades real-life emotions for digital currency. Emoticoins are changing the face of the global economy – but someone or something seems to be controlling the game for their own, nefarious purposes.
As Alex begins to pick apart the tangled threads that are holding the virtual game together she finds herself on the run from very real enemies. With the world economy teetering on the brink of collapse, it seems there’s only one person who might have the answers she seeks.Someone who hides behind the mysterious name ‘Lucky Ghost.’
But who is Lucky Ghost… and can they really be trusted?
And what do they want?
Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad (Martingale Cycle #1)
Here’s my review in case you missed it. I’m one of those annoying sales people AGAIN, aren’t I? 😀
Twitter. Facebook. Whatsapp. Google Maps. Every day you share everything about yourself – where you go, what you eat, what you buy, what you think – online. Sometimes you do it on purpose. Usually you do it without even realizing it. At the end of the day, everything from your shoe-size to your credit limit is out there. Your greatest joys, your darkest moments. Your deepest secrets.
If someone wants to know everything about you, all they have to do is look.
But what happens when someone starts spilling state secrets? For politician Bethany Lehrer and programmer Danielle Farr, that’s not just an interesting thought-experiment. An online celebrity called sic_girl has started telling the world too much about Bethany and Dani, from their jobs and lives to their most intimate secrets. There’s just one problem: sic_girl doesn’t exist. She’s an construct, a program used to test code. Now Dani and Bethany must race against the clock to find out who’s controlling sic_girl and why… before she destroys the privacy of everyone in the UK.