The Microtargeting Manipulation Machine

Date: 22 January 2024

Time: 3-4pm UK Time

Venue: Informatics Forum 1.16 and Zoom

Author/Speaker: Almog Simchon

The Microtargeting Manipulation Machine

In recent years, there has been a growing concern over “psychological microtargeting”, in which psychological features that cannot be directly observed, such as personality characteristics, are inferred from online behaviour and personal data, and are used to customize manipulative messages, for example to provoke political action/inaction or to spread misinformation. Such microtargeting is opaque to online users and its effects, to the extent that they are understood, should give rise to concern. Hence, there is an urgent need to “reverse engineer” microtargeting strategies by uncovering the targeting algorithms in action. This talk presents a proof of concept for such algorithmic reverse engineering. We suggest that the detection of personality-congruent language can inform future interventions to alert users when they might be targeted on the basis of their inferred personality.

About the Speaker: Almog Simchon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Formerly a Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a member of its Technology Democracy and Cognition (TeDCog) group led by Stephan Lewandowsky. Almog completed his PhD at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 2021.
As a computational social psychologist, Almog’s research examines how social media, social psychology, and language interact. His work addresses issues of political polarization, misinformation, and emotion. He studies these issues using a combination of experimental psychology, big data analyses, machine learning, and natural language processing.