Section 5: Complex Consequences Chapter 4: A Social Media Makeover
A week later, right on schedule, the trio re-convened to discuss Marilyn’s social media audit. Marilyn seemed hesitant, as they were all three now aware of personal boundaries crossed and questioned. Casey and Sally talked about what they called ‘Marilyn’s Makeover’. This colloquialism wasn’t as humorous to their younger friend.
Casey summarized their first recommendation. Following analysis in Dragnet Nation, Marilyn should do a threat assessment. If she stayed in the shallows of computing history, she would be relatively safe from personal attacks. At the other extreme, Gamer Gate 2014 showed how a venture into anti-feminist territory could get her displaced from home or forced to seek restraining orders.
They questioned some ugly family history. Soon-to be-ex-husband Yuri had been fingered in a Top Secret document mismanagement case. After a lengthy legal battle, he cleared his name but remained a scapegoat for other laboratory malfeasance. A defense of not knowing anything about his activities would not hold for a modern educated wife.
Bottom line: paranoid listing of adversaries and threats should be high priority. Marilyn should use Whisperer life narratives to extract people and events that might threaten her writing career. She might regret her extensive Facebook ‘friend’ network, which should be dissolved.
Second, an independent writer needs a CumuLinker-safe computing environment. She should separate her personal self and carefully monitor Google/Yahoo/Hotmail, GrabBag hosted blogs, or dependence on Facebook/MugVerse. Her contacts list should be scrubbed and considered ‘Confidential’. She should review all changes to her Whisperer timelines with new data acquired by CumuLinker. Private data relabeled as public should be traced. Public data re-classified as private might indicate bugs in CumuLinker algorithms.
Sally broke the bad news to her niece gently. “Marilyn, you have three serious public record problems. First, that innocuous 1980s community newspaper street photo; second, news reports on your husband; and, third, your statements on the autism-vaccine link.”
As a teenager in the early 1980s, Marilyn had been photographed at a bake sale in New York City. A group collected funds for what she believed was an environmental cause. The bake sale table was also selling girl Scout cookies. That environmental group later turned out to be a loose affiliate of another collective that included a few suspects from bombings of the 1960s era. And the photo clearly showed her holding out the Mint Chocolate cookie box to a buyer, smiling like the kid she was.
Casey took over. ” We know this cookie terrorism scene is far from your thoughts for decades. I ran mathematical algorithms on then and now faces. That picture matched your features today well enough that someday some person might link you to the bombing group. Your face is tagged in photos all over Facebook, which carries into MugVerse. Public appearances will inject your picture into the gigantic government intelligence face matching system.”
Casey scrolled a line of photographs, arranged by age from the cookie table to last week’s group of proud parents at Bob’s graduation. “Did you know that government and commercial surveillance systems hold more data, and data more easily retrievable, than most people can realistically recall about themselves? This gallery if a sample of Marilyn Maxxson Online.”
The justice system presented another problem. Her husband’s run-in with laboratory officials had been in the news for months, on television, with Congressional hearings. International exchange visits and his 2nd generation eastern European ethnicity painted him as a possible spy. Marilyn’s picture, name, and past technical profession left her as possible accomplice, repeatedly referring to “Mrs. Marilyn Maxxson, the Girl Scout troop leader, one-time supercomputer coder, and prolific Usenet and Facebook raconteur”.
But,the biggest story that would not go away was Yuri’s law suit regarding illegal job termination. Sally decided to reveal her own background snafu, unknown to either Marilyn or Casey.
” I confess. Evidence for this awful scenario is painfully close to home for me. I sued an employer after my menopausal mis-step into a technology transfer job. I suspected mis-handling of funds and learned — the hard way — that employee policies are meaningless. Government employers had immunities I’d never imagined. Eventually federal courts slapped me down on a technicality, after exposing enough claims and counter-claims to confuse any reader of the case.”
Sally was nearly crying. “The lawsuit would not die in my public legacy. This is a hazard for you, too, Marilyn. For years now, searching for my name always brings the rejected appeals case information high on search results. Public records and reputation repair company portals collude with search engines to share revenues from my stupid job mis-step. Those damned companies cut off numerous possibilities for interesting jobs during what might have been the peak earning period of my life before my disability kicked in.”
Sally swiveled her chair around in order to regain her composure.
Marilyn’ spirits drooped. “Come on, you mean, there is nothing, nada, I can control about that part of my reputation? Give me some hope, you sadists.”
Casey tried to clarify. ” There is nothing I nor you can do if Google search algorithm designers like to make law suits highly visible to any casual searcher. That’s just too bad for unfortunate citizens who step into litigious temptation, believing they were exercising their employment guarantees. This is simply the dark side of searching.”
