Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Social media is NOT always a good thing

What do HSBC, Lloyds Bank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Marks & Spencer have in common? Well they’re the latest businesses to pull their advertising from Googlea global tech giant which controls 35% of the digital advertising market.

Why? Because terrorists, jihadists, hate preachers, holocaust deniers, rape apologists, and all manner of bad guys, are making money out of adverts appearing next to their videos. And the tech giants are doing little about it. They are more interested in making money.

As a result, and probably because of embarrassment and concerns about reputational damage, companies are starting to react. Havas, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, which spends about £175 million in the UK on digital advertising of which Google receives £35 million, has pulled all its 240 UK clients from Google, including O2, EDF, and the Royal Mail.

Its UK CEO said “Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platforms and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect“.

Vodafone, Sky and Barclays Bank are also said to be considering withdrawing their advertising unless Google sorts itself out. Sky is said to be concerned about the lax controls and wants assurances that their ads will not appear on hate sites. YouTube posters typical get just under £7 for every thousand views. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Google’s websites, which includes YouTube, have been paying out  hundreds of thousands of pounds to hate preachers and jihadists for displaying ads next to their videos which have included Argos, Sandals, Visit Scotland, The RAF, Nissan,  and other companies, some of which have now withdrawn their ads.

Companies which have pulled ads from YouTube include the Cabinet Office, Sainsburys, The Gurdian, Audi, the BBC, Transport for London, the Financial Services Authority, Channel 4, L’Oreal, and McDonalds.

Audi said “YouTube safeguards have not proven as robust as they need to be” and McDonalds said it was disappointed that safeguards to protect its advertising had fallen through. Channel 4 said it was not satisfied that the platform was a ‘safe environment’.

We should have seen it coming when Google dropped its famous mantradon’t be evil“. Its UK MD Roman Harris, said that the company had “begun a thorough review of our ads policies an brand controls’. Not before time.

They claim to receive 200,000 flags a day about inappropriate content and review 98% within 24 hours, although some offensive videos have remained on the platform for several years.

They also claim to have removed nearly two billion “bad ads” last year and prevented ads on more than 300 million YouTube videos. Doesn’t the scale of it suggest there is a systemic problem with these platforms?

They admit that they rely on the public to report offensive YouTube content because it cannot police the site proactively because of the quantity of material it hosts. This is ludicrous, get more staff! You can afford it. But that is not under consideration by Google. They say that user notification and technology is a better way of dealing with it. In other words let users do their job for them, at no cost to the company. So in addition to avoiding tax they avoid payroll costs as well!

It’s clear that it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously and critics says its ‘notification and takedown’ system isn’t ‘fit for purpose’. I suggest the whole platform is not fit for purpose if it can’t be policed effectively.

If the Sunday Times and Times hadn’t publicised the fact that online adverts were funding terrorists, holocaust deniers, racists, rape apologists and hate preachers would this have been even considered in the boardrooms?

Surely advertising agencies knew what was happening and they must be complicit in this, raking in their generous fees.

Last week Google had to apologise to Whitehall officials when a government advert appeared next to hate content. “It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content. That message was conveyed very clearly to Google” a government spokesman said.

How about charging Google with assisting or conspiring with the bad guys to incite or promote hatred? After all Google is facilitating them.

The Commons home affairs committee has warned Google it must take ‘proactive steps’ to remove extremist material or face regulation and large fines. As other commentators have said, they can’t go on pretending just to be tech companies given the amount of media content they promulgate and they should be covered by the same tight regulations as other forms of media.

Perhaps if more companies stopped advertising on digital media and used print media instead we might have more newspapers and less fake news as well.

In Germany a draft law is proposing fines of up to £47 million if hate content is not quickly removed. If they can do it why can’t we? Let’s get to grips with this insidious problem.

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Social media makes you more lonely

I’ve been saying it for years (see my first post about it in 2010), social media is bad for you.

It lowers your self-esteem, makes you depressed, more narcissistic, makes you more stupid, and I could go on, especially about Facebook (See here).

Do the social media giants care? of course not. All they care about is large numbers, your personal data, and advertising.

The truth is that social media apps designed to help you communicate with other people actually make you feel more lonely.

