AI Series Part 2: Social Media and the Rise of “Echo Chambers”

AI Series Part 2: Social Media and the Rise of “Echo Chambers”

Artificial Intelligence - Part 2

AI Series Part 2: Social Media and the Rise of “Echo Chambers”

AI Series Part 2 of 6

This is the second post in a series discussing AI and its impacts on modern life. In this article, we’ll explore how AI is used in social media and the ramifications of training AI while defining “success” based upon the “wrong” metrics.

Social Media Is not Free

Social media platforms that offer “free” services aren’t actually free. These companies need to make a profit and pay their staff, so all of them must have some form of revenue stream.

In most cases, this source of user revenue is to” sell” or use data about their users. For advertisers, knowing about their consumer population and being able to target their advertisements to particular individuals and groups is extremely valuable.

If an organization has limited advertising dollars, they want to put their advertisements and products in front of the people that are most likely to buy them. While some products may have “universal” appeal, others are intended for niche markets (think video games, hiking gear, maternity clothes, etc.).

Social media platforms give advertisers access to their desired target markets. By observing their users and how they interact with the advertisements and other content on the site, these platforms can make good and “educated” guesses about the products that a particular user could or would be interested in and is likely to purchase. By selling access to this data to advertisers, social media both makes a profit and acts as a matchmaker for advertisers and their desired target markets.

Defining “Success” for Social Media Platforms

AI and Social MediaMost social media platforms are paid based on the number of advertisements that they are able to present to their users. The more advertisements that a particular user views, the more profitable they are to these platforms.

Maximizing the time that a user spends on a social media platform requires the ability to measure the user’s “engagement” with the content. The more interested the user is, the more likely that they’ll spend time on the platform and make it more money.

The ways that social media platforms measure engagement has evolved over the years. Earlier, the focus was on the amount of content that a particular user clicked on. This success metric resulted in the creation of “clickbait” to lure users into continually clicking on new content and links and spending time on the platform.

However, over time users have grown increasingly tired of clicking on things that look anything like clickbait. While they may be willing to spend hours on a particular platform, they want their interactions to have some level of substance. This prompted an evolution in how these platforms defined “successful” and “engaging” content.

Giving the User What They Want

The modern goal of social media platforms is to provide users with content that they find “valuable”. The belief was that continually showing users high-value content incentivizes them to spend time on the site (and make the platform more advertising money), react, comment, share, and draw in the attention of their connections.

However, measuring “value” is difficult without clear metrics. To make the system work, these platforms measure the value of content based upon the amount that a user engages with a post.

This is where AI comes into the picture. The social media platform’s content management engine observes user behavior and updates its ranking system accordingly. The posts that receive the most likes, comments, etc. are ranked as more “valuable” and have a higher probability of being shown to users. In contrast, the posts that receive negative feedback (“don’t show me this again”, etc.) are shown less often.
Social Echo Chambers
In theory, this approach should make truly valuable content bubble to the top. In practice, people tend to respond most strongly (i.e. posting comments, likes, complaints, etc.) to content that they feel strongly about. As a result, polarizing content tends to score well under these schemes as people show their support for adorable cats and the political party of their choice and complain about “fake news” (whether or not it is actually fake).

In order to keep users engaged, an AI-based system using user behavior as a metric will naturally create “echo chambers”, where users will only see posts that align with what they already believe. The primary goal of social media platforms is to keep their users happy and engaged, and “echo chambers” are an effective way of achieving this.

The Bottom Line on AI and Social Media

AI is a crucial component of modern social media, but it is important to consider who this AI is really designed to benefit. Social media platforms, like any other business, are driven by the need to make a profit and keep shareholders happy. AI in social media is designed to accomplish this goal by feeding as many ads as possible to their users.

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Karen Huggins

Chief Financial, HR and Admin Officer
Karen joined the Netragard team in 2017 and oversees Netragard’s financial, human resources as well as administration functions. She also provides project management support to the operations and overall strategy of Netragard.
 
Prior to joining Netragard, she worked at RBC Investor Services Bank in Luxembourg in the role of Financial Advisor to the Global CIO of Investor Services, as well as several years managing the Financial Risk team to develop and implement new processes in line with regulatory requirements around their supplier services/cost and to minimize the residual risk to the organization.
 
With over 20 years of experience in finance with global organizations, she brings new perspective that will help the organization become more efficient as a team. She received her Bachelor of Finance from The Florida State University in the US and her Master of Business Administration at ESSEC Business School in Paris, France.

Philippe Caturegli

Chief Hacking Officer
Philippe has over 20 years of experience in information security. Prior to joining Netragard, Philippe was a Senior Manager within the Information & Technology Risk practice at Deloitte Luxembourg where he led a team in charge of Security & Privacy engagements.

Philippe has over 10 years of experience in the banking and financial sector that includes security assessment of large and complex infrastructures and penetration testing of data & voice networks, operating systems, middleware and web applications in Europe, US and Middle East.

Previously, Philippe held roles within the information system security department of a global pharmaceutical company in London. While working with a heterogeneous network of over 100,000 users across the world and strict regulatory requirements, Philippe gained hands-on experience with various security technologies (VPN, Network and Application Firewalls, IDS, IPS, Host Intrusion Prevention, etc.)

Philippe actively participates in the Information Security community. He has discovered and published several security vulnerabilities in leading products such as Cisco, Symantec and Hewlett-Packard.

He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), PCI Qualified Security Assessors (PCI-QSA), OSSTMM Professional Security Analyst (OPSA), OSSTMM Professional Security Tester (OPST), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)and Associate Member of the Business Continuity Institute (AMBCI).

Adriel Desautels

Chief Technology Officer
Adriel T. Desautels, has over 20 years of professional experience in information security. In 1998, Adriel founded Secure Network Operations, Inc. which was home to the SNOsoft Research Team. SNOsoft gained worldwide recognition for its vulnerability research work which played a pivotal role in helping to establish today’s best practices for responsible disclosure. While running SNOsoft, Adriel created the zeroday Exploit Acquisition Program (“EAP”), which was transferred to, and continued to operate under Netragard.
 
In 2006, Adriel founded Netragard on the premise of delivering high-quality Realistic Threat Penetration Testing services, known today as Red Teaming. Adriel continues to act as a primary architect behind Netragard’s services, created and manages Netragard’s 0-day Exploit Acquisition Program and continues to be an advocate for ethical 0-day research, use and sales.
 
Adriel is frequently interviewed as a subject matter expert by media outlets that include, Forbes, The Economist, Bloomberg, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, and The Register. Adriel is often an invited keynote or panelist at events such as Blackhat USA, InfoSec World, VICELAND Cyberwar, BSides, and NAW Billion Dollar CIO Roundtable.