Manipulating populations is very easy
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Manipulating populations is very easy

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Manipulating populations is very easy

Have you ever heard of the term SEME, or Search Engine Manipulation Effect? The term was coined back in 2014 by the psychologist Robert Epstein, in his paper "The Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) And Its Possible Impact On The Outcomes Of Elections".

If you want to read it in full then navigate to here doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1419828112.

- The original paper covered five experiments in two countries. The results showed that biased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more. This shift could be even higher in some demographic groups, and such rankings can be masked so that people have no awareness of the manipulation. More simply put, internet search results can have an impact on consumer choices, especially the higher ranked ones as they're seen as more trustworthy.

- Another area that has great influence is what is known as Ephemeral content, that being something that is brief and vanishes fairly quickly. It could be something like an "up next" message on a website or an ad that flashes for a few seconds and is gone. One example is the info that appears and changes at the top of the Google search page. What I just learned is that these messages can be tailored for the specific individual. So, one party's voters might get a reminder to vote but the other side will only get that displayed for half the users. Dr Epstein's groups tracked this exact thing in the 2022 US elections recording 2.5 million examples.

- The 2022 example, as described by Dr Epstein, was enough to stop the expected "red wave" in the voting results. It's also worth noting that these tactics are used all over the world. Another example from the paper described above was for the Australian Abbott versus Gillard election. This was used so as to not bias the experiment with US participants. The experiment verified that browser results drive changes. They also tested the thesis in India which also showed a 20% shift. So, wherever you are be wary of any search results and headers you see close to elections.

- A reminder that Google's incognito mode is not really a thing apart from making you feel better. They can still monitor, track and save content from your activity while in this mode.

- All kinds of things can cause computer system issues, but I saw in a recent story that a cat caused a four-hour interruption after it jumped on a technician's keyboard. While reviewing the configuration of a server cluster, the cat jumped on the keyboard and deleted the configuration. Well, that is the technician's story at least, but there are a number of other stories about cats causing digital destruction ranging from creating a spelling mistake to more serious issues like the one above.

- Am I the only one who thinks the renaming of Twitter to X was a mistake? Instead of tweeting are you now Xing, Xting, sending an X, or for the more confused perhaps, you are twexting now. Not one of Elon's best ideas.

- Dragon Heir is a dungeons and dragons style game with turn-based play. I tried it for a few days and found it overly complex, counter intuitive, difficult to work out what needed to be done and found myself being beaten after the first couple of battles. I uninstalled it on the fourth day. If you have decided to play it, I wish you the greatest of luck.

- I'm still waiting for that perfect 3D printer at a great price. In New York they are proposing a background check for 3D printer purchases because you might be printing a gun with it. If you already have one then no problem. This all seems like a huge waste of time but things out of New York do not always make sense these days.

- Despite the obfuscation, the car fire that took out England's Luton airport car park appears to be a Land Rover hybrid. The EV battery, located in the mid left side of the vehicle where the fire can be seen in videos, failed and caught fire as the driver pulled into his space. There have been other incidents like this in the past and they will continue to occur in the future, hopefully not in a large underground car park as this will cause a huge amount of damage. A reminder that an EV battery does not need oxygen to keep going as it generates this itself. This is why it can take days for an EV battery fire to go out. If you are in this situation, try and get the vehicle into an open area. Note also that lithium-ion batteries do not contain metallic lithium. There have been phone batteries going up in a similar manner but they contain a lot less stored energy that needs to be released. If the latter happens to you, drop the phone into a large water container, but not a plastic one.


James Hein is an IT professional with over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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