-Today, it's not your computer that hackers are most eager to target.
It's your mind.
-We're at great danger in losing sovereignty over our own lives, losing control over our lives.
That, I think, is the pressing danger of our time.
-In this episode, you'll discover why you can be hacked without even knowing it.
-There's, like, a big part of our mind that is guiding our behavior, but we're almost unaware of it.
-You'll discover what the creators of "The Simpsons" have learned about how corporate hackers get us to make the same financial mistakes as Homer.
-Extended warranties... -"How can you lose?"
-"How can I lose?"
We'll see why social media is a political hacker's dream.
-They decided to sell Donald Trump on the Internet the same way that they were used to selling his hotels and his golf courses and his wines and his steaks.
-The hackers are aiming to steal your most precious possession -- control over your own decisions.
-Not living the life that is really yours.
That is the greatest cost of all.
-What can you do to keep control?
It starts with watching this hour of "Hacking Your Mind."
♪♪ ♪♪ -"Hacking Your Mind" was made possible by a major grant from the National Science Foundation, -Hello, I'm Jake Ward.
Today, we are bombarded in ways that human beings have never been before by ads from people who want to sell us stuff -- when we're online for just about every product we've ever searched for, when we're on Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other apps, and by digitized voices on the phone acting like they're our best friends.
Come election time, that 21st century brand of marketing goes berserk, and frequently it's impossible to know who paid for that phone call or Facebook post attacking one of the candidates.
What's the harm?
Well, what corporate and political marketers know that most of us don't is that we make many of our decisions almost instantly based on our feelings, and their goal is to literally hack our feelings, so that without stopping to think, we'll make a decision that's good for them but not necessarily good for our health, our finances, or, when it comes to politics, our country.
But now we're going to take you inside the world of the hackers and expose how they take advantage of the flaws in our decision-making system so you can protect yourself and fight back.
This journey of discovery begins, surprisingly enough, with the great American pastime -- baseball.
Author Michael Lewis wrote the book that became the movie "Moneyball" because he was fascinated by how major league scouts were deciding whether or not a young player had a shot at making it in the big leagues.
-Got an ugly girlfriend.
-What's that mean?
-Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.
-In fact, what somebody's girlfriend looks like has nothing to do with how well they hit a baseball, and yet key advisors in a billion-dollar industry were making their decisions based on mistaken intuitions like that.
-That notion struck me as odd.
I thought, you know, if any corporate employee would be properly valued, it would be a baseball player who's been doing his job the same way for 100 years, and he has statistics attached to every move he makes on the job.
But they made these errors, and if it can happen there, where couldn't it happen?
It must be true in every occupation, that people were being misvalued, for example, for the way they look.
-"Moneyball" was a bestseller, and it became a hit movie, but a review with a major criticism caught Lewis' eye.
-And they basically said in the review that, "Mr. Lewis has written a really interesting story, but he doesn't seem to understand the meaning of his own story.
It's actually just a case study illustrating work that was done in the 1970s by two Israeli psychologists, Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky."
And I never heard of these guys.
I mean, I saw this and I thought, "Who they?"
Now this was bad on me because Kahneman had just won the Nobel Prize in economics.
Nevertheless, I'd never heard of him, and I went and kind of dug out their papers, and I went, "Oh, my God.
They are illustrating general principles about the way the mind works that just happened to be -- I happen to have discovered in the market for baseball players."
-Kahneman, Tversky, and their colleagues realized that though we imagine we make our decisions consciously and deliberately, we actually make most of our decisions by relying on what Kahneman calls fast thinking.
Decisions made when we're thinking fast are nonconscious, intuitive, effortless, shaped by our gut feelings.
It's as if we're operating on autopilot.
-This is how we live.
You know, we couldn't live if we generated everything by deliberate thinking.
We live because we are skilled at what we do, so correct responses sort of stream -- You know, there is a stream of them, and then occasionally there are mistakes, and we focus on ways in which it's the machinery of thought that creates the error.
-Think of your machinery of thought, or your autopilot system, as making systematic mistakes in the same way your visual system sometimes does.
For instance, most people who see these two lines think this one is longer, when in fact, they're the same.
Your autopilot system makes similar, almost automatic mistakes, mistakes that matter much more than how long these two lines are because they affect every part of your life.
