In today’s world, huge quantities of data on individuals are owned by data companies, social media platforms, security agencies, governments, and other actors who can acquire, buy, or hack information from other data sources. Moreover, big data science and artificial intelligence technologies continue to develop in a direction that enables easier processing, understanding and concluding useful knowledge from this large and scattered information.
In recent years, especially following the reports about the Russian efforts to intervene in elections in the USA and Europe, and following the Cambridge Analytica- Facebook case, many people started to worry that the cyberspace is not only used to acquire knowledge about people, but could also be used to influence the consciousness, ideas, and behavior of people, most importantly, their political ideas and behavior. SCL group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, used to boast of its method as a way to achieve “behavior change” of masses.
While most of the research in the field of International Relations perceive these technologies as a threat when used by authoritarian regimes against democracies, or by sub-state entities and hacking groups against states; my research originates from another perspective: These technologies are perceived as a source of tempting power, they amplify the political capabilities of their owners, give them new types of influence on their targets. The temptation could lure even actors from within the democratic system, it could introduce new actors to the political game (for example technology and data companies), and enable new types of control, even manipulation, by the strong on the weak.
This new form of power comes from the natural development of technologies like computers, Internet, data science, social media, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Combined with the scientific advancement in fields like behavioral psychology and marketing. Together they provide a new potential of political power to actors who seek it and afford it.