The Dark Arts of Social Media

You must be wondering why is a Data Science blog hosting an article relating to Social Media? Well, Social Media is the hub for all your data and it becomes imminent for all of us to know what is happening with our Data and why we need to be very very careful of what we do on these platforms. Big Data is at the crux of Social Media today and has a lot of things that many of us don’t have an idea about.

There’s no doubt that Social Media is one of the most prominent revolutions of the 21st century. Communication has been redefined and no distance, literally, is too far. While communication between friends and family was its initial build up, it has come a far way and transformed into a social platform where anyone in the world can put forth their opinions, thoughts and views and share them all over the globe.

We’re bombarded with a million things on a daily basis from all our friends and following on what’s called a ‘news’ feed generally. Have we ever wondered if this news is true and genuine? We share things that need to be told to the world but do we really know if it is real?

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If you’ve been aware of the happenings of the 2016 presidential elections in the United States of America, you might have come across this term.

Psychographics is the study of Personalities, Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles. It is a subset of Psychology and is generally used alongside Demographics (study of age, race, ethnicities, religious beliefs etc.) to perform segmentation of customers for a company (Psychographic segmentation).

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Companies, when they understand how and what motivates you to do something, will have the key to present you with emotionally compelling using emotional drivers that will tap into your psychology and mindset to push you to make a decision that benefits them in the end.

When used ethically, this is no doubt one of the strongest methods of segmentations there is. This type of targeting of the customers is no longer restricted to one or two industries; its applicable everywhere including Automobile, Healthcare, Food and Politics as well.

When used unethically, these can CHANGE you as a person by influencing your behavior and thoughts towards things that will provoke you enough to take actions involuntarily.

Let’s recall what actually happened over the course of the 2016 Elections in the USA when Donald Trump used Facebook in his Election campaign.

Question is, Why?

Why is Facebook so useful to someone in a Political scenario? or How did it influence all of us?

Trump hired Cambridge Analytica (a subsidiary of the SCL group) which was involved with the US Military to generate Psychographic profiles of individuals in conflict torn nations such as Afghanistan etc.

A psychographic profile is a thorough analysis of a person on the Big 5 higher order aspects often termed as ‘OCEAN’ in Psychological behavior, which are






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What was learnt later was to create these psychographic profiles of individuals, Cambridge Analytica (CA) hosted a series of applications on Facebook which were surveys of a person’s psychology where Facebook breached its terms and shared user data with the company.

Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower from CA who worked there as a Data Consultant, revealed later that the company had access to the profile of the individual as soon as he/she accessed the application and also had the access to the profiles to all their friends.

In Image — Christopher Wylie

This gave CA the ability to tap into Microtargeting and show you advertisements which are made only for you according to your psychographic profile.

In India, in the year 2010 as well, 355 users installed such an app which went on to reveal the data of 560,000+ users.

This company had access to likes, tweets, posts, browsing data, surveys, quizzes, friends, followers, personality tests, blogs etc. and surprisingly there are claims that they had access to private messages of people to one another as well.

A study of the psycholinguistics and linguistic markers of these people revealed what kind of a person they were. For example, words like ‘apparently’ indicated on a high ’N’ or a neurotic individual.

The question still follows… How do they change our entire outlook of things when they have our Psychographics?

When you are presented with a post that is emotionally compelling to you, how many times have you checked the genuineness of the source?

Fake news.

Fake news can change how we see a particular scenario. A fight between 2 random people can be instigated on Social Media to provoke 2 religions against each other. This is the most basic example of it.

In the 2016 elections, individuals who were adjudged according to the psychographics to be Clinton supporters were constantly shown advertisements on the negative aspects of things relating to her so as to push them to see only the negative side which inturn would show them how Trump was a better choice.

It was also told that there was Russian interference in the elections in 2016 where CA used its microtargeting abilities to spread Russian propaganda.

Today, AI and ML have redefined advertising and it has become more specified than ever.

Have you wondered how it is decided whose post you’ll see in your Facebook or Instagram feed every time you open the application or website? To keep your engagement time to a high, an algorithm records your likes, dislikes, comments and shares to give you posts that you want to see.

If you are too long away from the application, it can send you a notification which doesn’t really matter much but will pull you back to spend time on the advertisement.

The algorithms essentially know you better than you do.

You are not up against your will when you want a social media detox, you’re up against a computer which can bend you to its will making you its slave (which you don’t realize yet but you are and so am I).

When an advertising campaign is pushed constantly to show you one side of things, you’ll never think of checking if things are otherwise. The advertisements can be presented to you as fake opinions of people who don’t even exist in reality. The company went too far and did make fake profiles to earn the advantage of humans being social animals to connect with them on a emotional level completely.

Alexander Nix

If you think who would really go that far to do something like this, you should probably know who Alexander Nix is. (ex-CEO, Cambridge Analytica)

Social Media hooks an average individual for at least 5 hours a day. Your likes and comments on things have more to tell about you than ever today. IBM has developed algorithms which can retrieve psychographics on individuals from their online purchases, reviews, likes, shares, comments, emails, blog posts, tweets, posts saved etc. using its AI engine Watson.

The next time you or your acquaintances present you with a personality test or compatibility test, know that your data is being stored somewhere and can be used. I’m not suggesting you to go for a detox or anything, just be careful of what you do over these platforms and if you want to be carefree, ensure that you are checking information you see to the source of it.

If you have a credible source with evidence backing the news, there’s no problem. If you are trusting things blindly, know that you’re being influenced without even your knowledge.

How effective is Psychographics?

4000 to 5000 points of data on more than 50 million individuals and the Big Data that was analyzed and worked on led Trump to the electoral vote in the 2016 Elections and so helped the Indian National Congress in 2010 in the Bihar Elections and in many other countries such as Kenya, the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, Australia etc. While the blend of Psychology and Data Science is a revolution in itself, it must be used ethically.

Last thing to tell you,

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Understanding how Data Science and Statistics work, sharing my knowledge, and showing you how it is used everywhere and how to harness its power. Simplifying Data Science for beginners and breaking down hard-to-understand concepts in a jargon-less way. Stay tuned for more!

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