Privacy Lost

The age of social media has ushered in an era where people voluntarily surrender their privacy to shadowy information companies which manipulate their users through a continuous behavioral prediction collection model which allows these companies to package this predictive behavior information for sale to advertisers and more nefarious merchants such as purveyors of fake news for political purposes all without the overt knowledge of users who content themselves they are merely using technology as a social tool.

As humans, we each entertain thoughts in the privacy of our minds which we do not share with the world because we innately understand that these thoughts would be frowned upon by others not privy to the entirety of our thinking and how these thoughts arose and were processed. Thinking something does not mean we ever actually intend to put that thought into action, and by keeping those thoughts to ourselves, we merely engage in consideration of the thought with no fear of repercussions from society. Our thoughts are our own, unless we choose to express them.

As Christians, our most cherished and private thoughts are those conversations we have with God through our prayers. We express our gratitude to God for the blessings He bestows upon us while also confessing the shame of our sins along with our vulnerabilities as fears. The ability to search oneself to confront our inner vulnerabilities and weaknesses is made possible only through our ability to engage in private thought. As such, privacy is one of the cornerstones of our humanity deserving of protection and respect.

Our Founding Fathers respected the privacy of their fellow men and their ability to enjoy their privacy without fear that the state would intrude upon their privacy without a good and just cause. In seeking to design a government powerful enough to manage the affairs of the country while protecting the rights of the citizens living under that government, the Founders included the Bill of Rights addressing specific rights which were to be reserved to Americans without restraint. The Fourth Amendment specifically addresses the right of Americans to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by government officials not in possession of a warrant properly secured with evidence of probable cause. This right was specifically extended to their persons, houses, papers, and effects with the understanding that Americans shall enjoy protection of their privacy in all forms.

It is ironic that the left expends so much legal energy protecting the rights of criminals to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures arising from a lack of probable cause, but remains silent, or at least subdued, on protection of privacy in the digital realm. The Obama administration inherited the ability to spy upon Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution from the Bush administration which secured passage of the Patriot Act in the wake of the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11. For all of their lefty rhetoric, the Obama administration promptly took this power and abused it to spy upon their political rivals in violation of our understanding of our most cherished freedoms as Americans.

In the course of our lives, we go about our daily routines making choices that are entirely logical and reasonable under the circumstances at the time they are made, but which could not stand up to intense public scrutiny when examined out of context. It is for this reason that the Founders sought to protect the privacy of Americans in the Constitution. As we are all aware from living with the 24/7 news cycle and its insatiable appetite for salacious information, it is easy for the media to focus with laser intensity upon an individual and their choices made over a particular period while presenting this collected information in ways which are unflattering to the individual so as to shift public opinion against that individual. Biased as the media has shown itself to be for those on the left, they also possess the ability to manipulate the presentation of information so as to shift public opinion favorably towards their advocated subjects. Not one of us is able to explain our every action in a reasonable and flattering manner, nor are any of us required to do so according to the Constitution.

It is one thing for government to demand information through an unreasonable search or seizure in a heavy-handed manner which arouses the ire of Americans aware of their rights as citizens. That blunt approach raises the hackles of Americans rightly incensed at its unlawfulness and causes the public to sympathize with the victim against the bureaucracy of the state. It is entirely a different thing for Americans to voluntarily surrender their personal information through schemes designed to tempt citizens with the promise of free benefits for signing up to a mailing list or the free use of social media platforms innocently presented as means to connect with friends and family living far away. Americans voluntarily surrendering their privacy elicit little public sympathy while negating the argument that their information is being demanded by others, be they government or corporate entities.

This soft approach to invasion of privacy and information collection reflects the evolutionary sophistication of those seeking this power over others. Privacy invasions through demands for information are met with resistance while soothing temptations to voluntarily surrender information are enthusiastically received by citizens willing to provide intimate details of their lives on social media platforms unaware as they are that they are being scrutinized while their information is collated and sold to others. A cursory familiarity of macroeconomics would lead one to question how these social media platforms remain financially viable when their services are offered for free. Americans have not been dumbed down by the left to the point whereby they no longer realize that companies offering goods and services must monetize their products to remain in business. We still realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Companies must realize a profit to pay their employees and shareholders, and giving away their services only means they are monetizing their product through alternate channels. In the case of social media platforms, this monetization occurs through advertising.

