“In the age of the metric society,” writes Mr Mau, “individuals constitute bundles of data in which their personal worth is encoded.” When different sources of data are linked together, it becomes possible to paint an eerily complete picture of a person, and to predict with some accuracy both their net worth and their future behaviour.
These in turn can be gamed and their purposes perverted.These days, though, it is not only technocrats who have cause to fret about skewed metrics.Consider the role played by misinformation on Facebook in the American presidential election of 2016.Did these articles fulfil the basic journalistic function of informing their readers?Or, on the contrary, did readers’ clicks determine what was written?
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For a relatively small sum of money by the standards of American political campaigns—about $1.25m a month—Russian propaganda reached 126m people. “They tracked the size of the online audiences reached through posts, different types of engagement with the posts (such as likes, comments, and reposts), changes in audience size, and other metrics,” according to an indictment by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the vote.