Is it time for social debate on language technology and citizen manipulation?

Political microtargeting worksCan we really influence your voting behavior in elections with ads that fit your personality?

Yes we can. And we don't need a lot more than a hundred words of your pen, which we'll almost certainly find somewhere on social media.

You don't have to take our word for it, because there is now scientific evidence. Thanks to researchers from the University of Amsterdam and the personality profiler of the Antwerp language tech company Textgain (which you can test yourself).

Do you remember Cambridge Analytica?

The now-destructed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the personal data of an estimated 50 million Facebook users from Facebook. In doing so, the company created personality profiles, which it sold to political advertisers. All of that happened without the Facebook user knowing.

When that came to light in 2018, Facebook tried to save itself by claiming that tailoring political ads to citizens' personality traits doesn't work. But researchers at the University of Amsterdam have now proven, using Textgain's personality profiler, that citizens' political behaviour can indeed be influenced by advertisements that fit their own personality traits. Are you extroverted or introverted? For the political advertiser, it does matter.

As we know, in the run-up to the Leave camp's surprise victory in the Brexit referendum and also in the run-up to Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US presidential election, microtargeting techniques based on personality profiles were widely used.


Your personality is used against you

It's important news that researchers have now proven that this so-called personality-scoring targeting works. It raises concerns about all kinds of unethical dealings with personal data, including manipulation of citizens.

Of course, influencing citizens has always been the purpose of an election campaign, but if you are shown ads "tailored to your personality" without being aware of it, then you are manipulated, right?

More than 100 words, the advertiser doesn't need to use your own personality against you. And how did you think you were defending yourself if you don't even know you're under attack?

On the Textgain website you will find a web app in which you can have your own texts (in English and Dutch) psychologically profiled.

Read the research article by Brahim Zarouali, Tom Dobber, Claes de Vreese (all UvA) and Guy De Pauw (Textgain):

Discover textgain's personality profiler:

Textgain will be a central guest in The Language Sector Challenge on Thursday 18 March2021. Save the date.


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Author: Dries Debackere

Machine translation: SDL Machine Translation (previously SDL BeGlobal)

Post-editing: No post-editing

Source language: Nederlands (nl)

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