BMI/BMD Crisis

BMI is a problem faced by many, not body mass index, but behavior manipulation ignorance. But even more serious a problem is BMD (behavior manipulation denial) on the part of people who look the other way or rationalize to avoid facing or to minimize the consequences of their engagement on social media and contracts with social media companies.

Behavior manipulation denial arguments are diverse:

  • I know what they’re doing and I’m smart enough to avoid being manipulated. And, anyway, I just ignore the junk.

Most people who say this don’t really know or aren’t smart enough. They need to think harder. All the huge number of people who, in Novermber 2015, superimposed the French flag over their profile photos on Facebook were being manipulated when they accepted a Facebook-promoted suggestion to do so. It was for a very understandable and defensible sentiment, of course, and I agreed with that sentiment.

But manipulation happens on all sorts of levels, including at the behest of people you don’t know and are not allowed to know. Again, people need to think harder.

Another thing to be aware of is that you are being manipulated by a customized universe of information that is purposefully curated as being the most likely to manipulate specifically your behavior. WYSINWOPG: What you see is not what other people get.

  • Social media advertising is just like advertising on TV.

Wrong again. TV stations don’t monitor your behavior, nor do they make as a condition of viewing your agreement to provide them huge amounts of information (or any information, actually) along with the right for them to use and sell that information as they see fit. And broadcast media don’t actively participate in targeting specifically you with specific ads. Perhaps more significantly, broadcast media does not collect your content and information and sell it to other entities in ways you have no way of knowing.

  • The information I create and provide is not worth anything anyway. They can have it for free; I don’t care.

Seriously wrong. The information you and other users create and provide to social media companies is worth billions of dollars to them and creates that wealth for a handful of billionaires. Doesn’t that mean that your information is very valuable to them? You might undervalue your information, including content you have created, your personal information, and information about your behavior, but there is a group of people to whom that information of yours is essential to the creation of fabulous wealth. Why give it away?

In the above, if you take advertising, as it should be taken, to include behavior modification in the broader sense, it should be clear what could happen and is actually happening.

  • Social media platforms provide me a convenient way to keep in touch with my friends.

That is a valid statement. But unless you buy into the false proposition that the wealth of information you provide to a social media company isn’t worth anything anyway, it is a very lopsided deal.

I know a few people who do not use (are not used by) social media companies, for various reasons. All of them appear to be leading fulfilling lives, although they successfully resist the songs of the “siren servers,” as Jaron Lanier refers to the servers operating at the top nodes of big data networks.

In Who Owns the Future? Lanier makes some good points about the value created by people on the Internet and the asymmetry of the contracts that people make to use various ostensibly free services, these contracts usually requiring broad-ranging permissions to collect and use your information. He even argues that people should be paid micropayments or nanopayments any time information they create is used by someone else, which would require the preservation of the provenance of all information. At present, the provenance of information on the Internet is in an overwhelming number of cases unknown, unknowable, or purposefully hidden.

Lanier’s approach is very idealistic and arguably difficult to implement, but it has made me more reluctant to share things in places where siren servers are listening, and that of course includes even private groups on the social media (surveillance/manipulation) platform run by the company Facebook. Instead, I will opt for media that I control and opt for the real world. See you there sometime.