Monday, June 9, 2014

Should YOU be worried about digital gerrymandering?

As Malcolm Gladwell's research on priming demonstrated: people remain unaware when their actions have been influenced by intentionally-engineered subtle references.

"Digital gerrymandering" is a type of priming that provides information about friends' voting preferences. In a 2010 research study on Facebook, "users notified of their friends’ voting were 0.39 percent more likely to vote" and a further ripple effect ensued. Considering that "George W. Bush won Florida, and thus the presidency, by 537 votes—fewer than 0.01 percent of the votes cast in that state," the effect of influencing a 0.39% shift in voter participation is significant.
Gerrymandering NOW: Elected Officials select their Voters.
If applied universally, priming might increase voter participation. But in a more Machievellean scheme, a well-funded politically-motivated effort to selectively apply one-sided priming related to a specific ideological agenda could influence millions of unsuspecting recipients and skew the vote dramatically.

Traditional campaigning to send volunteers into neighborhoods can't compete with huge companies using vast resources to selectively influence millions electronically. Just as Faux news viewers remain ignorant of opposing -- or even factual -- viewpoints, priming a vast subset of susceptible voters with one-sided thoughtless priming could produce an unfair election.

Given the machinations of ALEC to selectively redistrict, the already-voluminous political advertising of anonymous BigMoney PACs, and now expanded donations by the megarich, average citizens need to be very worried about the potential abuse of digital gerrymandering. Add to that access to NSA data that could be used to categorize everyone's digital opinions, and voting outcomes would become a foregone BigBrother conclusion.

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