Where Social Media Fails – It’s Us

No HateDemographics, or demography, is the statistical study of populations.  It encompasses the size, structure, and distribution of these populations. Demographics have long been used by decision makers in both government and commercial arenas.

Psychographics (a new word for me)  is the study and classification of people according to their cognitive attitudes, aspirations, interests, opinions, beliefs and other psychological criteria.

Cambridge Analytica is a company that uses big data mining to accomplish, among other things, “psychographic profiling.”  The company does this “..for political purposes, to identify “mean personality” and then segment personality types into yet more specific subgroups, using other variables, to create ever smaller groups susceptible to precisely targeted messages.”  THEY DID THIS FOR THE DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.

Yesterday, ProPublica announced that they had successfully used Facebook, to direct mock articles directly to the newsfeeds of 2,300 people who’s psychographic profiles indicated interests in “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world’” – for $30.  The anti-semitic categories were immediately removed.  They had been created by computer algorithms, not by people. Facebook is exploring ways to fix the problem

For a long time I promoted and celebrated the people-power of social media, that it responds and behaves based on how we, people, use it. This characteristic is incredibly empowering and culture-enriching, and it can also be used to inflict great evil. For this reason, I also strongly urged educators and education leaders to refine their notions of what it is to be literate, that it is no long merely the ability to read and understand, but also the skills and habits of exposing what is true in the information that we encounter.


Burleigh, N. (2017, June 8). How big data mines personal info to craft fake news and manipulate voters. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2017/06/16/big-data-mines-personal-info-manipulate-voters-623131.html

Angwin, J., Varner, M., & Tobin, A. (2017, September 14). Facebook enabled advertisers to reach ‘jew haters’ [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-enabled-advertisers-to-reach-jew-haters

Demography: https://goo.gl/AkfHdt
Psychographics: https://goo.gl/pjxPiM

One thought on “Where Social Media Fails – It’s Us”

  1. As a science teacher, I completely agree with what you are saying. I have students who, on a daily basis, come to me and ask, what seems to me to be, the most ridiculous questions about obviously made-up information. I can usually answer these questions with a concerned look and a simple, “Facebook?” The fact that these teenagers are gobbling this information up like it is pecan pie, instead of the garbage that it is, truly puts me in a precarious situation: On the one hand, I want to go into full-teacher mode and attempt to not only correct their misinformation, but explain how and why critiquing information is important, but on the other hand, you can never tell if a student is just pulling your leg to get you to abandon your lesson to talk about some random drivel. I am sure that the majority of the time, most students fall into the latter, but the fact that students are exposed to such nonsense (and some of them actually believe it) makes you wonder if we need to start teaching a class SPECIFICALLY on online literacy, because, as you said it, the definition of the word has CLEARLY changed.

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