-Kahneman and Tversky's central lesson is that human beings are systematically fallible, and once you understand the ways in which people are systematically fallible, you can see the kind of mistakes people make playing themselves out in courtrooms, in hospitals, in front offices of sports franchises, wherever people are making kind of intuitive judgments.
So they pointed out, like, the essential error of our ways.
♪♪ -I learned about how relevant their discoveries are to my life when I made a serious error at work because I made an autopilot decision based on my gut feelings.
I was once doing a television report for Al Jazeera, and it was about climate change.
I was supposed to go up in the largest trees in the world.
♪♪ And so with no experience, I had to climb more than 200 feet up one of the trees.
♪♪ I remember when I got down to the bottom, I was walking away from the tree, and there was this squishy feeling in my shoes, and I looked down, and I realized I have sweat through my sneakers.
That's how terrified I had been, and that's when it hit me, "Wow, I really could have died."
You know, my young children could have grown up with just the barest memory of who I was.
Why would I do that?
Why would I risk death itself for a 4-minute television piece?
Well, now I know.
I know that I wasn't making a logical assessment of the risk.
I was deciding based on my gut feelings, and my feelings were telling me, "Hey, you know what?
Your bosses are just going to be so impressed.
It's not that risky."
But my feelings were wrong.
But despite the importance of understanding how we really make decisions, no one except scientists paid attention to Kahneman and Tversky's work until a brash young economist came along.
Richard Thaler had become convinced that the world's great economists, whose theories and models depended on the assumption that consumers behave rationally, were totally off the mark, but he couldn't explain why.
-I was introduced to Kahneman and Tversky's work by one of their students, and it's like my head exploded.
Systematic bias, predictable error because economists have always known that people really aren't all that smart or all that perfect.
In fact, they complain all the time about how dumb their students are and their kids and their spouses and their deans and whatever president we have.
They complain about all of -- They think all of those people are idiots, but the people in their models are geniuses.
-The economists dealt with the contradiction by arguing that the errors people make are random and unpredictable.
For instance, if one person pays way more for a house than it's worth, there will be another person out there who sells their house for way less than it's worth, and so housing bubbles, in which everyone is buying houses for way more than they're worth, simply can't happen because our random mistakes supposedly wash each other out.
-But they don't wash out.
That was the Kahneman and Tversky ingenious organizing principle, is that we make predictable errors, and so we need to change our models.
Otherwise we, as economists, are going to make predictable errors.
♪♪ -According to Kahneman and Tversky, one reason we make predictable errors is that we humans feel far worse when we lose something than we feel good when we gain the exact same thing.
-Suppose I give you $100.
"You know, that's great.
I got $100.
I feel good."
Now suppose the next day, I come by.
I take $100 away from you, and I measure how mad that makes you feel.
It makes you feel about twice as bad as giving you the $100 made you feel good.
We're more sensitive to losing than to winning.
-Maybe you find it hard to believe that we humans care more about losing than an economist would say is rational.
Well, put yourself in Jack and Jill's shoes.
Remember the old nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill, right?
Pail of water, head trauma.
Let's say that Jack and Jill grew up and moved to California, and they became day traders.
One day, Jill starts out with $90,000, and over the course of the day, for some reason, she loses 40,000 bucks, down to $50,000.
It's a disaster.
Jack starts out that day with $10,000, and before he knows it, he gains 40,000 bucks, up to $50,000, right?
Now a traditional economist would say, "Hey, these two people with the same amount of money, they should feel the same way about that," right?
And the math around them should be the same.
Well, you and I know that's not true, right?
Jill is despondent.
She's going to bed.
She is wrecked.
Jack is psyched.
That guy's bouncing off the walls.
He's going to dinner.
These two people feel differently about it because their reference points are different, and those feelings are going to influence how they act.
Feeling worse about losing leads us to experience what Kahneman and Tversky call loss aversion.
Because of loss aversion, our autopilot system tends to become irrationally obsessed with preventing losses, even ones that will probably never happen.
And Thaler realized that that makes it incredibly easy for corporations to hack our minds.
-Let's suppose people hate losses and aren't very good at thinking about probabilities.
-What will insurance companies do?
