Big Data Dystopia?

In M. Lévy’s Théories des medias (UOTM), students learned about a lot of different things, such as digital currency, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, artificial intelligence, and even the use of emojis to convey emotion! It was a course geared towards 21st century developments in communications and showed students a glimpse into the future of teaching as we tweeted our weekly notes and tapped into the collective intelligence found on social media. The class was riveting from beginning to end, but the thing that I learned the most from UOTM was the extent to which new technologies, specifically Big Data and social media, are used to provoke social change.

I’ve always believed in the power of the internet to reach out to others on an individual level, but my thinking was restricted to this. For example, I frequently use crowdsourcing on social media, particularly to gain some insight regarding my peers’ views concerning social/political issues. I’ve also seen some wonderful examples of crowdfunding for great causes from some of my friends. I’ve made use of online libraries and journals to do research. Furthermore, I personally use Facebook and other communication platforms to share my own ideas about mental wellness and try to encourage positive change in the world, trying to show others that this new technology of ours can be used for good, and not only as an evil distraction.

Despite all of this, I had never paused to reflect on the level of change that might be possible by strategically targeting a large portion of the population through the use of algorithms, and I was intrigued by the prospect. M. Lévy’s class last semester got me interested in the use of propaganda in a new era, but I didn’t really understand how it worked, and UOTM gave me a lot of the missing pieces I needed in order to further comprehend the subject.

At the core of what I’m talking about is Big Data. This is a relatively recent concept which basically involves huge datasets that have previously been too large and complex to deal with. The most impactful social function of Big Data is able to use analytics to predict consumer behaviour and target individuals based on their online activity. (Note: Big Data is also used for scientific data analysis and research, but this is not my topic of choice.) The course highlighted some pertinent examples to better explain the ability of technology to enact largescale social change, which I will now briefly outline.

Cambridge Analytica, BREXIT, and the Trump Campaign

cambridge x prop.jpgThe media is seen as largely influential in its traditional state where billboards and magazines are said to “warp young minds” and influence our standards of beauty. But imagine how much more effective media messages would be if they were targeting to each individuals’ interests. This is precisely what Cambridge Analytica, a company that has developed algorithms to categorise individuals based on their digital footprint, aims to do. Their algorithms use psychometric principles in order to know how to best influence individual people according to for politic purposes. As mentioned in my tweet above, this is essentially new-age propaganda. Cambridge Analytica was employed in both BREXIT and the Trump campaign, and is seen as one of the influencing factors for the separation and election to presidency respectively.

Aside from the strategic use of Big Data through Cambridge Analytica, Trump also made unprecedented use of social media to reach out to potential voters and garner attention. By refusing to conform to mainstream political etiquette online, Trump encouraged frustrated citizens to vote for him, in hopes of changing the country’s capitalist status quo.

Big Data and China’s “Social Credit” System

This new technological age is being heralded as being a “post-privacy” society and, in many ways, I believe this to be accurate. Individuals’ behaviours are able to be tracked and interpreted for commercial and political purposes, as clearly exemplified through the use of Big Data in the context of Cambridge Analytica and similar companies. However, even more intrusive and shocking than online propaganda is, in my opinion, the potential future use for Big Data technology.

“Imagine a world where an authoritarian government monitors everything you do, amasses huge amounts of data on almost every interaction you make, and awards you a single score that measures how ‘trustworthy’ you are.”

Simon Denyer for Washington Post 

This sounds like the beginning of a dystopian novel or movie, but it is a conceivable reality due to the extensive ability of technology, harnessed to store and interpret individuals’ data. What China is proposing to do is to basically create a social system as a means of “motivating” the populace to behave in ways which meet ideal behaviour, as defined by the government. Medical, legal, and commercial records, family history, social media, and more, could all be targets of governmental assessment and sanction.

While this system is proposed allegedly to support social reform and decrease crime, it is obvious to most that this is a huge invasion of privacy and highly reductionist of human nature.

Towards a Dystopian Future?

Living in a post-privacy world has many people scared, and for good reason. Clearly, Big Data can be used irresponsibly and gives tremendous power to influence people to an unprecedented extent. However, being scared will do nothing to ameliorate the situation. These technologies are already available, and becoming more efficient, effective, and accessible by the day. Going forward, we, as a society need to focus our attention on a more proactive response. At a societal level changes need to be made, such the adaptation of legislation to reflect technological developments, to continue to protect individuals’ liberties and freedoms. And what can you do? Educate yourself, of course. Critical thinking is crucial to surviving this 21st century world and to avoid falling prey to propaganda.

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JULIA’S 21!!!!!