The value of these social media platforms to advertisers exists on several levels, some of which are less obvious than others. With millions of people using these social media platforms, advertisers are able to reach a large volume of people with their message. In an era of declining television viewership as Americans gravitate away from traditional media to online media, advertisers have followed suit by transitioning their advertising online to continue reaching their target demographics. Less obvious is the ability of these social media platforms to collect and analyze information gathered through the online activity of their users, then package this information for sale to advertisers who can then target specific advertising messages to these now segmented target demographics. Instead of designing a multitude of generic ads aimed at large generic audiences, marketers can design even more targeted ads aimed specifically at the target demographic predicted to be the most receptive to that message. The social media platforms offer advertisers the ability to target specific demographics with specific advertising predicted by the social media platform algorithms to be most receptive to that advertising message.

The ability of social media platforms to collect information from consumers exceeds the wildest expectations of the marketing industry and delivers on its dream of accessing consumer information allowing it to focus specific messages to specific, narrowly focused target demographics to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising messages. Advertisers were always willing to pay handsomely for this level of consumer reach, and the social media platforms are raking in billions for their ability to deliver on this dream. Marketers no longer have to pester customers to fill out surveys or sign up for mailing lists or bombard consumers with coupons now that the social media platforms are able to gather vastly more information than the marketing industry ever thought possible and deliver it to marketers prepackaged for immediate use. Marketers now spend their time designing apps to soft sell their targeted demographics with subtle messages intended to germinate the need for their products in the minds of those using the app.

Goods and services are not the only products sold by marketers. Ideas are also sold to the public in increasingly sophisticated and nefarious ways. Political consultants have discovered the power of these social media platforms to sway public opinion on the issues and candidates of the day. When it comes to political manipulation, research has revealed that negative advertising is far more effective at shifting public opinion and is retained by the consumer far longer than positive advertising. This is the impetus behind the profusion of negative political advertising which overwhelmingly populates our media and contributes to the toxic political culture increasingly polarizing and alienating Americans. Politicians go negative because it works, plain and simple.

Political consultants on both sides have honed their ability to manipulate public opinion through the use of fake news disseminated to inflame or subdue passions as the case may be. These clever manipulators employ subtle techniques often requiring extended periods of exposure to reinforce their intended messages through the use of innocuous cartoons and jokes lampooning political ideas or candidates aimed at impressionable young people lacking the maturity to properly analyze the deeper meaning of this content or the intentions of its designers.

Americans volunteering their personal information to receive a free hat or coupon do so with the awareness that they are surrendering a portion of their privacy to receive an overt benefit. Americans surrendering vastly more of their privacy to social media platforms lack the same degree of awareness as the companies behind these social media platforms covertly collect vastly more information with significantly less user awareness or comfort. This trove of personal information is then dissected, collated, packaged, and sold to advertisers and consultants for use in ways often unimaginable to the average American unschooled in the art of modern marketing in the digital age.

Much to the chagrin of the media establishment, President Trump has vastly increased awareness among Americans of the media’s lefty bias and its use of fake news to manipulate public opinion. Americans are shunning traditional media in droves as they continue outing their lefty bias through continuous and increasingly vehement attacks on President Trump and his administration. Biased media talking heads no longer bother to hide their bias as they openly undermine the Trump administration while reveling in broadcasting any information they believe will turn President Trump’s supporters against him. This public awareness of media manipulation to shift and control public opinion is beginning to spread into the digital realm as Americans start to realize the power of social media platforms to censor conservative speech as unworthy in direct violation of the Constitution and the foundational principles of America.

This censorship of conservative opinion hearkens back to the blunt use of government power to demand information from citizens through the use of unlawful search and seizure policies. One would think that those able to design systems capable of getting Americans to voluntarily surrender personal information they would otherwise be uncomfortable sharing with total strangers intent on using it in nefarious ways would be able to design a subtler method to censor their political rivals other than outright banning them. Their manipulation of algorithms to hide conservative articles and websites from dissemination was once such method, but even it was not subtle enough to avoid detection as conservatives monetizing their online presence discovered a rapid decline in their online revenue which could only be explained as censorship on the part of their lefty social media hosts.

The latest tactic favored by social media companies to censor conservative thought is packaged as attempts to police their platforms to eliminate vile and hateful speech deemed as not contributing to the conversation. Like all forms of censorship, this latest attempt depends on biased and fallible humans to conduct the policing, and is being sold as protection against exposure to online bullying in the form of hate speech. Clever explanations of using computer algorithms to accomplish this policing of platform speech belie the fact that humans are required to program and tweak these algorithms, thus it falling ultimately to humans to perform this censorship.

