Digital manipulation and human nature

Social life has changed. Digital communication has changed the structure and nature of our social relationships as well as our access to information and knowledge.

Unless we live in seclusion as hermits, we can hardly avoid leaving a trail of data. The use of the Internet not only changes our behaviour – it changes us humans themselves.

For the good of all or to take advantage of all?

The modern influence is called “nudging“. In nudging people are neither informed nor convinced.

Their weaknesses are used to provoke certain behaviour. Information and offers on the net are personalised in such a way that undesirable behaviour is punished and desirable behaviour is rewarded. This can be used by states – such as China with its Citzien Score – like companies to provoke behaviour.

Nudging, combined with huge amounts of data, the big data, such as those found in social media, make a new version of nudging possible – Big Nudging.

Large data mountains and great influence – Big Nudging

There is an almost unbelievable amount of information and data about users in social media. Inside information about how we think, how we feel – and how we can be manipulated.

This information can be used not only to persuade us to buy overpriced products, but also to persuade us to give our vote to a particular party. Even critically thinking people can hardly escape the digital influence.

Big nudging between hope and horror

In a world in which cybercrime is exploding, the temptation is great to confront it digitally as well. Some states are already using nudging to encourage citizens to behave as desired. It is obvious that nudging appears to be an attractive instrument, especially in questions of security and crime prevention.

The proponents argue with “nudging for the good cause” the. One example of this is nudging for the environment and world climate. The aim here is to motivate citizens to use energy resources consciously. Or remedy the inefficiency of financial markets by punishing overly greedy behaviour by traders and rewarding socially responsible behaviour.

Hardcore utopians argue that nudging can even contribute to world peace, because after all, all people could be re-educated to behave more peacefully.

Here the patriarchal thinking of a state becomes obvious – the state as a good father who knows what is “good or bad” for his children. In such a state the citizens are just that: children who are educated and not responsible citizens.

Is it possible to control complex systems – like people and societies – from above, like a car?

This is what the nudging sceptic Dirk Helbing asked himself. To illustrate his doubts, he refers to the diversity of people. Not everyone reacts in the same way to a punishment or reward.

To illustrate this, he describes how differently the bodies of different people can act on a drug. A treatment that benefits one patient causes side effects in others. He fears that the application of one and the same measure of influence – i.e. nudging – to an individual will cause more harm than good to the population as a whole.

No universal recipe for the multi-faceted mass

In order to design an influence that actually serves the well-being and security of all, numerous facets would have to be considered. Mass manipulation cannot do justice to this claim. On the contrary – nudging could lead to further discrimination.

The formula that mass manipulation places over the population hardly does justice to the individual.

In a diverse society with different cultures, ethnicities and lifestyles, their needs also vary.

For this reason, a system of sanctions and rewards cannot be placed on top of it unreflectively and unilaterally. The best example of this is provided by the insurance industry: if premiums were made dependent on food, then suddenly Jews, Muslims, Christians, women and men would be paying different rates and creating a host of new injustices.

When we argue about the sense and nonsense of influence and surveillance, we are actually arguing about whether man can become a better social being than he has been in history.

Technology is like a knife – you can use it to make bread for your child or threaten a pilot and hijack an airplane. However, the relationship between technology and the social nature of man is a reciprocal one.

Man creates the technology that ultimately changes him. And so it remains to be hoped that man, if he can now communicate with the whole world and absorb all its knowledge digitally, is and remains connected to it. That man is open, without understanding his openness as uncritical

That the human being is kindly disposed to people with whom digital contact is more likely to be established. Because – the all-decisive moment in the history of mankind was, is and will forever remain the intention of man himself.

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