Well, they'll sell them insurance that is stupid to buy, like, say, buy extended warranties.
-Right, right, right.
So here's an example.
-I can buy one on my microwave.
Labor for 1 year, parts for 1 year, no worries.
-I got this.
-Yeah, now, when is the last time you had a microwave oven break?
-Yes, can't remember.
-Right, and what does a microwave oven cost?
-So in my lifetime, I've never had a microwave oven break.
-Do I want to -- And if it did, then I'd buy a new one.
-Yeah, yeah, because they're 50 bucks or whatever.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
-Insuring that is just stupid.
[ Laughs ] This, Richard.
-Yeah, what is this?
-That's a Hershey KISS piece of jewelry.
-Look, it's been cut down from 70 bucks to $35, half off.
-When you go to the store to buy it, you can get extended warranty, Peace of Mind Plan, $35.
This could be the dumbest extended warranty ever offered.
-In a world in which everybody's offering these kinds of extended warranties, it must be very hard to get your idea across to warn people about this stuff.
-Well, I haven't so far, but, you know, nobody has done it better, actually, than "The Simpsons."
-Mr. Simpson, I'm afraid you have a crayon lodged in your brain.
-They discovered that the reason why Homer is so dumb is that somehow he had a crayon embedded in his brain.
-[ Laughs ] -And it has been removed, and it made him smart... -Right.
-...which he hates.
-I want you to stick this crayon into my brain.
-As they're reinserting the crayon into Homer's brain... -Right.
-...he keeps saying dumber and dumber things.
-And when finally the crayon hits the sweet spot... -Right.
-...he cries... -Extended warranty, how can I lose?
-..."Extended warranties... how can you lose?"
-"How can I lose?"
[ Laughs ] It's your whole career in one punchline.
-There you go.
I've worked a lifetime... -Yeah.
-...for one "Simpsons" punchline.
-[ Laughs ] Thaler helped to create a new field, behavioral economics, for which he won the Nobel Prize.
One of the field's key insights is that gut feelings like loss aversion lead consumers to make predictable mistakes, and companies in a market economy make a lot of money by encouraging us to make those mistakes.
Until then, the widely accepted view had been that markets actually protect consumers from their mistakes.
-And so I would often hear something like the following -- "Yes, yes.
I understand that the people in your experiments and some of the people I know do foolish things, but in markets, then -- and then I claim..." They could never quite finish this sentence without literally waving their hands, and the argument is somehow if you choose the wrong career or fail to save for retirement, that the market will somehow push you back toward being rational.
There's a reason why no one can make this argument without waving their hands, and that's because the argument is just silly.
You know, if you don't save enough for retirement, what happens to you?
You're poor when you're old.
The market doesn't discipline you.
Suppose people have a weakness for gambling.
What's going to happen?
Will people build casinos, or will they offer programs to help people curb their gambling addiction?
Well, people have made a lot more money on casinos than on programs to stop gambling.
-What makes it easy for casinos and everyone else to hack our autopilot system is that it uses shortcuts to make decisions so fast we are not even aware of it.
For instance, instead of trying to carefully reason out what I think I should do, I simply do what I feel like doing.
Our primate relatives make many of their decisions that way, too.
So maybe think about that part of your brain as actually being like a little capuchin monkey that's sitting on your shoulder.
The monkey has no attention span whatsoever.
You can't reason with it.
It doesn't care about your problems.
You're in credit card debt?
It wants a phone.
You're trying to lose weight?
Monkey doesn't care.
It wants a dark-delight ice cream sundae on top of a waffle.
-So in a sense, the capitalist system, the free-market system, doesn't give you what you want.
It gives you what that monkey on your shoulder, as we describe it, your impulsive side, what that monkey wants, not what you want.
-Shiller, who also won the Nobel Prize, is another economist who is convinced by Kahneman and Tversky's work that free market economies do not help consumers make rational decisions.
-The opportunities that free markets provide are in so many cases opportunities to manipulate or deceive.
You can't always be self-disciplining.
And if there's any weakness, if that monkey on your shoulder has any particular oddball taste that you might not be aware of, they'll discover it, and they'll have it right there for the monkey to reach out and grab.
-The first step in making us want to reach out and grab a product is to get us to notice it.
