Data versus Democracy: How Big Data Algorithms Shape Opinions and Alter the Course of History

  • 2h 38m
  • Kris Shaffer
  • Apress
  • 2019

Human attention is in the highest demand it has ever been. The drastic increase in available information has compelled individuals to find a way to sift through the media that is literally at their fingertips. Content recommendation systems have emerged as the technological solution to this social and informational problem, but they’ve also created a bigger crisis in confirming our biases by showing us only, and exactly, what it predicts we want to see. Data versus Democracy investigates and explores how, in the era of social media, human cognition, algorithmic recommendation systems, and human psychology are all working together to reinforce (and exaggerate) human bias. The dangerous confluence of these factors is driving media narratives, influencing opinions, and possibly changing election results.

In this book, algorithmic recommendations, clickbait, familiarity bias, propaganda, and other pivotal concepts are analyzed and then expanded upon via fascinating and timely case studies: the 2016 US presidential election, Ferguson, GamerGate, international political movements, and more events that come to affect every one of us. What are the implications of how we engage with information in the digital age? Data versus Democracy explores this topic and an abundance of related crucial questions. We live in a culture vastly different from any that has come before. In a society where engagement is currency, we are the product. Understanding the value of our attention, how organizations operate based on this concept, and how engagement can be used against our best interests is essential in responsibly equipping ourselves against the perils of disinformation.

Who This Book Is For

Individuals who are curious about how social media algorithms work and how they can be manipulated to influence culture. Social media managers, data scientists, data administrators, and educators will find this book particularly relevant to their work.

About the Author

Kris Shaffer, Ph.D., is a data scientist and Senior Computational Disinformation Analyst for New Knowledge. He co-authored "The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency," a report prepared for the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election on social media. He has consulted for multiple US government agencies, non-profits, and universities on matters related to digital disinformation, data ethics, and digital pedagogy.

In a former (professional) life, Kris was an academic and digital humanist. He has taught courses in music theory and cognition, computer science, and digital studies at Yale University, University of Colorado–Boulder, University of Mary Washington, and Charleston Southern University. He holds a PhD from Yale University.

In this Book

  • Pay Attention: How Information Abundance Affects the Way we Consume Media
  • Cog in the System: How the Limits of our Brains Leave us Vulnerable to Cognitive Hacking
  • Swimming Upstream: How Content Recommendation Engines Impact Information and Manipulate our Attention
  • Domestic Disturbance: Ferguson, GamerGate, and the Rise of the American Alt-Right
  • Democracy Hacked, Part 1: Russian Interference and the New Cold War
  • Democracy Hacked, Part 2: Rumors, Bots, and Genocide in the Global South
  • Conclusion: Where do we go from Here?


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