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The Black Mirror: How to to Manipulate People via Social Media

In order to manipulate people through social media, you do not need to be a billionaire or a Russian hacker. Contacting The Spinner will work too.

You live with your parents who are against pets, but still want to have a dog? Or maybe you are tired of your partner coming home after he or she has had a few pints of beer? What if after 20 years of marriage your wife stopped showing interest in you? To solve each of these problems you don’t even need to discuss it. Simply pay 29 dollars.

For only 29 dollars, the British startup called The Spinner will conduct a “targeted information fire” on the person you have chosen. The company provides many services, for example: “quit smoking”, “quit drinking”, “quit riding motorcycles”, “restore sex in marriage”, 11 options in total.

What used to be a prerogative of the government and media tycoons, has become available to everyone. This is how The Spinner works: your “target” receives 180 advertising messages with the “right” message on Facebook for 90 days. For example, if you choose the “sex restoring” program, your wife (the company only offers this service to husbands) will see ads with articles called “5 Reasons Why Sex is Important in Marriage”. Each time ad messages will promote one of 10 articles created for each program.

Spinner co-founder Eliot Sheffler says that in three months the “victim” will surely remember the message, though it might get imprinted in the subconscious.

You can go further and order an individual program that obviously costs more. In this case, you can set any goals as long as they don’t contravene the law. It can work as a love potion: more than 400 people conducted campaigns to get back together with their exes. There is no information on whether it worked, but The Spinner is quite successful, having earned more than five million dollars last year.

When you pay, The Spinner sends you a link to an article in a well-known media, The New York Times, for instance. You forward it to the “victim” and ask him or her to read it under any pretext. It’s enough for the “victim” to open the site: The Spinner identifies the person using cookies.

“People read all the headlines,” Sheffler explains. “You don’t need to click on anything, because if you are exposed to the same heading again and again, [the campaign] is already working.”

The Spinner has created communities in social networks with names that make sense for a particular campaign, for example, “The Loving Wife” page supports ads in the “restore sex in marriage” program. Sheffler claims that there are over 200 pages in total.

One could argue that Facebook blocks such targeting by limiting the minimum size of advertising audience to 20 users. In fact, advertisers know how to manage this system. For example, if the “victim” is a woman, you can add 19 men and her to the advertising campaign, and then indicate that the ad should be only shown to women.

Sheffler says he can make a person believe anything. For example, that there is war in Czechoslovakia. Although there is no war. And no Czechoslovakia.

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