First of all:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WIFE/BEST FRIEND ❤

We’ve come a long way since your birthday last year…

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And I think we’ve grown so much as individuals as well as as friends/spouses.

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Cutest wedding picture ever

This has been a year filled with ups and downs, but I’m so happy that we’ve experienced it together and can #turnup for your 21st birthday together & stronger than ever (even stronger than me in the picture below…)

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A strong but not an independent woman lol

The past year has had a LOT of karaoke (we look really pleased at CHEO)..

Lots of nights out…

And a few not-so-fun mornings…

It was the year we experienced our first Boots & Hearts together

And instantly looked forward to going back again.

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Thank you

For getting into shenanigans with me

But also for keeping it real and motivating each other to do better in life

… With a few strategic breaks, obviously.

Thank you also for driving me and my lazy self around hehe.

We’ve come a long way

From being awkward guides who barely knew each other…

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To best friends running alongside one another for exec positions…

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To winning our elections and becoming members of the PSA…

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And, finally, to being the cutest bff/wife pair ever (IMO).

Making lots of very random friends along the way (ahahaha)

Sorry you have a billion middys

But I’m excited to celebrate with you once they’re done, like always xo

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Love you so much,

I hope this year is as amazing as this picture of Dim!!!

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5 Things to Take with you into 2017

2016 was a rough one folks, but there were still a lot of beautiful moments. Where you can’t see the beauty, I hope you see a lesson and find the hint of sweetness in all of the bitterness. Here are some of the things that I’ve realised over the past year.

1) YOU DON’T HAVE TO ALLOW THINGS TO HAPPEN TO YOU. Certain bad things are unavoidable and sometimes you just have to feel some sadness, but what about everything else? We must always remember that we have choices in life. For example, if someone is treating us badly, we can choose to talk to them about it, end the relationship, find a compromise, act vengefully, sit quietly and accept it, etc. You can’t necessarily change shitty people, and you can’t always fix what they’re going through, but you can always make the decision which best suits your needs if you choose to. This brings me to my next point…

2) PUTTING YOURSELF FIRST ISN’T ALWAYS SELFISH. I recently shared something I wrote in which I called myself “the centre of my own universe” (see below), and I had someone ask me why I would write something  that was so arrogant and all about me, as if that is something negative. It isn’t. I believe that empathy is an extremely important virtue and makes the world a better place. However, I’ve come to the realisation that empathy at the cost of self-preservation and happiness isn’t always a positive thing. We should all strive to find a balancing point between self-love and love for others; we should learn to not feel guilty with caring for ourselves.

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3) SELF-LOVE ISN’T ALWAYS AS EASY AS LIGHTING A CANDLE or sitting in a bubble bath, or buying new clothes. We can practice caring for ourselves in ways which relax us and make us feel good about ourselves, but it’s often a lot harder than that. Sometimes it involves making difficult decisions to rid ourselves of toxic people, even if we love them. At times it can mean that we take off and travel around the world for half a year. It can be picking up the phone and making an appointment with a psychologist, even if you’re terrified to confront your problems. Don’t buy into the easiest solution, because they’re often only short-term answers to your problems; love yourself enough to go deeper to the root of what you need solved.

4) FULLY EXPRESSING YOURSELF IS IMPORTANT. Everyone knows that there are benefits in opening up to others, but this is something that really came out for me in 2016. No one can know exactly what it is you need/want unless you communicate it to them. It can be scary and weird and they might not get it but all you can do is try. Your relationships will thank you for it.

5) THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO. It’s easy to seem helpless in this world but, really, you’re not. Wallowing in self-pity and feeling useless may be natural reactions to negative situations but, evidently, that isn’t going to solve anything. This goes for “minor” problems, like losing weight (eat healthier! join a gym with a friend! go on nature walks!), to wide-scale/world-wide issues. Sometimes it’s hard, especially with added mental/physical factors, but get out there and do whatever you can!
Those are the main things I learned 0ver the past year! I hope everyone has a beautiful and enlightening 2017.

CMN1560: My Perception of Propaganda & PC Culture

Last year when I tried to take “Introduction à l’étude des médias” (CMN1560) online, I was left feeling uninspired and uninterested, ultimately dropping the course. Luckily for me, my second attempt has been amazing thanks to interesting and relevant material, an engaging professor (shout-out to M. Lévy!), and a revolutionary teaching style using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. I am so genuinely excited about what I have learned and how I was able to express it that I even made my friends read my midterm assignments and have supplemented some of the material we learned with my own research!

