Intentional nudging using models built on our individual preferences and vulnerabilities will become much more impactful in the future. While the effectiveness of personalised propaganda such as that employed by Cambridge Analytica may still be debatable, there is no doubt long-term nudging can be powerful – if not to swing a close election, maybe to increase apathy or foment dissent and distrust towards our institutions. The possibilities for manipulation are endless.
Communication mediated through hypernudging can gradually shift our moral values, norms and priorities. YouTube recommendations and their alleged promotion of far-right content in Brazil, causing the radicalisation of certain users, was a form of nudging – unwitting as the tech company claimed it was.
Still, to categorise the weaponisation of communication as “information warfare” could distract us from the fact that the root of the problem is not information per se. We have to address the fact information manipulation is employed by political actors taking advantage of regulatory and legal vacuums to change power dynamics. They use the technology of companies unsupervised for so long that they have acquired sufficiently dominant market positions to lobby themselves out of government regulation, while traditional media remain seemingly unable to resist the hijacking of the news agenda by divisive actors seeking to amplify their agenda via clickbaity disinformation.
In the midst of this, people remain confused, disempowered or too petrified to reclaim our agency and confront this attack on our information space and our digital rights. Reclaiming our privacy is the first step. We are going to need it if we are to stand a chance of resisting the information weapons being used to discipline and control us.
• Sophia Ignatidou is an academy fellow at Chatham House, researching AI, digital communication and surveillance