The Power and Appeal of Manipulation

The Power and Appeal of Manipulation

Mario Radovan (Department of Informatics, University of Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/ijt.2015010106


Information technology has facilitated the creation of a virtual reality which differs from the reality in which we live. We preach sublime ideals, but our public discourse is reduced to manipulation. We extol freedom and democracy, but we live in a world of fears. We prise truth, but we preach and believe what serves our interests. Information technology allows and compels us to see how imperfect our behaviour has been. In this way it helps people in their efforts to face their weaknesses, and humanity to save itself from itself. However, information technology has also facilitated total surveillance and control over people, which leads towards a totalitarian world. The mythical struggle between Good and Evil has been taking place in people and between them. Technology is the means in this struggle, but its course and outcome depend more on human nature than on technology.
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Powerful Means And Dubious Aims

The space in which we live and act increasingly consists of technological systems and devices which shape our reality and behaviour. The intense use and the growing power of countless technological means open many philosophical questions, especially in the domain of ethics. Issues of privacy, property, social power and social justice in the context of intense technological changes, have been intensely discussed. The same holds for the issues of violence in computer games and the use of technology in real wars, the issue of rights of intelligent machines, and for many others (Introna, 2011; Luppicini & Adell, 2009; Sullins, 2014). New technological means often facilitate and may encourage unethical behaviour, but many new means encourage and promote ethical behaviour. This paper addresses the issue of how information technology and information industry affect the ethical quality of our discourse and behaviour. We speak about honesty and hypocrisy at the individual and collective level, about the discrepancy between our discourse and our reality, and about the intense manipulation which has been facilitated by information technology, and which we must resist by means of the same technology. Our discourse is conceptually simple and is based on everyday examples of the media discourse and our common behaviour.

Information technology has facilitated an enormous increase in knowledge of billions of people around the world. But this technology has also allowed power-holders to manipulate billions of people, to shape their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, often in suboptimal or destructive ways. The information industry produces and distributes information contents, the aim of which is supposed to be to inform, entertain, and educate. But the information industry shapes its products within the framework of the ruling narrative and socio-economic system, and in accordance with the aims of those subjects on whom this industry existentially depends. These subjects are primarily corporate business (owners and advertisers), holders of political and administrative power, and holders of cultural (religious) power. Products of the information industry are the means by which power-holders shape the reality in which we live, and create our values and truths (Radovan, 2001). Appealing lies have always been in a higher esteem than plain truth, and power-holders have always used them intensely. Following such inclinations, our public discourse has been reduced to an industry of manipulation. States with their interests on one hand, and corporate business on the other, displace from the space of public discourse everything that does not serve their aims, and especially what could oppose them: in this way they create an increasingly totalitarian living space.

Products of the information industry speak to emotions rather than to reason; this is easier to do and is more effective. The media discourse does not aim to inform people, but to form them: to create in them certain emotions and attitudes by means of purposely chosen contents. Public opinion is produced from the top by luring and scarring people with messages and images: it is an industrial product, like other commodities. People are told what they are expected (requested) to support, as well as that opposing a given narrative is unpatriotic and can be considered a criminal offence. Public discourse has always been target-oriented: its aim has not been simply to inform, but to create certain emotions and attitudes in people. This means that every public discourse aims to manipulate the audience to a certain extent: the question is only to what extent has the development of new information technologies encouraged this tendency and made it operatively more efficient.

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