The main thing that I’ve learned from Professor Lévy is that each major change in communication media has brought (and continues to bring) new potential and new challenges which pervade all areas of society. For me, our discussion about 20th century propaganda coupled with the classes about the algorithmic medium have most inspired me to change my way of thinking about the world we live in today.

An Introduction to Propaganda

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The first image that enters my mind when I think of propaganda is an Uncle Sam, pointing and telling passer-bys “I Want You!”, but propaganda has a much longer history than 20th century wartime. For example, before writing was even invented, messages could be propagated through society via social institutions such as the theatre and the church.

In 1450, the printing press was invented; finally there was a way to disseminate written material in a more efficient way to a large population. Following this development, the telephone (1870), the cinema (1900), the radio (1920), and the television (1900) were all invented, each a new channel for propaganda to be spread first across the country, and then around the world. These methods of propaganda were quite effective, especially since the powers that controlled them and dictated their content were very centralised.

The true beginning of systematic propaganda by the press was seen in WWI, but war propaganda was further and more famously used during WWII (1939-1945, examples below). Mussolini had his speeches played through radios on street corners, forcing his ideologies on his citizens. Hitler used Mussolini’s technique of propaganda to share his ideas, helping helped him to gain power in Germany. Other countries, such as the US used similar techniques, and short films (such as the one made by Disney featured below) were created to criticise the opposition.

These examples demonstrate that constant exposure to a streamlined ideology whilst restricting freedom of expression has been used time and time again to create brainwashed societies, and that this it is  very effective way to control a population.

Propaganda and the Algorithmic Medium

In more recent years, classic media has slowly begun to become obsolete and rather irrelevant to the masses at large. In its place is a new media superpower: the algorithmic medium. An example of the relevancy of this statement is Donald Trump’s recent victory, making him the U.S.A.’s president-elect. Throughout the election, the majority of classic media was against his presidency, and it was predicted that he would lose. Still, he won. propaganda-media-controls-us

The above image is no longer completely accurate; whereas traditional media such as newspapers and news stations are largely controlled by political groups and corporations, the Internet is a free-for-all! Anyone can publish content on the web, and infinite opinions on an infinite number of topics are easily accessible through search engines such as Google.

Of course, propaganda exists everywhere on the Internet, and it is able to reach people more instantaneously than ever before. At its core, propaganda is simply the creation and dissemination of a message in an attempt to convince an audience of something. Although we tend to associate it with negative or extreme concepts, such as Hitler’s Germany, propaganda is not found in these unique instances. Below are some “positive” or “every day” forms of propaganda.

Importantly, M. Levy pointed out that freedom of expression was previously uniquely theoretical, but is now a practical concept for those who have access to the Internet (a predicted 99% of the world by 2035). Plainly stated, the algorithmic medium provides a means to speak up in support of our beliefs.

Freedom of Speech

My perception freedom of speech has been forever altered by this course.

Weirdly enough, one of my classmates spawned a controversy via Twitter and Facebook by deliberately posting instigating messages in order to see my classmates’ responses and discuss them in his own final blog post.

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Image/example used with permission from Eric Charron.

He did not post anything insulting or degrading – and definitely nothing hateful – but he received many attempts to silence him. One person went so far as to post on our class Facebook group, pleading with the T.A. and our professor to make him stop – something that she had every right to do, even if Eric’s actions were only slightly irritating at worst, because of freedom of speech. As unimportant as this incident may seem, for me it highlighted the importance of freedom of expression: speech should not be censored. What is offensive for one is not always offensive for all, and individuals should not be allowed to silence someone for voicing a controversial opinion or for acting in a way that is outside of the accepted norm. Just as technology  cannot advance without accepting innovation, society and humankind cannot advance by permitting people to voice their opinions only when it suits the current ideology.

Interested in pursuing this topic further, I spoke with one of my friends via Facebook (another example of learning through social media) and he had the following to say:

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Recently, there has been a movement within the educational community and otherwise regarding what many have called “PC (politically correct) culture” and its adverse effects on freedom of speech and, ultimately, learning and progressing. While I’m more than happy to do what I can to make people feel as comfortable as possible, I believe there should always be a place for logical debate and that all opinions (given that they are not directly harming another) have the right be freely expressed under appropriate circumstances.

The Internet provides an incredible forum for expression, learning, and engagement. For the first time in human history, we truly have the ability to enact freedom of expression. However, the Internet also exposes us to a vast variety of opinions, some of which we may find offensive or hurtful. In my opinion, we should not try to diminish and insult their authors, but ignore them or engage in a meaningful discussion. This is how we can truly make the most of this brand new communication medium.

