Conscience in age of big data

THE past industrial revolutions tested our skills and resilience to combat labour challenges. This time, we are faced with a greater challenge – our conscience.

Big data, the main driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is also known as the stealer of redundant jobs, will play a bigger and more entrenched role in society.

If the previous industrial revolutions gave rise to Luddites, then big data, if left unchecked, would result in a greater anarchy.

Data analysis is capable of triggering specific reactions but if curated strategically, it also has the power to win elections.

The 2016 presidential election in the United States is proof of this. The data analysis company, Cambridge Analytica, fell under heavy scrutiny when it was exposed for using personal data to manoeuvre contents in the users’ social media accounts to incite politically-motivated reactions.

Before the advent of social media, we received our information through newspapers, TV and radio news channels, and perhaps gossip. Now, we are being constantly bombarded with the latest news and updates through our smartphones.

Social media is more than a platform; it serves as a reservoir of news and information. With big data manipulation, the news and information we receive becomes targeted to create designed reactions that benefit certain groups. Hence, it is up to us in these situations to uphold our conscience and not act too rashly to the information being delivered to us via our digital devices.

In his debut novel This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the influence of media contents on the public in general with reference to newspapers. “For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper’s ownership, consequence: more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them – ”

The situation is not very different with social media. If anything, it has gone a little out of control. With many platforms available to access information, people are bound to be overwhelmed by the many different opinions.

In this situation, it is more common to be part of the herd, where we conform our views and opinions with the majority without thinking of the repercussions. This can be dangerous if the majority has been indoctrinated emotionally to believe something, and could lead to the harming of others.

The information we process becomes part of us and our thinking, and would be reflected in our actions and beliefs. Since we are constantly inundated with news and information, our conscience has a greater role to play.

Our conscience is the moral compass in discerning between right and wrong, acting rationally based on the right information and never resorting to violence.

It is imperative for individuals to be mindful of what they view and read online and to critically and prudently assess the information being shared.

These past few weeks in Malaysia have been incredibly testing for our nation as many provoking and insensitive contents aiming to incite unrest have been gaining traction to a disturbing level. These hate speeches should be viewed seriously.

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama in one of her speeches said: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

I hope that we, as a society, heed these words and make them our motto as well.

We must not cave in to bullies and embolden them further to vilify others. We should maintain our peace and show that we stand with solidarity. We have come too far since our independence to let sinister propaganda tear the unity of our society.

Anyone has the privilege to put his or her thoughts on social media platforms. But this freedom of speech comes with great responsibility. We should always be mindful of what we choose to share with the world so that we do not hurt people and trigger unwanted reactions.

One of the best methods I have come across is the “Three Gates of Speech” by Rumi which advises us to consider three things before saying anything to avoid conflicts and be more tactful in our conversations and actions:

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”


Kuala Lumpur

Letters , Social media , conscience