Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trolls And Bots Are Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I got an ugly surprise on my Google News feed on
an ugly news morning the other day. 
Monday morning, I got up early, went to my computer, and went straight to my Twitter feed.

There I saw my first hint that a horror had occured in Las Vegas overnight. I wanted to learn more immediately, so I went to Google News.

Of course, the top story was the atrocity in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives, plus the despicable gunman, who killed himself.

But this post isn't about Las Vegas. Under "related stories" about the Las Vegas massacre was this "top trending" headline: "Jessica Simpson Nude Pics."

Yep, some awful troll apparently gamed Google's algorithms or something to place that nude pics thing in the top news, for profit, obviously. And I'm sure if anybody was stupid enough to click on that link, they got a computer virus or malware.

We all know now that Russians and maybe some other creeps influenced the 2016 election and very likely help a lot in getting Trump elected by inundating our Facebook and Twitter feeds with fake ads, fake news and all that to boost Trump's chances and hurt Hillary Clinton's.

As The Guardian points out, YouTube had its own problems with trolls and hacks gaming the system. Early this week, if you were on YouTube and searched "Las Vegas shooting" many of the top videos on the subject were posted by wacko conspiracy theorists who said the mass shooting was fake, and a false flag to take our guns and rights away, or something.

So YouTube was giving a platform for all these nutjobs. YouTube says the videos comply with their standards, which may be true, but really. On the bright side, my YouTube search of "Las Vegas shooting" was a little better, with the top hits mostly consisting of reports from legitimate news sources or videos from eyewitnesses.

I don't know how to fix all this,  but that's the big flaw in all these web sites and social media is they're automated, and algorithms, whatever they are, guide us to what we see.

Which is why none of us can ever serendipitously just wander around YouTube or search engines like we would in a book store, seeing what pops out at us.

Nope, we've done a web search, or we've watched a particular YouTube video, and now the algorithms steer us toward similar videos or searches. You can look at something else if you have something specific in mind, but if you're just sort of searching for whatever interesting pops up, you can't just stumble on something cool that's unrelated to your past searches. You can't discover new things. You're stuck.

And what about those ads that follow you around. Say, for example,  I bought some athletic shorts from Under Armour online. Now all I get ads for those very shorts following me around for weeks. Why would I want to buy shorts that I just bought? If an advertiser must advertise, the least they and their algorithms could do is advertise something else from that company that I might be interested in. But no: Buy more shorts! Buy more shorts!

It's why we can't have nice things.

Again, I'm no technology, internet or social media genius. But I like to think for myself. The tech companies think I'm incapable of doing such a thing. And it's terribly insulting.

And in the case of the Russian bots and fake ads and news, very dangerous.

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