To do that, marketers employ the kinds of images and sounds that we automatically, without even being aware of it, pay attention to.
-I think we like to flatter ourselves to think that we are in control of our attention, we decide what to pay attention to, but the biological reality is that much of our attention is triggered automatically -- loud noises, flashing objects, sexual targets.
All these things can grab our attention for a moment.
Advertisements are a great example.
-[ Woman singing opera ] -Ever notice how advertisers combine images that grab your attention with music that tugs at your heart strings?
The goal is to make you associate that emotion with their product.
-Ask yourself, "How is that I come to have such strong feelings about brands, particularly products that are more or less the same?"
Why is it I automatically like or dislike Coke or like or dislike Pepsi or feel one way about Harley-Davidson and another about Honda, another about General Motors, Mercedes-Benz?
And it's astonishing when you realize that it happens to all of us.
-Take the competing strategies that Coke and Pepsi have used to try to get customers to choose one brand or the other.
In the 1970s, Pepsi launched its most successful commercial ever -- the Pepsi Challenge.
-Pepsi versus Coke, and all across America, more people pick Pepsi... -Pepsi.
-...time after time... -Pepsi.
-When they don't know what brand it is, people tend to choose Pepsi.
It's a fact that's been confirmed by independent testing, and yet, somehow, Coke outsells Pepsi by a lot.
So how can that be?
-♪ I'd like to teach the world to sing... ♪ -Because people do know what they're drinking, and when they drink Coke, they're not just tasting the soda.
They're tasting their feelings.
-♪ I'd like to buy the world a Coke ♪ -So that is what the company is trying to influence.
-♪ Keep it company ♪ -Coke goes to great lengths to build jingles about buying the world a Coke because they're trying to trigger an emotional reaction in their customers.
-None of us can look at Coca-Cola and not have a kind of a reaction, and, you know, it is not an accident.
-♪ Together and -- No, I can't stop ♪ -To get us to "take the feeling," marketers rely on carefully designed cues like love, friendship, community that will trigger a predictable emotional response.
And they know that once we start automatically associating that emotion with consuming their product, we will automatically reach out and grab it.
♪♪ In a lot of ways, the people putting out those carefully designed cues are like these fishermen.
And you and I, we are the fish.
Fish go swimming along the river, making decisions the way that fish have for millions of years.
When they see something squiggly in front of them, they try to eat it.
That has been a great strategy for 99 percent of the history of fish, but very recently in evolutionary terms, the world has changed dramatically.
Suddenly it's full of fishermen, fishermen who know how fish think and show up with all kinds of beautiful, alluring squiggly things.
Now when a fish makes a decision the way it always has, it winds up being someone's dinner.
-What phishing is about is about tempting people, and people get tempted, and that's what capitalist society is all about.
-Akerlof, who's also won the Nobel Prize, is the coauthor of the book "Phishing for Phools."
-If I have gotten you to do something that's good for me but it's not good for you, then I have phished you for a fool.
-A prime example of phishing for fools according to Akerlof is what a major pharmaceutical company did to convince consumers to switch from one of their brands to another of their brands.
The company hired comedian Larry the Cable Guy to be the public face of an antacid called Prilosec.
-Millions of Americans started taking the drug so they could continue eating whatever they wanted.
But then the patent on Prilosec ran out.
Profits plunged, and suddenly the company needed a new drug.
-What they did was they produced almost exactly the same drug except it has just a few molecules changed.
It's called Nexium, and you may know this as the purple pill.
-But now the company's marketers had this impossible task -- convince consumers to stop taking the drug that Larry the Cable Guy takes, which was suddenly cheaper and easier to get, and instead take a drug that didn't work any better, was much more expensive, and required a prescription from a doctor.
The branding experts had just two tools to work with -- the stories that our autopilot system is constantly generating about what's going on in our lives, and their skill at hijacking those stories so that we automatically see ourselves in their story.
-[ Gasping ] -If your heartburn medication's not doing its job... -And so they told Americans a new story, in which you can eat whatever you want, but only if you use a fantastic new prescription drug called Nexium.
-You're telling this story that if I have Nexium, and that's the perfect thing, and furthermore, it's now a prescription drug, you have to -- You go to your doctor, and you ask for Nexium, and you're going to get it, and then you're going to be so much better off.
