Why the Algorithm is Destroying America (and Keeping Weed Illegal)
The algorithm will tear us a part.
The algorithm is tearing us apart.
The algorithm is responsible for every bit of information that you see on your computer, lap top, phone or tablet. It knows you. It follows you. It knows your location, your device, what you like to look at online, what you click on in ads and emails, what you like to read, what you like to buy and want to buy, and it knows who your friends are.
I am referring to the algorithms at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and retargeting pixels and cookies that advertisers and sites like to use to track you.
The algorithm was created to be your friend. It was created to do good, to enhance your web experience by showing you things you liked and would find interesting. Much like Darth Vader, it started out for a force of good, but ended up turning us to the dark side.
But let’s take a step back on how things used to work 25 years ago, or 1 B.A. If you wrote an editorial about President Clinton in the Wall Street Journal, say a positive opinion of the president, it was published. You could write a letter to the newspaper as an opinion on the article or you could leave a comment below the online article. If you were pro or con President Clinton, the article was published and if you looked on the New York Times site or Wall Street Journal site, everyone saw the same article and only one article was there to see. If you loved it or hated, you saw it, and you commented.
The algorithm began as a function to show you popular things, with the thinking being, if x amount of people commented on this article and emailed, it, it must be good, so we should make sure that you see it as opposed to a not so popular article. If you stayed on the site and read a popular article the website could show you banner ads and other advertisements, and the more comments meant the article would rank higher in Google.
See, created for good.
Then the algorithm got smarter, or as we thought, better. It started to learn which article you liked and commented on by studying the cookies and pixels websites had put in your browser. It began to evolve and learned that if it showed you, say, positive President Clinton articles, you would stay on the site longer, email them and share them more, and leave more comments. It began to “learn”. It was learning that the more things it showed you that you liked, the more clicking you would do and the more sharing and commenting you would do.
All sounds good, right? Advertisers called it targeting and it was suppose to make your experience on the web more enjoyable. Why waste time on stuff you didn’t want to see, or like, and only show you the stuff that made you happy.
And that is wear the Dark Side begins. It only wanted to make you happy, to show you things you liked, to keep you clicking and loading more and more pages so that you would load more and more ads.
But that isn’t real life. It was life through rose colored glasses, 24/7.
It evolved to the point where it ONLY wanted to make you happy. With the advent of social media and Facebook, the algorithm ONLY wanted to show you articles you like, it would go out and find similar articles and recommend them to you and put them in your social media feeds and screens. It would recommend people to you who had the same opinions you had and liked the same things because, well, generally people who all like the same things hang out and get along.
Lets flash back to President Clinton, remember, one article, you may agree with it or disagree, you read it and if you wanted to, you left a comment. Some comments were pro and some were con, you could read all the comments, and then comment again on those comments. You actually created a running dialogue of opposite opinions to read. People were even allowed to vote a comment up or down so if you joined the conversation late, you could read the most popular positive and negative opinion and then comment yourself.
So, what changed? What did the algorithm do that was so wrong? It stopped showing you an opposing opinion, or something you might not like, because you would click more things and read more web pages if you saw articles and thought that you agreed with as opposed to articles you disagreed with. Websites and social medial companies make money by you clicking on things and reading more and more webpages. The more you clicked, the more pages you read that had advertisements on them, the more money they make. Pretty simple, create an algorithm that would maximize profits, get the user to like, share, click, and read as much as you can. How do you to do this? Show them articles and stories they will like and agree with.
So, what is the problem?
We stopped listening to opposing opinions. We stopped “learning”. We had our opinion, and because we only saw hundreds or thousands of people who agreed with us, our own opinion only got more and more reinforced. We didn’t see people who would disagree with any of our ideas or points, we only associated online with people who agreed with our opinions. The dissenting voice was killed off, taken off our radar screen.
Lets’ jump to present day. Fake news, Russian meddling, and trending hashtags are all due to the algorithm. They can only exist because the algorithm. How? People learned how to work the system, or learned how to use the algorithm to their advantage. They knew that writing pro-gun articles and posting to social media would create likes and shares, telling the algorithm to show the article to more and more pro-gun people. This would create a vicious cycle of showing a pro-gun article to thousands and millions of pro-gun people. This created way more likes and shares than showing them an anti-gun article. The more pro-gun people who see the article and like or share it, the more pro-gun people would see it, and so on and so on.
