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How Does Micro-Targeting Influence Our Political Beliefs And Important Actions?

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We all rely on technology for almost everything in our daily lives, whether it is setting the alarm or a reminder or running business operations. It is quite easy to get too engrossed in it, but like everything, it has its pros and cons. 

The current ecosystem of digital media relies on our data for content curation. Sometimes the details can be as trivial as our location or the frequency of using an app, but their impact can be huge and we might not even realise it. One such practice is micro-targeting, which uses our data for various marketing and content-targeting purposes. To understand how it impacts us, we need to know what it means.

What is Micro-Targeting?

Micro-targeting is a data mining and marketing technique which uses information about us like what we like, our location, what we’ve bought, how frequently do we log in or out or who are we connected with, for content targeting. It influences our behaviour through hyper-active targeting and is commonly used as a campaign tactic by using predictive analysis on all the data previously collected through digital media. It is commonly used by marketers or political campaigners to influence us.

How Does it Work?

The end goal for the seller or the political party would be for you to choose their product or service or prescribe to their ideology for which they analyse the users. They first analyse our traits and actions through our browsing history and other personal data available on digital media. Then, all the data collected is divided into small separate segments which makes content-targeting easy. 

All the data compiled is then used to do predictive analysis which helps determine future actions of a person. Predictive analytics uses data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning and statistics to predict the future, which in this case would be predicting our behaviour. 

They aim to keep us engaged in digital media. Once we’re engaged, we keep on scrolling for long periods. Target-ads are then displayed on our phones or laptops which generate results desired by the campaigners in the first place.

How Does This Impact Our Political and Other Important Actions?

 

political ads

Traditionally only mass campaigns and rallies have been organised. However, with the advent of such advanced techniques to reach out to the masses, individual targeting is now common. With extensive content-curation, tailored messages and advertisements are used to capture our attention. They are designed to be clickbait for us. Those click baits often turn into us buying “attractive” products. 

report by CNN explained that our data is gathered and then combined with available voter details. It is then used to predict voter behaviour. All that information is used to reach us through content-targeting. report named The campaign power of political advertising (2018) talked about how, on average, 2–3% of voters are drastically motivated and change minds just based on online ads. That number has been rising as more political campaigns have started employing data mining techniques extensively. 

Another report discussing the interpretations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal says that a huge amount of personal data was used to nudge voting behaviour in the Brexit referendum and the US presidential elections. This was mentioned in another report by Time, which talked about how such ads and micro-targeting impacts our decisions politically and manipulate us.

Many social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have had allegations against them for misusing personal user data. They have been involved in a lot of cases where the users’ personal information has been compromised, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal being one infamous example. This raises a lot of concerns for us as voters and consumers. It not only misuses our data but plays on our psyche as well. 

study talked about how this is used to create a larger gap between different ideological supporters like conservatives and liberals. The same techniques can be used not only to create a divide but also to bring them together on certain issues.

In the documentary, The Social Dilemma, many renowned tech experts who have worked with major tech giants and social media platforms talk about how it is penetrating every little part of our life and affecting our behaviour and psyche much more than we think. We are becoming slaves of such technology. A report by The Hindu said that while the internet does help improve the health of democracy and freedom of expression, it has serious consequences in terms of fake news and propaganda.

How Can You Avoid Being Manipulated?

To avoid being a victim of data-mining and manipulation, the most important thing you can do is be vigilant. When you see an advertisement, make sure you don’t instantly form an opinion. This is easier said than done, but being conscious of it can make a great difference in your psyche and help you avoid being targeted. 

When you get a political text or see an advertisement, keep three things in mind: who is funding it, who is being targeted and what does it say. Use the same digital media to get an unbiased and better understanding of political ambience around you.

You can also use ad collectors like ProPublica, The Globe and Mail or Who Targets Me which gather political ads and tell you what other users have reported. Never rely completely on one source. Use multiple credible sources and use traditional media as well. 

In our hectic everyday schedules, it is not easy to be so vigilant of all the content we see, but if you end up being manipulated, who will you hold accountable? It is best to be careful of everything you see on the internet. 

By Divija Jain

Note: A version of this post was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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