“ATTENTION ASPIRING TOTALITARIANS!”
From the desk of Mark Z.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the East German communist state, your spirt animals at the top of the Stasi (the GDR’s secret police, for those delinquent in their history) had to rely on data gathered by hand, which meant hiring a whole bunch of professional spies and recruiting a massive network of civilian informants to build detailed files on its targets, whose ranks included just about everyone.
Under the watchful eyes of the Stasi, whose legendary file cabinets stretched for miles, case agents were responsible for keeping tabs on individuals and groups.
But the Stasi, for all of the length and depth and might of its tentacles, had a problem.
Though its agents had large and ever-growing dossiers at their disposal, they were essentially confined to what they could capture on paper and keep in their minds.
But you, Mr. 21st Century Totalitarian, you have no patience for such an antiquated approach.
And why should you? Compared to Internet-scale data collection, the German’s analog methods are just so… how do you say?
Slow? Inefficient? Prone to lapses in human judgment and the soft mushy recesses of the human heart.
You, the modern totalitarian, demand 21st century way to capture and catalog the activities, psychologies, and political sentiments of your citizens in real time.
This should be some place online where people share freely and regularly about themselves. Something like an online social network, or a messaging app. Or a special silly little thing where people agonize over photographic filters and create hashtags like #vanlife and #blessed.
Of course, you, the Discerning, Wise Totalitarian understand that merely collecting massive amounts of personal data on most of the population is only a part of the equation.
Because once you have access to a large, rich and ever-growing online database of human behavior, you know you need algorithms that can mine all those activities and uncover threats to your #blessed status quo.
#2: Predictive Behavior Modeling
Along with potential terrorists, the threats to your velvet fist of lead and iron include:
Have you, Mr 21st Century Totalitarian, ever just wished you could build a detailed psychological profile of these types and use your massive identity database and a bit of sophisticated machine learning to suss out others?
With such a tool at your disposal, it’d be like having the pre-cogs from Minority Report, but instead of weirdly-psychic humans drugged up and living in a bath, you’d have an All-Seeing Machine.
It would be especially nice if the same company that built your massive surveillance engine was also thoughtful enough to train an AI to mine its users’ posts and pre-emptively flag “troubling psychological tendencies”
Sure, you know you’d surface a substantial number of false positives.
Hey, you didn’t pass a law legalizing light investigative enhanced interrogation for nothing, are we correct?
Let us not waste more brain energy on such pedestrian matters.
These things are for your secret police agents to suss out, yes?
#3: Mass Manipulation
The 20th century totalitarian relied on absolute control of the flow of information. Writing official textbooks, burning subversive materials, censoring the media, and publishing a non-stop flow of propaganda was simply the way of things.
But The 21st Century Totalitarian such as yourself, the fragmentation of TV and the free-form frontiers of the Internet complicates this strategy.
Sure, you could just co-opt cable news, but there are so many channels! Radio? That’s so 1933.
While these blunt forms of manipulation may work for news stations named after wild dogs, they are too obvious to work across your entire nation.
The modern totalitarian like you demands a more subtle way to influence cultural and political sentiment, some way to influence the stories people see every day and shape their understanding of reality and their emotional states across geographic, political and economic lines
The kind you’d have if you got your hands on an algorithmically filtered newsfeed that reached over a billion people.
That is the ticket.