A Message Of Hope

In grade 10, I was depressed. There’s no doubt in my mind that what I experienced for a few years in high school was one of the lowest experiences I’ll probably ever face in my lifetime, although there’s still much time ahead of me. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD, as some of you may know from other blog posts/by knowing me, and had a general indifference towards life and being alive.

I’m sharing this as a message of hope.

I know there are lots of protestations when the phrase “It Gets Better” gets thrown around but, for myself and many others, it really can get better. Thanks to counselling, my openness with my experience, amazing friends and family, and my passion for mental health and helping others, my life really has gotten so much better since then & I have healed so much!

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I was talking about this with one of my best friends the other day. We’d both gone through very low lows throughout high school, which was a mere few years ago through both of us. While we were discussing it, we realized how remarkable it was that a few short years ago, we experienced so much self-loathing and truly thought nothing would ever get better. Today, we’re both overall happy people and are surviving and thriving, and I think it’s just so cool to look back on how far we’ve come.

Of course, I still have many dark days where I don’t feel like I’m good enough and feel hopeless. I think everyone does. The important thing is is that I’m no longer forcing a smile on my face and pretending that I’m okay – I actually am. You can be too!

If you’re in a dark place right now, I hope you are able to reach out and overcome what you’re going through. I hope you can one day realize that, not only is life beautiful but that you are too. There are so many resources available to you. There’s no shame in accessing them! If you ever need help or someone to listen, I’m here.

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Good luck in your journey!

International Day of Happiness!

Today is the International Day of Happiness (note: check out that link. There are awesome things there)!

Today, take a moment to do some things that make yourself and other people happy! You can use this article as a guideline if you’re having trouble thinking of examples 🙂

1. A quote that makes you happy

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I live my life by this quotation! It always makes me smile and serves as a reminder that there are so many wonderful things in the world; sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find them.

Also:

What makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale?

—Boyhood

2. A picture that makes you happy

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My dog in a field of wildflowers. The fact that I get to see him in a few days makes it even better!

Also, selfies with my dog:

3. A place that makes you happy

The beach by my house is one of my favourite places in the world. Whenever I’m stressed out and need to calm down, I take a walk by the lake and automatically feel better.

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4. A song that makes you happy

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5. A movie that makes you happy

Any Marvel movie ever.

All in all…

… There are so many wonderful & happiness-inspiring things & people in this world! Today, on #InternationalDayofHappiness, let’s all try to take a moment, breathe, and be mindful of the things that put a smile on our faces and a SPRING in our steps!

PS – happy first day of Spring!

 

 

20 Reasons Why I Love Sam on Her 2oth Birthday!

There’s been a lot of these “__ reasons why _____” posts going around the internet lately, and I’ve always enjoyed reading them. Every time I do, I tend to close the tab feeling better, laughing, or having something to think about. So, I figure this would be a great format to one-up my birthday post from last year as I wish one of my favourite people a very happy 20th birthday.

To Sam,

Welcome to your 3rd decade of life – I’m so proud that we have stuck together through 12 of your birthdays so far, and more to come. Our friendship is one of the things I cherish the most in this world and I’m grateful for you every day of my life! Here’s why…

1) We’ve been friends for such a long time

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+many more prior to “the Facebook” (you’re old now, you have to start calling it that)

2) Which means we’ve seen each other through the awkward preteen phases.

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(And if we can stick by each other’s side through that, we can do anything)

3) …. Looooots of awkwardness…

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4) … Seriously… It’s embarrassing…

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5) But that just means that we got to#GlowUp together!

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6) You’re always there for me.

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Even when you’re really far away and have never even met the people I’m crying over.

7) You always take the time to make me feel loved.

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Especially when I need it most (somehow you just know).

8) You accept my weirdness…

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9) … And I accept yours –

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10) We can just be ourselves around each other.

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11) We’ve been by each other’s sides for the big moments in life…

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12) … And the little ones.

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13) We’re way too cool for words.

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14) We’re basically a couple because we’re a package deal

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15) No really… *cheesy romantic quote*

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16) You were blessed with the gift of hilarity and always keep me laughing.

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17) Being reunited is something we look forward to for weeks

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18) And when we’re together again, we always have the best times!

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19) Saying goodbye to you sucks, which only shows how great it is to have a friend like you in my life ♥

20)& I know we’ll be friends forever, #WAVELENGTH

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Thank you for everything you are, Sam. I hope you have a wonderful birthday, because you truly deserve one. I’m so sad I can’t be there to celebrate with you, but I’ll be back in a few weeks and we will have a great time!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEAUTIFUL!

Love always,

Morgan