Now onto the vaccine-autism link controversy. Circa 2000, a younger emotional Marilyn had pulled out all her research capabilities to find the best possible treatment for Bob’s autism diagnosis. A famous 1998 UK article suggested strong correlation with vaccination at age 2. There was enough doubt either way you read the data, she felt. Her analysis and public appeal for further research had been so well crafted that its presence on a now decaying Internet forum retained links well into the MugVerse era.
Eventually retractions of claims in the published paper, fraud accusations, and a deluge of support for vaccines swayed Marilyn’s opinion the other way. Her balanced counter-story to her earlier publication garnered even more references in the now well-linked controversy. Searching for her unique name might find her in a mass of web links too complex for readers to untangle. Too many links, and links from dubious sources, could be harmful to her reputation for journalistic objectivity.
These hazards left Marilyn panting with anxiety. “Sally and Casey, you’ve shown me how a stranger might worry about this unknown Marilyn Maxxson’s reputation. I know my objections are futile. I am just a kid subject to face recognition progress, not an FBI target. My husband’s case entangled my name into Google’s ‘algorithmic legal indifference’. Come on, I wrote a really good article that gained a following for its arguments that could be cited by either side. I’m innocent!”
“Yes, you are!” Casey and Sally answered in unison.
Casey reminded her, “Learn to think impersonally, realizing that algorithms don’t single you out, but rather mindlessly, if recklessly, process you as data. This is the business model we have brought into existence, surveillance capitalism. Now you must turn your part of our collective bad judgement into documented experience to enable better judgement in the future. Good luck, with that, kiddo!”
Casey and Sally summarized their advice: “Get prepared. For each of these predicaments, you could have a carefully crafted, well practiced, brief response that could get you through questioning. Anything online can be used against you. You must understand the algorithmic evidence to talk your way around any doubt or accusation.
Casey explained, “Marilyn, you’re lucky that CumuLinker organizes your life data for you on your Whisperer. Unpleasant as it may be, you can relive the cringe-worthy phases of your life until you’re comfortable with your understanding of your actions. You might find backup stories as well as accusatory comments. I’ve been using my timelines to work out a pattern of behavior that caused me needless trouble. It’s too late to apologize to many people in my life narratives. Instead I’ve chosen a few relationships to revive and cherish. Let me tell you, it’s mentally and emotionally hard, but worth the effort.”
Sally added, “Don’t forget that CumuLinker will be a third party introducing you to your clients and informants and interviewers. You control some filters on your life, like public data to keep private. There are centers for data studies working on policies for the CumuLinker age, moving away from surveillance capitalism. You can also build a persona of the person you want to be, then live that very life, until CumuLinker forgets your older antics.”
The older consultants commiserated with the bad news they’d delivered soberly to their promising protege. Sally brought up some philosophical research. Casey and matt were discussing the forces of digital remembering displayed in those timelines of ‘Life Replayed’ and ‘Teen Mazes’. All netizens should have the right to determine when, where, and how their life stories are told. If one decides an event, relationship, or concern has ben resolved, then everyone should “let bygones be gone”.
They liked the idea of disciplined expiration. This was like mentally time limiting all browser permissions and file saves. Elders appreciate the value of never revisiting decisions or situations requiring them to re-establish a mental context. As Casey’s reunion experience with that ‘Life Replayed’ game showed, CumuLinker risked ‘algorithmic cruelty’ if its designers messed with personal data, like “who are we to know the most momentous moment of your year?”.
Marilyn asked, “Casey, what about that little bro group that inducted Bob? Should I be worried?”
Casey laughed, “You need to have one more ‘facts of life’ chat with your son. The Little Bro movement teaches positive lessons about security technical issues. But they also promote distrust of government and national security agencies that seems unfair. We’re all recovering from The Great Trickster abuse of high-ranking security officials who knew the facts about the 2016 election misinformation campaigns. Unfortunately, they couldn’t overpower the Trickster’s tricks until the final damages were done. You should provide both arguments for and warnings about government surveillance then let him find his own way.”
She continued, “The CumuLinker takeover of our data and distribution of Whisperer reparations are slowly taking effect. I recently went to an eXtreme Social Media Meetup and participated in well-informed and civil discussions on climate change. Make sure Bob understands the Trickster shadow that will envelope his life until… well, maybe never if the Nuclear Shadow erupts. You’ve already taught him about wildfires and he’s taken that knowledge into his spectacular simulator. You can use Little Bro as another preparation for life in the world changed by the Trickster’s visitation.”
Marilyn’s makeover was in progress.