The more time young adults spend on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and similar sites the more likely they are to feel cutoff. More than two hours a day of social media use doubles the chance of a person experiencing social isolation.

Both higher numbers of visits and the total time spent online have negative effects according to the American research, carried out in 2014 on almost 1800 people aged 19-32 years of age, by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The researchers said “we are inherently social creatures but modern life tends to compartmentalise us instead of bringing us together”.

They believe that social media use displaces more authentic experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time is left for real-life contacts. Obvious really.

Facebook is a false friend

P1010034Just because Facebook stopped Admiral Insurance from using its site to analyse your personality profile  doesn’t mean it wants to protect your privacy. 

If you believe that you probably believe that we are controlled by an alien master race (and I don’t mean those people in Silicon valley, or do I?). They just used the PR gaffe by Admiral to boost their own privacy credentials when the whole raison d’être behind Facebook is not to have any privacy. They’ve even experimented on you before in a mood manipulation experiment.

And even if you believe Facebook is not to blame (and of course you’re really the only one to blame, Facebook just makes it easy for you) there are lots of other data companies can use to make moral judgements and assess your risk factors. Your tweets, photos posted by your neighbours on Facebook, Google earth taking a walk round your neighbourhood, and your postcode itself.

Using algorithms they can categorise you and assess your creditworthiness. If you don’t have a credit history or have only just moved in and are not on the electoral register don’t worry, they’ll use your neighbours instead. If you live in an area where credit scoring is poor that may work against you as “banks take the view that birds of a feather flock together” according to Justin Basini, founder and CEO of ClearScore, a ratings agency.

Erik Kert, CEO of Big Data Scoring, puts a more positive spin on this data mining saying “scrutiny of online behaviour is a positive way to boost the financial prospects of people with a thin credit file“. Well not if you are a regular user of gambling sites or a shopaholic surely?

He says his company uses algorithms to predict your “expected probability of default” based on tens of thousands of data points gathered from the internet including social media, web pages you have visited, in fact anything you have made publicly available online.

This “big data” is made available to lenders in the absence of other credit history. Kert says it focuses on how active you are with your online profiles, what sort of activity you are involved in, how you access the internet, and what all that says about your personality. You don’t even need to use a psychologist – the computer decides! (Having said that Cambridge University has developed a tool “Apply magic sauce” to predict your personality based on your Facebook page).

A mortgage broker at Coreco conceded that postcode profiling was unfair if used but said actual methods of creditworthiness assessment are kept a close secret. However “if the information is readily available in the public domain, then lenders are bound to do additional research on people they are about to lend money to. Although nothing has been proven, I would suggest that those looking to apply for a mortgage should be careful. Gambling stories, wild nights out and lavish spending boasts should probably be avoided“.

Precisely! You can’t really blame them can you when you are prepared to put so much of your life on the internet little thinking it will come back to bite you. Your digital footprint never goes away as people have found when applying for jobs or going through a divorce.

Organisations like the Open Rights Group are concerned by these developments and believe society should think about the ethics involved. “Big data is often perceived as being able to deliver neutral decisions but algorithms and poor data can perpetuate social biases on race, gender, religion, or sexuality. There’s also the question of transparency. If we don’t know the full criteria being used how can we appeal against them?”

Young people or those on a low income shouldn’t be pushed into sharing their social media to secure discounts (one of the issues Admiral was criticised for). The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it

I agree with the last point wholeheartedly but perhaps if people weren’t so willing to be so transparent themselves and share every aspect of their lives, almost by the hour in some cases, they wouldn’t find themselves enmeshed in someone’s algorithm.

Twitter stop nagging me

talking_with_your_followers_1600_wht_9116In the space of 15 minutes this morning I received the following e-mail from Twitter three times.

It’s been a while since we last saw you
Take 2 minutes to make Twitter work better for you.
We have one suggestion: follow more people. Yes, more. Following is how you build your home timeline. Building a great timeline is at the heart of making Twitter work. By building a timeline that reflects you and your interests, you’ll see how quickly Twitter becomes an invaluable part of your life.”

This particular e-mail was sent relating to a business tweets but I also get them relating to personal tweets. Less than 24 hours since I last tweeted. My last tweet on this particular account was late last night, 11 hours before they started sending these annoying reminders.