The Founding Fathers realized that censored speech was not free speech and censorship was always in the eye of the beholder. This is why the First Amendment to the Constitution addressed freedom of speech reserving this right to Americans while expressly forbidding its encroachment by the federal government. We are either free to speak without fear of government repercussions, or we are not. Any form of censorship, regardless of how well constructed or how benevolent its intention, is still censorship and an encroachment on our freedom of speech.

Americans have allowed these social media companies far more access to their personal information than they should be comfortable sharing, and only by shunning these obviously biased platforms can Americans have any hope of regaining control over their privacy and their ability to think for themselves. In reality, Facebook is nothing more than a cleverly designed predictive behavior instrument whereby participants are constantly exposed to a succession of content on which they are encouraged to weigh in with their likes and dislikes to provide a predictive behavior profile of increasingly finer granularity. The finer the granularity of this profile, the greater its value to marketers who are then able to design increasingly targeted advertising messages more apt to manipulate the opinion of the viewer.

In the same manner, Twitter collects user tweets to build a predictive behavior profile of their users through their retweets of celebrity tweets indicative of their thoughts similar to the likes and dislikes of Facebook. Celebrities are recruited to post salacious or inflammatory tweets designed to garner attention and retweets indicative of the state of online opinion. Additionally, these social media platforms employ millions of fake profiles for various deceitful purposes such as increasing the appearance of user popularity or the popularity of a particular issue, and always for a price.

Recent trends indicate that the popularity of social media platforms is waning as users increasingly discover a lack of fulfillment in their constant use of social media. Research shows that consumers of social media are less happy than consumers of traditional scripted programming. Social media consumers are increasingly turned off by the mundane and often depressing details shared by their social media acquaintances. Social media has lost its charm as a form of escapism because substitution of the depressing details of someone else’s life is not sufficient to overcome the banality of one’s own life. We seek escapism through the antics of others leading impossibly interesting lives easily found in scripted entertainment venues.

Another reason for the waning of social media use is an increasing awareness that privacy lost is privacy never to be regained. We tend to guard our privacy and share it only with others vetted and trusted by us as a form of self-preservation. Allowing unfettered access to our intimate details tends to put us at the mercy of others, many of whom are treacherous and seek to harm us. There exists also an increasing desire to retake our lives from the addiction of social media as the use of social media is increasingly viewed as a waste of our time and detrimental to our happiness.

Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have gained unprecedented access to our privacy and are abusing this access to manipulate our opinions on the issues of the day in ways unfathomable to the average user. Along with other web behemoths such as Google, informational power has been concentrated into the hands of the few at the expense of the many. It matters not that these companies have designed clever platforms capable of getting us to voluntarily surrender our personal information. Incumbent upon us to protect ourselves as it is, these social media companies have abused the natural human condition of bonding with others socially to spy upon the process as if they were a fly on the wall. Their minimized presence deep in the background is meant to lull us into forgetting they are there constantly watching our every click to construct their predictive behavior profiles for sale to those willing to pay. Their pernicious voyeurism threatens our safety and security as they are both unregulated and unable to properly protect their platforms from malicious hackers.

The vast ability of the government to spy upon Americans through their communications, coupled with government access to the informational troves compiled by social media companies effectively guts the protections of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure against our persons, houses, papers, and effects. Lefties arguing that the Constitution should be a living document to keep up with the times argue this only in the sense of relaxing government protections to facilitate their ambition of totalitarian control and never in the sense of recognizing that the Internet has replaced papers as our primary means of communication, or that technology has extended the boundary of our persons deserving of Fourth Amendment protection. To put a finer point on it, they do so for criminals and not average Americans to further undermine the Constitution which obstructs their totalitarian intentions.

We as a nation should be furious that our constitutional protections have been eroded through laws and policies sold under the illusion of increasing our safety. Ben Franklin warned “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Those on the left have abused our natural desire for safety to usurp our rights and increase their ability to throttle our liberty in their elitist drive for totalitarian control to make our choices for us. We are treated as children by elitists supremely confident in their superiority over us. We are not children, but free men yearning for the ability to exercise the liberty bestowed upon us by God as part of our natural rights. Privacy lost is equivalent to liberty lost and the antithesis of the Constitution and the intentions of the Founders in its design.

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