Don't blame Cambridge Analytica, blame yourself

Alexander Nix Cambridge Analytica

Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s cousin, is unfortunately hailed as the father of PR. A century ago he offered a service which manipulated customers into buying. He did so with content which exploited customer insecurities.

Bernays used soft values – values accepted by a customer without an objective evaluation. For example, buying luxury cars and clothing give us an illusion that we are more successful. This is something we do not objectively evaluate while buying, but it is still the main motivation (an urge) for the purchase.

Bernays used soft values to shape democracy and promote smoking. He oversold himself, like a good PR person he is, and his method remained entrenched in marketing.

A century later marketing almost completely switched from explaining the product (hard) to manipulating customers emotionally (soft). Very few top brands bother anymore with products and innovation, and simply build soft brands. Most of the global advertising spend goes to soft. And we spend much more time consuming content because we carry little screens with us all the time.

Today our lives are defined by soft content more than ever before.

What Cambridge Analytica did wrong is not stealing of data but showing us how much power soft content has. It can change politics, break up countries, start economic crisis and wars.

But we can not blame Cambridge Analytica. They did commit fraud and a lot of other bad stuff, however they are only one of many technicians. We can not blame Facebook either. Facebook is just trying to use AI to show us what we like on our little screens while it pays its bills.

It is us – the consumers, the users – who are to blame because it is us who choose to react to the content.

We were never taught how to use content. How to react to advertising, news feeds, and Instagram. There are no instruction manuals, but there is always someone ready to exploit our ignorance, just like Bernays did a century ago. Most importantly our children are exposed.

Entire world is now angry at Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. We want governments and Facebook to protect us by setting new rules and redesigning AI. But no one can help us but ourselves. AI will always choose what we see and it will always know us better than we know ourselves. If we keep clicking on negative and fake it will give us more negative and fake. It will find a way to satisfy our irrational needs which we communicate with our actions (searches and clicks).

If we want to be protected, we must learn which content prays on our emotional and irrational needs, fears, latent ambitions, and ignore it. This is our personal responsibility.