Communicating Without Being Computed: Tricks of the Trade

We’ve discussed in class the power of big data and together we’ve predicted the positive and negative changes that may occur because of it. Despite some of the fears and concerns about big data, as social media users we continue to contribute via our tweets, posts, linkages and tagging. In turn, the hungry algorithms standby eagerly lapping up the data, intervening with our communication with each other and collecting patterns, trends and material for analysis we may not even begin to fathom.

But is there a way to stick it to the man, so-to-speak, so that we can continue to use social media sites without bowing to the algorithms responsible for big data collection? A recent study conducted at University of North Carolina by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci explores some trending strategies to cut the algorithms from the equation, particularly practices currently utilized among Turkish protesters who wish to communicate without being computed.

Why, what secret strategies, you may ask? Well, there are three in particular that Tufekci notes:

  1. Subtweeting: The act of talking about someone without tagging them in the post. So, instead of “@somevelvetblog is a swell guy” I may instead tweet “Bruce Warren is a swell guy.” Literally unlinking the mention allows me to contribute a post without an algorithm picking up on its data.
  2. Screenshotting: Instead of providing a link to a picture or article in a post, people can instead screenshot it, providing the information without linking it to the source. As humans, we can use our eyes to read what a computer cannot.
  3. Hatelinking: This is the practice of linking to other sources in a post, but not providing the context that an algorithm would understand. In other words, the computer can see the engagement, but it does not know what it means.

As the role of social media in our lives becomes more and more apparent, many of these practices may become more and more commonplace. In some instances, like when considering privacy, it may make more sense to use them in order to protect our personal information. In other instances, such as using big data to help make medical advances by noting common patterns and trends, allowing the algorithms to collect our data may prove beneficial in the long run. Regardless, understanding how to navigate the system and being aware of the data being collected remains crucial as social media continues to grow and expand.

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