The same holds true on the anti-gun side, same exact loop of anti-NRA articles, they get liked and shown to the same like-minded people. If you are willing to give Facebook or Twitter money to promote or sponsor the article (pay to show it to more people) the process speeds up like it is on steroids.
Now we have created a society where tens of millions of people, if not hundreds of millions of people live, in the algorithm. They see a different newsfeed and they see different Google results than someone sitting next to them on the bus, even if they type in the same search term. Google knows what you like, Facebook knows what you like, and, well, they want you to be happy. They know you are happy and feeling vindicated in your opinion when lots of other people agree with you. It is called social reinforcement.
Google has hundreds of PHDs looking into this and trying to figure out a compromise. For instance, it was recently pointed out in a article, if you just changed the phrasing of a search term or words, you could see very different results. Phrases like “Are fish good pets” and “Are fish bad pets” would yield very different top 5 results, when in reality, it is the same question.
Why is America so polarized? Why does it feel there is no middle ground or compromise? All we see all day is self-reinforcement of our own views, hundreds of articles, likes, and comments agreeing with what we think, and telling us we are “right”. I mean, look at these thousands of people who like and agree with my comment, look at these other 10 articles that basically say the same thing as the article I liked and commented on. How can I be wrong, look at all these people and social proof that says my opinion is right.
Alt-Right? Alt-Left? We got to the far edges of some beliefs because we were pushed there by the algorithm. No more middle ground for the viewer. Why? It doesn’t make any money for the internet companies. If you don’t read more, click more, and like more, the profits go down at the internet companies.
Did Trump win the election because of it? Did the Russians take full advantage of the algorithm to create a tidal wave or pro right wing and anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda? Maybe. Recently the Mueller probe indicted 13 Russian firms and individuals for creating fake stories and news in order to influence the election.
What does this have to do with the legalization of cannabis?
The algorithms know you opinions, likes, dislikes, and what you just bought, and what you might be buying the future. It knows your opinion on marijuana legalization based on a few things. The macro algorithm that labels, in a broad general sense, you and that people with your same characteristics are generally pro or con marijuana legalization. The companies share, and for payment, exchange information on you. Credit card companies and super advanced at knowing where you live, what income bracket you are in, what your spending habits are, and how many credit cards you have open, all from your IP address and device ID. They can compare your website cookies with your IP address and device ID to match you up in hundreds of database tables. If you want to read some fascinating pieces on how advanced credit card company analytics are the Wall Street Journal did a 5-piece expose on how their cookies and information works and is shared around the world. There was such pushback once these articles came out the whole “don’t track me” and websites now having to tell you they would like to cookie you and now must ask your permission.
People who are anti-cannabis legalization are seeing more and more reefer madness articles and Jeff Sessions articles. People who are pro-marijuana legalization are seeing more and medical articles about cannabis helping people and politicians fighting to get it legalized.
We are polarized because the algorithm created polar zones. North or South pole, there was no equator because the equator was “muh” and didn’t create as much money as sending people to the polarized zone. As we got more confident online, we started getting more confident offline. The online kept telling us how right our views and opinions were so they must be true in real life too, no?
If we were racist and liked racist stories and people online, maybe we could start saying it while we were walking down the street. If we were pro-NRA and said we were defending the 2nd amendment, then we were Patriots, heroes, and we should go out and show people that. Well, the same can be said for cannabis legalization. Despite thousands of articles, videos, and studies showing the medical benefit of cannabis, many still don’t believe it. Even with no Federal spending allowed on research, thousands of videos are online showing children with epilepsy and autism, and a variety of diseases, doing much better using cannabis oil, drops, and creams. Why don’t the anti-legalization people believe?
They don’t get to see the videos and articles. They would have to go search for them.
The algorithm won’t put it right in front of them, it won’t put in in the top 5 Google results, and it won’t put it in their newsfeed.