-But what's good for the fisherman isn't necessarily good for the fool.
-They are taking billions of dollars out of Americans' pockets.
-Of course, companies like, say, Taco Bell have to spend a lot of money to convince us that the only thing cooler than Chihuahuas that like salsa music are their tacos.
-[ Speaks Spanish ] -But it's worth it.
Because once our autopilot system has repeatedly reacted in the same way to the same cue, that response becomes a habit.
[ Spanish music plays ] We also know that habits can be hard to break, but psychologist Wendy Wood knows why.
Whenever I come to a place like this, right, a place that serves Mexican food, for whatever reason, I just cannot help but go hard.
You know, I don't get one taco or a salad, right?
I get the big burrito with the carnitas and the guacamole and the whole deal.
Do you have refried beans?
-Yes, refried beans come with it.
I'll take refried beans, please.
So why can't I break out of this habit?
Why can't I just say, "You know what?
I'm going single taco from now on.
No more big burrito."
-That's one of the things people don't understand about habits is that they don't have conscious awareness of the habit and how it works.
So we walk up to a place like this, and we might think, "I'm going to do better today.
I'm going to order something different."
But as soon as you get here, what comes to mind is what you've ordered in the past.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
-And it's very hard to make a decision, "I'm not going to do it today."
-So my conscious mind isn't even making a decision.
We all think it is, right?
-Because we have access to consciousness.
-That's -- -Right.
-That's how we live the world, but much of what drives our behavior, our habits, aren't accessible to consciousness.
We can see the behavior... -Right.
-...but we don't know what caused it.
-So in a sense, there's, like, a big part of our mind that is guiding our behavior... -Mm.
-...but we're almost unaware of it.
-So if it's not my conscious mind, what is it that's making the decision?
-When you've practiced a behavior, like you come here often, we outsource a lot of our decision-making to the environments we live in.
-And that is one key to understanding habits.
They are automatically triggered by familiar environments, and that's why marketers work to make their product something we always consume whenever we're in a particular environment.
But what is an environment?
Well, my living room, that's an environment, right?
It's got my couch.
It's got my TV.
It's where I always watch football, and it's where I get absolutely bombarded by advertising.
Check this out.
[ Classical music plays ] Come on.
You want a little chippy?
-And in this environment, I do what I always do.
Without even really thinking about it, I eat chips, and I drink beer.
[ Dog growls ] -Ugh!
-And that is why the marketers of these things spend millions to advertise during football games because they know that if they can get me into this habit, then every time I'm in this environment, I will eat these things like a zombie.
And if they can get millions of other people into that habit, too, well, they can make a fortune.
Cues like Carl's Jr.'s use of scantily clad women cooking hamburgers are called weapons of influence by the world's leading expert on persuasion.
[ Computer trilling ] And Robert Cialdini has experienced first-hand how effective such weapons can be.
-Back in the day that I was looking to learn what influence professionals do, I answered an ad to be part of a pyramid-scheme program.
They were going to tell us how to increase our wealth.
We went to a restaurant, but we didn't stay in the restaurant.
We got on a bus, and we rambled down the highway to Tucson, where we were supposed to get the information about how to proceed.
That was a lie.
All the information occurred on the bus.
They wanted us in a space where they could control all of the cues to move us in the direction they wanted.
There were achievement-related posters on the ceiling.
There were wealth-themed slogans pasted on the back seats of the bus.
There was success-themed music being played before every speaker.
Music from the "Rocky" movies were a favorite.
And every time we got information, all of the cues around us were steering us in this direction of this pyramid scheme which logically doesn't make sense, but it wasn't about the logic.
It was about the emotion.
It was about the cues that were steering us.
These cues were so strong, I had to look out the window just not to be captured by them.
♪♪ By the time we returned to Phoenix, two-thirds of us had signed on to this pyramid scheme.
The bigger picture is that increasingly the world is becoming a bus rattling down the highway with us inside.
It's a stimulus-saturated environment where it's hard to think straight.
Under those circumstances, we can't deliberate well.
We have to just respond to the cues that are available to us in our environments.
