Tuesday, April 14, 2020

On the Power of Words


I thought this article about "Keyword Signaling" would be a good one to put here, because it shows us the power of words in today's world. (And the only thing more interesting to Limbic Signal than smells is words.)

With the omni-depository that is the Internet, and the text-based search engines we use to interface with it, words have taken on a new meaning in our world.

Each word you type into a search box will tailor your online experience to such a degree of specificity that no two forays will be the same.

(Super sidenote, back in the day when Google's predictive search algorithm, as well as our collective psyche, was naked for all to see, you could type "Why does Daddy..." and watch a whole lot of sociology populate your search field; in order, the predictions were "...hit Mommy," "...wear a dress," and...I forget because the first two were enough to make me realize what the Internet had really become. This was circa 2010 maybe. But if you changed the text ever so slightly to say "Why does my Dad..." which suggests an older person conducting the search, both because of the dropping of the diminutive -y but also the adding of the possession "my" which shows that the person is aware they have their own Dad vs other Dads, you would get different predictions, such as "...drink so much." The difference in search terms-results is subtle, but it's baked into the interface.)

The work done by Data and Society Institute's Fracesca Tripoldi shows how this all works and especially how it's being used to manipulate the datasphere.

First you find a data void. That's a topic, or rather a term used as a pointer to a topic, that brings up no search results.

There's no results because nobody is using the term, not necessarily because nobody is talking about the topic. But you come up with that new, unused term, and you create content to go along with it. Like, fake content, conspiracy theory content, propaganda content, salacious content, whatever, and when you slap your new word on there, you now own the search results for that content.

Let's say I want to steer people away from the actual facts about a mass murder at an elementary school, so I create a new term - "crisis actor" - then I generate all kinds of content about people who pretend they were in a mass shooting, and I slap my keyword (crisis actor) all over the content, and THEN I make sure to spread the keyword around as much as possible, so other people start saying it out loud, and then other people will start searching for it, which will weight the results of my keyword.

Guess where they'll end up? They'll end up at my site, reading my content. They won't be swayed by different views of the situation, because the whole idea of the crisis actor, the keyword and the content, was fabricated, it was artifice, and it exists in a vacuum, unconnected to the rest of the world.

When I start with a data void, I can control everything that goes into it, and I can make sure that you never see the other side of the story, because there is no other side. Only my side. It doesn't exist within the actual ecosystem of information. It is a Frankenstein of an info-ecosystem, engineered by me to send you in a very specific direction.

The fact that our global repository of information is accessed by typing words into a searchbox-algorithm leaves it susceptible to such workings. It also leaves out an entire dimension of human sensation, that being olfaction.

How does misinformation and nefarious SEO engineering relate to olfaction? Because smells don't correlate to words as a matter of fact, only as a matter of opinion. Everything you can ever read about smells is already, from the start, "alternative facts," because there were no real facts to begin with. The two - language and smell - they just don't go together. The keyword and the content, they have to be artificial, by the very nature of the sense of smell. The entire human experience in regards to olfaction is one big data void, filled by poets and marketing slogans. That is, until the search box can be filled with emotions and autobiographies.

"The problem is, whether or not we’re aware, the key words we search are coded with political biases. My research demonstrates that it’s possible to position ideological searches to maximize the exposure of their content."
—Data & Society Affiliate Francesca Tripodi, WIRED

May 2019, Francesca Tripodi for Data and Society

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