NO SHAMING THE SHAMELESS : How Big Tech weaponizes shame : As poorly as shame plays out, it is exactly how the big tech companies have designed it.

I should know - I used to work as a data scientist in the world of online ads. I would decide who deserved an opportunity and who did not, based on who had spent money in the past and who hadn't.

SHAME IS A VISCERAL - INSTINCTUAL RESPONSE. WE react violently to shaming by others, either by feeling shame or by feeling outraged at the attempt.

This human hard wiring - which historically salvaged our reputations and and preserved our lives, is being hijacked and and perverted by the tech companies for profit. In the process, we are needlessly pitted against one another. It doesn't have to be like this.

WHAT I've learned - in part from very personal experience - is that shame comes in a number of forms, and the better we understand it, the better we can fight back.

Whereas shame is a primarily a useful social mechanism that coerces its target into conforming with a shared norm, the kind of shaming that often goes viral on social media is a punching down type of shame where the target cannot choose to conform even if they tried.

That obese woman who fell over in her scooter at Walmart? Viral. That overdose victim? Shamed.

Most online algorithms quantify and profile you, putting a number on how much you're worth, whether it's to sell you a luxury item or to prey upon you if they deem you vulnerable to gambling, predatory loans, or cryptocurrencies.

In turn, the advertisers who find you figure out your weaknesses and deftly exploit them. When I realized I was helping build a terrible system, I got out.

FOR SOCIAL MEDIA, the data scientists are interested in only one thing : sustained attention. That's why online we are made to feel so very comfortable, surrounded by like-minded friends, perhaps thousands of them.

It's big to feel like we're ''in society,'' but of course it's actually quite small, a minute corner of the world. The ways we disagree with others outside our group are filtered straight to us, via algorithms, and the ways we agree with one another are likewise filtered away from us, making them essentially invisible.

That automated boosting of shame-based outrage triggers us, and we get habituated to performing acts of virtue signalling. We jump on the shame train to get out tiny little dopamine boosts for being outraged and for our righteousness.

That we get accolades from our inner circle only serves to convince us once again that we're in the right and that people outside our circles are living in sick cults.

This turns what should be a socially cohesive act into a mere performance, as we get stuck for hours on the platforms, tearing each other down for the sake of increasing the profits of Big Tech.

What's particularly tragic about all this is that the shame doesn't work at all; it's inherently misdirected. For shame to work, in the sense of persuading someone to behave, we first need to share norms and even a sense of trust, and second, the target of the shame needs to have the expectation that their better behaviour will be noticed. Those preconditions are rarely met online.

WE have had differences of opinion for a long time; and that's nothing new. By pitting us against one another in these endless shame spirals, Big Tech has successfully prevented us from building solidarity.

The first step is for us to critically observe their manipulations and call them for what they are :  SHAME MACHINES.

The World Students Society thanks author Cathy O'Neil. O'Neil is the author of The Shame Machine : Who Profits in the New Age of Humiliation.


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