-The cues that hackers like subprime mortgage lenders use to influence our decisions can work so well that they lay waste to an entire economy.
In the years before the Great Recession of 2008, Patricia McCoy of Boston College began studying the tactics that subprime lenders were using to convince homeowners to take out loans.
-One thing to do was simply to drive around neighborhoods, sort of like what we're doing... -Wow.
-...but watch out.
Watch out for dilapidated roofs, porches that were separating from the houses, maybe broken-down cars that might indicate that somebody couldn't get to work because the car wasn't working.
-So they'd literally look for people in desperate straits.
They'd just -- Anybody who seemed like they needed the money.
-Exactly, and particularly if it was such a bad-needed repair that there might be a building code violation.
-At your most desperate hour, miracle of miracles -- "Here's this guy offering me money."
-Homeowners, want to get cash and simplify your bills?
-After major lenders like Countrywide put similar pitches on national television, McCoy began studying behavioral economics to figure out why these pitches were so effective.
-I started reading articles and books by Kahneman, Tversky, George Akerlof, Richard Thaler, and I went, "My God!
They're describing the modus operandi of these lenders.
They're describing the loss aversion that these homeowners felt."
So these poor homeowners, they might be facing a condemnation order of their houses due to building code violations.
They were desperate to avoid this imminent loss.
-And when the lenders offered those homeowners a below-prime-rate loan, their loss aversion made that loan feel far more valuable than it actually was.
And the key fact that the rate would soon skyrocket, then they wouldn't be able to afford the payments, was obscured in print so fine it was almost impossible to decipher.
So what would be the effect on folks living in a neighborhood like this?
-Well, the effect is, unfortunately, too many people did take out these loans.
-How many people are we talking about here?
-We're talking about, from 2008 forward to today, at least six million people lost their houses.
-Six million people?
Those who remain convinced that people make rational decisions and the mistakes we make are random tend to blame each of the individual homeowners for what happened.
-I don't buy that at all.
Most of these people did not have the information they needed to understand what risky loans they were taking on.
Lenders obfuscated that information.
Federal regulators didn't require it to be disclosed, and the long and short of it was the vast majority of borrowers who got predatory subprime loans were duped.
-If it's true that we are easy to dupe because we tend to make predictable mistakes, what's the solution?
Well, remember the visual mistake we talked about that one line looks longer to most people when it's not?
Because we make mistakes like that, we can make other really disastrous decisions, like thinking we have enough time to get across the train tracks before the train arrives, and then, wham.
[ Train bell clangs, horn blows ] To keep drivers from making that mistake, we now put up barriers that automatically come down when there's no longer enough time to get safely across the tracks.
We now know, thanks to behavioral economics, that we are also vulnerable to making serious mistakes when it comes to financial decisions, and McCoy argues that we now understand how to design appropriate safeguards.
-Behavioral science gives policy-makers tools to help protect ordinary Americans while preserving their freedom of choice.
Not only do we need disclosures, we need to design those disclosures so they give people the information that they need instead of confusing them.
To really do disclosures smart, we need to put the information about the dangerous risks up-front and center and do it in dollars, not percentages.
♪♪ -In the eyes of those who are convinced that hacking plays a major role in our lives, the need for ways to protect our freedom of choice is only becoming more urgent.
Well, because today, the hackers know more about your needs and desires than ever before, thanks to all the data about you that's being collected from your phone and your computer and by the websites you visit.
-Do you ever find yourself -- You know, you're on the web.
You have plans to do one thing, a set of goals, maybe buy a plane ticket or write an e-mail, and as if by a kind of tractor beam effect or magic, you find yourself moving your finger to click on something -- cat photos, celebrities from the '90s, whatever it is, and you click on it.
You know, you think you're going there to see a picture of a bunch of cats, and you are seeing that, and it seems free to you, but what's really happening is you're being bundled together with other cat lovers and resold to someone who wants to advertise to you somehow.
-The best known collectors of your data, like Facebook, hate to admit that they sell the information they gather about you to corporations, but the largest aggregators of data in the world have no reason to hide it because the only users of their sites are corporations, corporations that use all the data about you on the site to figure out how to hack your mind.
This is my Acxiom account.
Acxiom is a data collection service, but that doesn't really say it.
