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If Skinner had been alive today, he would have worked for Facebook

El enemigo conoce el sistema (The enemy knows the system)
Forfatter: Marta Peirano
Forlag: DEBATE, (Spania)
FASCISM / The complex consequences of fascism spread through false news, attacks on privacy, mass surveillance and disintegrating democracies. People manipulate ideas and influence the attention economy – helped by dopamine. ws book is scary, yet necessary about the world we live in.


Manipulation tactics from Russian mass media or modern marketing techniques try to control the masses.

Elections can be won through social media. This becomes clear when we look at winners like the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who won the election well helped by an obscure manipulation strategy in WhatsApp. Thus, a new tool for large-scale political manipulation has been established.

Prior to this, Donald Trump used Cambridge Analytica their big data and profiling tools to manipulate the US election. To find the 2–5 million profiles per state that would likely change their minds — the one percent who tipped the scales in his favor — Cambridge Analytica purchased hundreds of databases, including Alexandr Kogan's dataset. The acquisition led to the revelation of a scandal about personal data transactions that has been much discussed and discussed.

However, it is a fact that if Cambridge Analytica had hired Kogan instead of buying his data set, there would be no scandal. The transaction would have been legal. And that is one of the many and frightening reflections that Marta Peirano has written about. The point is, as Alexandr Kogan admitted publicly in his apology: "I think that the central idea we had – that all know, and nobody cares – was wrong. For that, I sincerely apologize.”

In the computer world know everyone, but what they know is not common knowledge. Social networks have an unimaginable ability to manipulate ordinary people.

Houston, Texas

In 2016, in front of a mosque in Houston, Texas, two opposing groups of protesters gathered, but the wedding celebrations barely got underway thanks to the effective presence of the police. On the one hand, Heart of Texas had gathered a hundred people with Southern flags, armed to the teeth, defending a racist Facebook page with 4 million followers positioned against the "Islamization of Texas." On the other side stood the United Muslims of America, also with about a hundred people, but with flags against racism and a soap bubble machine.

The anecdote would have ended here, had it not been for the fact that both Facebook pages that had brought the groups together for battle were created by the same person: a member of the Russian group Internet Research Agency, who, with the help of a "fine" system and 200 dollars in advertising budget, had called in both groups at the same time from the other side of the world.

The Internet Research Agency, known as a Russian "troll farm", managed to create and confront half a thousand groups of various political affiliations, including groups such as Blacktivists, Secured Borders or LGBT United. These groups gathered huge amounts of interactions and were very active.

Marta Peirano

Data Privacy (GDPR)

Peirano is a journalist and writer with a remarkable career. She specializes in information technology, is a co-founder of CopyFight, Hacks/Hackers Berlin and Cryptoparty Berlin, and has written extensively on privacy. Since the release of Little Red Book of the Online Activist (2015), Peirano has made a name for himself in technology journalism and with an activist commitment.

She analyzes and explains the many changes that the information society has carried with it since the dotcom bubble burst – in an accessible, thorough and questioning style. Through her work in various publications, she has made sure to point out the many problems we face when it comes to privacy, which is central to Peirano's journalism.

In the book Little Red Book of the Online Activist gives the foreword by Edward Snowden a clue to what is Peirano's core issue: the ability to understand the world depends on an informal exchange of information between investigative journalists and their sources – without oversight or surveillance. The continued surveillance of investigative journalism undermines fundamental rights. However, journalists are not experts in either security or cryptography.

Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are just the tip of the iceberg in a large collection of journalists, whistleblowers, online activists and all kinds of ordinary citizens who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Peirano attempts to make us understand the complex consequences of fascism spreading through fake news, attacks on privacy, mass surveillance and disintegrating democracies.

With his extensive knowledge of internet history, Peirano takes us on a dizzying journey. From the birth of technology to the first laws, treaties and the ideological motivations behind them to the tectonic movements that these powerful ideas create. And how, decades later, they affect the way the information society is organised, and how it is woven into the attention economy.

Fat, salt and sugar

Peirano writes that four companies share the global taste and smell industry. They affect soft drinks, soups, cosmetics, cars, dildos, paints, disinfectants or candy. Flavorings are important for transforming one product into a completely different one. An advanced flavoring process can impart a perfect peach scent (and taste) to a jelly bean made from pork knuckles. The target is our brain. Aroma engineers with the brain as their field of work have effects that can be devastating. They work with a branding and marketing machinery that can make you believe that an industrially produced bun is a homemade muffin, or that a chicken from a conventional chicken farm has been allowed to live happily outdoors and eat healthy grains.

Through evolution, our brain has learned that something sweet is positive. Sweetness has always indicated the presence of carbohydrates, which are our main source of energy and are therefore very attractive. This evolutionary experience causes the brain to treat the consumption of candy like it treats sex or drugs, releasing dopamine.

The problem arises because we can eat sugar at all times, the release of dopamine becomes excessive and ends up suppressing a normal function, generating anxiety and nervousness, typical of withdrawal symptoms. This causes us to consume more sugar to dampen the effects and thus end up in an addictive cycle that is difficult to get out of.

Moskowitz is known for inventing the concept of the "bliss point".

Industries in all kinds of markets have used psychophysics studies to enhance the marketing effect and increase sales. Howard Moskowitz is a researcher in this branch of psychology that studies the relationship between a physical stimulus and how the person perceives the intensity of the stimulus. Moskowitz is known for inventing the concept of the "bliss point" in the early 1980s, the G-spot in the food industry: The exact amount of fat, salt and sugar that causes a perfect secretion of dopamine, enough to be delicious, but not fill you up, and which triggers an addictive cycle in the consumer. And the progress of the junk food industry, which leads to a painful paradox: A third of the North American population is overweight and undernourished at the same time.

Manipulation through colors, smells, tastes, words and music

The addictive process operates on several levels. At its most greedy, it encourages us to consume what we know we shouldn't consume, while at the same time feeling shame for not being able to limit ourselves. We are bombarded by techniques specially developed to manipulate our willpower through colors, smells, tastes, words, music. We would rather believe that we are undisciplined, rather than recognize that powerful and harmful industries pay large groups of motivated smart minds with astronomical salaries, specialists in manipulating us into addiction to their products.

In the 1940s, the Harvard psychologist placed BF Skinner a mouse in a box. In the box was a lever, which when touched gave the mouse food. The box was called Skinner's Box and demonstrates an addictive drama in three steps: need–action–reward. Skinner called it a continuous "boost" circuit. He continued his experiments and decided to vary the reward so that the lever did not always trigger food. Contrary to belief, this "variable interval reinforcement" did not dampen the mouse's interest, but rather reinforced its addictive behavior. The little mouse's brain had learned that pulling the lever gave pleasure, even if it didn't always get food in return. The same studies are on the desks of the engineers who develop the apps found in your mobile phone.

By creating a repetitive and mechanical gesture that generates learning through reward stimuli (dopamine), apps create addiction. If Skinner were alive today, he would be working for Facebook.


After delving into psychology, psychophysics, marketing, manipulation of the unconscious, mass media, collective intelligence, social networks and attention economy, Peirano has managed to write a book that makes the hair on the back of the reader's neck stand on end. It is terrifying reading, yet a necessary contribution that explains something about the world we live in. The book explains in detail the framework of manipulation we are currently trapped in – but also points to a possible resistance so we can get away from the internet.

Translated by Iril Kolle

Marc Molas Carol
Marc Molas Carol
Molas Carol is a music producer and political activist living in Spain.

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