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writing for godot

Countering Facebook Trolls

Written by ElaineDecker   
Friday, 23 March 2018 07:21

By now you’ve heard that Cambridge Analytica hacked into the Facebook accounts of some 50 million Americans. After gaining access to their private information, Cambridge profiled them using advanced data mining techniques. Then they manipulated them with propaganda disguised as social messages and trending topics. The essence of this manipulation is not new; only the scope and sophistication are notable. Nielsen has been segmenting target audiences based on lifestyles for decades using the Claritas Prizm software.

What I found particularly disturbing is this. Even if you didn’t take the bait of their free personality tests (or whatever, and I never did), you were at risk. If anyone of your FB friends took the tests (and some did), they provided the trolls with access to your FB account via their friends network. Good news for all of us. I have a way for Facebook users to fight back against this profiling.

Shortly after I retired, I blogged about the ads that appeared in browser windows and emails. I was on the Internet more often and that behavior apparently was driving the ad content. Over time, companies seemed to refine their algorithms to better target my surfing. (Maybe they started using Prizm.) In an effort to take control of my browser screens, I Googled things that I would enjoy looking at and bookmarked those pages. I visited each of the sites I marked just before I shut down my browser each day, moving them up in the ad hierarchy. In short, I controlled many of my ads.

This concept can easily be modified to confuse the trolls snooping through our Facebook pages. Here’s how it will work. For every post you make or meme you share that skews liberal or conservative, make an equally strong post that skews the other way. “I love Hillary (still)!” but “Hillary really is crooked.” “Trump is the best thing since sliced bread!” except that “Trump is a moron (still).”

Apply this same technique to any posts about food. “Just found a yummy gluten-free recipe for muffins!” followed by “Try this easy-to-bake whole wheat bread from my mother’s recipe box.” “I’m having great success with the paleo diet.” And then “To hell with those cavemen; give me death-by-chocolate cake any day.” You get the idea.

This can even work to confuse shopping bots. Post photos of petite, size 4, figure-hugging styles side by side with plus size tunics and caftans. Drive the software really crazy by giving a phony birthdate and then celebrating it with a birthstone ring from an entirely different month. Here’s your chance to pick the horoscope sign you wish you were born under.

I encourage you to get really creative with your posts. Have fun with them. Share a diagnosis from your psychotherapist about your supposed schizophrenia. “Dr. Splitzenmensa identified yet another personality in our last session. He said that makes seven now. Can’t wait to see who I’ll be at next week’s appointment.”

Just imagine how frustrated the analysts will be trying to figure out what’s going on with you. Are you an outlier? Or did their programmers make a fatal miscalculation in their code? Is your FB-sourced record the only one that’s so messed up? Or are they at risk of providing flawed recommendations to their most lucrative clients?

I wish I could be a fly on the wall while the tech geniuses behind the Facebook manipulation try to debug their software. Revenge is sweet. Or it’s sour. And it’s best served cold. Or hot.

Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker

Article by Elaine M. Decker your social media marketing partner
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