There is a second version I’ve also received along similar lines:

“Hi,  Take two minutes to get back on twitter. We’ve missed you on Twitter! So much is happening right now on Twitter, and building a great timeline is the way to really enjoy the service. Get to Twitter and start building a timeline that reflects you and your interests, you’ll see how quickly Twitter becomes an invaluable part of your life”.

Just how often do they expect me to tweet? I tweet when I have something to say and retweet when I see something I like.

I follow tweets I find interesting not automatically because they follow me and promise to increase my followers.

I refuse to be on twitter 24/7. I don’t want twitter to be an invaluable part of my life. It’s a useful and sometimes interesting tool but that’s all it is. It’s not my best friend. Get a life!

I’m feeling harassed!


Electronic tagging – the Facebook way

Facebook has done it again. Imposed new technology without asking you. This time it’s software which automatically identifies faces in your photographs starting with all your “friends”.

And you can only untag them after they have been published online. Another example of reducing your privacy by default but that’s par for the course for Zuckerberg.

He believes everything should be out in the open except his own info – you can’t “friend” him. And he clearly believes it’s easier to seek forgiveness than seek permission.

Zuckerberg relies on consumer inertia ie people can’t be bothered to change or cancel things, and using “opt out” processes rather than an “opt in” one that privacy campaigners say Facebook should offer.

I never though I would find anything good to say about the EU bureaucrats but their regulators on the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party are apparently going to investigate.

There are other pieces of software that do the same thing. Apple offers a similar service in iPhoto but there you have to choose the faces you want recognising and then confirm each name tag and it’s not an on-line service.

This is the reason I don’t like Facebook. They ask you for your data and then they own you. I have a choice on Linkedin and Twitter doesn’t ask for any personal details but Zuckerberg wants everything about you put online.

Some might say more fool you for having an account in the first place.

The Sunday Times did a big piece on this yesterday (12/6/11) and revealed that Google has filed a patent application for face recognition software to help identify celebrities. It could theoretically be used to identify anyone by scanning social networking sites for matches.

Before you know it those strangers with the camera phones have your identification and whatever you have chosen to put in the public domain in their possession.

Marketers, advertisers, sales people, and criminals would all have the information they need to target you.

And there is also a system of mass observation which uses video cameras to monitor people in public areas. At present it is not used for identifying individuals but the company plans to install face recognition software as the next step.

The UK is apparently the countries with the most CCTV cameras per head of population and we have car numberplate recognition software already on major motorways and roads. How much more Orwellian can we get?


Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook 

Actually any social networking site will do it according to an article in The Times (2/7/2010).

The American Academy of Divorce Lawyers says 80% of its members have used or been faced with evidence from social networking sites.

The biggest source is Facebook (66%), then MySpace (15%) and Twitter (5%).

From pot-smoking denials to claims of being childless whilst fighting for child custody, members seem to forget the information is out there forever. And in the UK a DIY Divorce site says 20% of its cases mention Facebook.

But it’s not just divorce lawyers or jilted partners who are using these sites. A survey of British employers found that 20% checked Facebook, MySpace and Bebo – and a quarter of them had rejected candidates because of what they had found. In the USA a Microsoft survey found that 78% of recruiters searched the internet to check applicant’s backgrounds.

So in addition to the potentially negative social and emotional aspects of Facebook you now run the risk of jeopardising your marriage and your job prospects. With 40% of the UK population having a Facebook account there’s plenty of dirt to dig.

Updated 17 January 2011: Social networking sites are being cited with increasing frequency in the UK, particularly in the post-Xmas divorces, according to another article in the Times (15/1/2011). Facebook is the main culprit but Second Life, Illicit Encounters and Friends Re-united are also in the frame. Suspicious spouses are searching these for evidence of flirting and affairs.

Some lawyers report 10 times as many divorces in the weeks immediately after Xmas and a 20% rise overall. One said; “Facebook is the divorce lawyer’s jewel in the crown”. Facebook pages, along with sexy tests and chats are now being used as evidence of “unreasonable behaviour”.

People are also resorting to Facebook to get back at former partners by slagging them off or posting pictures of their new lovers. In fact Facebook already has a divorce page where people can describe what it was like going through their divorce.