Data Mining and Democracy: Do the former endanger the latter?

Furkan Topal
5 min readDec 2, 2019

Introduction

Data mining started to accelerate its effects on our societies in every single aspect. It didn’t leave any untouched area in our lives, and it looks like it will continue in this way. Not far back then, being informed was not that possible and convenient for the masses. It was a key privilege to consume too much information which perhaps equals what we consume only for a day nowadays. Towards the end of the 21st quarter, masses consume tons of information everyday which is totally unlike their ancestors and their drawbacks are different from back then. Nowadays, the real concern is accuracy of information. The question become “Who do I trust?” rather than “Is this information true?”. Consuming massive information disabled our ability of reconsidering the authenticity of each information due to exceeding our capacity. Fundamental pillars of the well-functioning democracy are information and diversity in opinions. The cracks on that pillars are getting distinguishable. People started to get used to accuse news as fake. In the light of so called “post truth” times, this paper examines relations between Data Mining and Democracy.

Discussion

Democracy’s short-lived high point was immediate post-Cold War period until early 2000s. [1] It is common concern that democracy is in decline. This concern is getting much more significant with technological advancement. One can believe that a few years down the road each voter receives a distinct message and a peculiar campaign pledge from the same candidate. How politicians keep credibility in the eyes of civilian if the voters are receiving totally different messages from the same candidate? The particular interest of this scenario is nothing but data mining, although legislations are not mature enough to correctly regulate it. The results of this can be more catastrophic in political systems like UK and US where a few votes can alter the elections results. Cummings, British political strategist, recently said that UK electoral laws are not sufficient for the digital age. Micro targeting advertisements are only seen by few groups of people, and its funding are not usually declared explicitly and now this is the real concern. According to experts, this may had been effects on Brexit referendum’s outcome. Canada and Australia took a concrete step about social media advertising transparency legislations and UK planned to do so. [2] However, European laws are less tolerant on the subject of invasions of privacy than US. [3] Cambridge Analytica data scandal shows that voters confronted with inaccurate informations and fake news intended to impact on their votes. This takes power away from voters and gives it to data analysis giants. To demonstrate how far they went is that Cambridge Analytica collected data from friends of Facebook’s quiz takers and, of course, without their permission. Millions of people’s data collected and has serviced to data mining process. Even, deactivating social account is not enough for data collectors to get off user’s tail. Deactivated accounts are traced from the social network to collect data about online activities for future purposes. Back in the day 2012, Facebook had been kept away advertisement from users’ content but after that time they couldn’t or didn’t want it to resist to investors and shareholders revenue demanding claims.

Everything we do online can be traced, stored and analyzed. Advertisements easily sneak into our sincere emotions, use our vulnerabilities against us, and push us in some direction without our knowledge, and of course, by understanding us better than us. Researchers proved that computers are far more accurate at predicting one’s personality than the closest people to oneself. Computers can predict one’s personality as good as a work colleague with 8 likes, as friend with 64 likes and as a family with 120 likes on social media. [4] Changing voters mind will not be that really different from getting customers to swap dairy brand. It’s not hard to imagine this kind of information control may help to born a new kind of authoritarianism. Governments may yield some power by using capacity of predict to forestall any counter behavior and suppress political dissent like what’s happening in China.

It is still ongoing on protest in Hong Kong, the situation quietly different than Mainland China. The study shows that China’s government not censor direct criticism on social media but ones calls to collective action.[5] Chinese state media is essentially buying ads on Twitter and Facebook, with their English language accounts, for the purpose of reaching an international audience to have an impact on Hong Kong protests. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube removed or suspended various accounts tied to China’s government to spread twisted information opposing the Hong Kong protests. Both, the government to censor and to spread twisted information and high-tech companies to detect infollution, use data mining.

Will there be any kind of appropriate limits to use of this type of big data application? It is possible that different communities will reach different kinds of consensus on the appropriate limits for such technology.

Trust in information will depend on who you prefer to listen to, rather than the validity of the data sources. According to Gartner’s Top Predictions For 2018 and Beyond, by 2022, the majority of individuals in developed economies will consume more incorrect information than true one and the number of projects that detect false news will increase rapidly. It is more difficult to detect fake content than to create it. The ability of creating false reality will surpass its ability to detect it and it will encourage to have digital insecurities. In the age of surveillance capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff describes as claiming private human experience as products [6], it’s vital to question information before go for it, to follow up news and contents until where they are created and since scientific communities and reputable institutions are our foremost reliable information resources catching up with their relevant literature, books and articles will keep us safe, likely for now.

Conclusion

The answer of the enquiry, are data mining and its applications present a threat to democracy, is hidden behind how to use this ability and legal restrictions. As mentioned earlier, it can be used to detect and prevent infollution as well as disinformation and mass control. Communities should reconsider embodiments of legislations in a sense of consensus building and ruling companies should practice data mining for the sake of societies and creating values.

References

(“Digital Gangsters”: Are Facebook and Google a challenge to democracy?, Clara Alves Rodrigues, 2019)

[1] (The End of Civilizations and the Remaking of the Last Man: Examining the Ideas of Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P. Huntington in Relation to the Geo-Political Developments of the Post-Cold War. Mark J. W. Poynter, 2013)

[2] (Facebook, the Media and Democracy: Big Tech, Small State? By Leighton Andrews, September 2019)

[3] (Data Subjects’ Privacy Rights: Regulation of Personal Data Retention and Erasure University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 90, 2019, Alexander Tsesis, Loyola University Chicago School of Law)

[4] (Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans, Wu Youyoua, 1, 2, Michal Kosinskib, 1, and David Stillwella, a Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EB, United Kingdom; and b Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, 2014)

[5] (Reverse-engineering censorship in China: Randomized experimentation and participant observation, Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts, 2014)

[6] (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Book by Shoshana Zuboff, 2018)

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