Because that person won’t like, comment, or share it. That person will ignore it, or even worse, say they don’t like it, hence creating a negative experience within Google or Facebook that the person will remember, even if on a subconscious level. Have you seen the recent articles of scientist and employees who have left Facebook saying the likes and shares work just like drugs in the brain, it stimulates a dopamine release in our brains just like drugs, chocolate, sex, etc. The more likes and shares, the more joy, same response to the positive feedback loop tested in hamsters taping the sugar water pedal years ago.
Why would Facebook and Google want to show you an article you didn’t agree with? It is bad business in the pocketbook, and could leave a bad test in your mouth about the experience later on.
The algorithm, created to show us thinks we would like and enjoy, now showing us ONLY things we will agree with and enjoy.
How do we fix it? (and get full cannabis legalization?)
We have to go deeper than the algorithm can go. We have to look at human nature. As physiologists will tell you, people are only motived by two basic things, fear or desire. All our actions, going to work, exercising, reading, eating, they are all either motivated by one of two things, fear or desire.
We have to look at why people are anti-pot legalization. Why people are anti-gun control. What is the base fear or desire?
For marijuana, as the states have chosen to call it (we should all call it cannabis for a variety of reasons), the base fear of those is rooted in two basic fears. One, Is the fear that is it is a gateway drug, as previous administrations, public health offices, and industries such as Big Pharma and Big Alcohol have promoted articles and studies saying this fact. The second fear is that they are being tricked. Tricked by the pro-cannabis movement, that we are really just all trying to get stoned, and we are really just trying to get pot legalized so we can walk around and get high all day.
The first fear is the easiest to put at ease and it is already happening as medical cannabis support is now up to over 80% in America. No one believes cannabis is a gateway drug anymore, except Jeff Sessions. Why? Because millions and millions of people have tried cannabis in college or high school and DID NOT move on to harder drugs. We all know people who used cannabis before and become upstanding citizens, or currently use cannabis and are capable, good human beings.
The overwhelming personal evidence for people that alcohol is a gateway drug and much worse than cannabis is also now becoming clear. We know alcohol damages the liver and brain. We know what alcohol does to relationships and families when a member is hooked on alcohol. We know what drunk driving looks like by our own DUIs or deaths we see in the paper or with personal experience. The idea that cannabis is a greater danger or bigger gateway drug than alcohol is a farce and people know it now. Over 75% of opiate addictions begin with a prescription drug, usually a pain killer, not marijuana or cannabis.
The second fear is a much harder fear to untangle. No one likes to be wrong, and no one likes to look stupid, i.e. be tricked. The underlying fear, remember we are talking what fear or desire is motiving someone to be anti-cannabis, is that the movement is a big ruse. It is all a bunch of stoners and pot heads just trying to get our favorite weed legalized so we can buy it easier, smoke it everywhere, and get high all we want in a legal way. The deep ceded fear is that the movement is an excuse for millions to just get stoned and high.
So how do you change or address that fear?
Education takes away fear. No preaching, not yelling, but education. Since the Federal government won’t allow any research on the plant, educational material isn’t overflowing like it is for tobacco and alcohol. It order to educate people who are anti-cannabis they needs to see the videos of the children, talk to the parents of the children, see the studies from other countries showing the early progress in epilepsy, autism, and many other diseases.
The algorithm won’t show them that stuff because it won’t make money showing articles and videos that the person doesn’t like or agree with. The algorithm won’t show an anti-pot person a pro-legalization article.
You need to beat the algorithm.
You need to share pro-cannabis information with friends who are not pro-cannabis or maybe they just don’t know enough to make up their mind. You need to go outside your comfort zone (that is the sweet zone of the algorithm) and share it where the algorithm doesn’t think or expect you to share it. Do you not express your pro-cannabis views on Facebook due to work, or what friends might think? Share it there, break the algorithm, teach the algorithm a new you, which will show people who don’t just agree with you, new information.
Put the information in front of people who won’t otherwise see it.
Break the algorithm.
PS – Remember, an anti-cannabis person is only anti-cannabis person until a son, daughter, brother, or friend get sick with something cannabis can help with, then they are all ears as far as how cannabis works and if it could help. Sad but true. As many parents say in those aforementioned videos, “What if this was your child? What if you child went from 200 seizures a day to 1 a week…what would you do?”