It's the largest processor of consumer data in the world.
So here is what's in my Acxiom profile.
They know all of my interests.
They know how many kids I have.
They even know the square footage of my house and my lendable home equity, basically, how much I could borrow against my house to make the kinds of purchases that their customers would love me to make.
And here's where it gets a little creepy.
While I like to think that I'm a unique individual, it turns out that the purchase decisions I make have also been made by millions of other people, and based on that information, they can put me into all kinds of categories.
I'm either a city mixer or a married sophisticate, and they'll know whether I'm into liquor or beer, what kind of color car I might buy, whether I'm going to subscribe to a streaming entertainment service.
Basically, they know what I'm going to buy before I do.
If this website had the NSA logo on it, I'd want to file a lawsuit, but somehow because it's just them selling me stuff, it feels, you know, innocent, American somehow.
♪♪ And that is how Facebook and other social media sites operate, too.
As a former Facebook executive says, "They have been using and selling the stuff you thought you were sharing confidentially with your friends to identify your neurotic vulnerabilities and leverage them against you."
-And I think we're in an age where, while we have many material comforts, we're at great danger in losing sovereignty over our own lives, losing control over our lives.
You know, the simple liberty of making a decision free from manipulation and then carrying out that decision the best we can, that, I think, is the pressing danger of our time.
-This goes in here, right?
-But perhaps what's most dangerous is that every marketing technique we've looked at so far -- cues that trigger predictable emotional responses, the use of data to create a psychological profile of you, and even loss aversion are now being used by politicians to hack our minds.
♪♪ Sasha Issenberg is the author of "The Victory Lab."
It's the story of an ongoing political arms race, in which every winning presidential campaign has been the one that took to use of corporate-style marketing techniques to an entirely new level.
It all began in the late 1990s.
-A handful of Republican consultants, who later went to work on George W. Bush's re-election, went out to some of these consumer data firms, started acquiring all the data they could on voters and then matching it to their voter registration record, and basically overnight they went from having, you know, a few dozen pieces of information, usually really broad political or demographic categories, to this really granular understanding of not just what people bought but how they lived.
-In many countries, the law forbids a political campaign from purchasing your private data, but not in the United States.
-Every time you cast a ballot in the United States, there's a record of it.
In most countries, that's not publicly available.
And then, all of the big private-sector data warehouses that have developed in the United States, in most countries in the world, that data is off-limits to political campaigns.
Just a much higher expectation of personal privacy in other countries, and it's reflected in the laws.
-The Bush campaign used all that data about Americans' private lives to develop a marketing strategy they called "the secret sauce."
-All of a sudden, you had the tools where you could find a small cluster of voters.
You could pinpoint them at their home addresses, and you could send them this highly tailored message with a lot of detail about an issue that you had a fairly high confidence that they already knew about and cared about.
-I believe we need to encourage personal responsibility so people are accountable for their actions.
-Corporate-style marketing turned out to be just as useful for winning the presidency as selling a product.
-God bless you all, and God bless America.
[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -Then in 2008, the team behind a young senator from Illinois who was running for president gave the secret sauce a little extra spice.
First, the campaign collected more data about Americans' private lives than any campaign in history.
Then, the campaign used that data to create voter scores that reliably predicted which cues would be most effective in persuading every one of more than 100 million Americans to vote for Obama.
And so, if Obama volunteers knocked on your door, they had cues ready to deliver based on more than 1,000 things they already knew about you.
-These scores sort of operate in much the same way that credit-rating scores do.
They allow an institution, whether it's a bank or a credit card company or a political party or a campaign field office to sort through a large number of people in an almost automated way, and then they're saying, "How much do you look like one of the people that we've identified as likely to care about veterans' issues or likely to vote in the primary or likely to vote Republican this year?"
So each person just being fit into a bucket into which all these other people have already shown themselves to belong.
-You say that very kind of like, "Oh, yeah.
That's sort of normal."
To me, that's a -- That makes me freak out a little bit.
I mean, the idea that I'm being tracked on that kind of specific level by political operatives, it doesn't seem fair somehow.
♪♪ To help figure out whether unity, hope, and change would be effective messages, the Obama campaign relied on a team of behavioral experts.
Robert Cialdini, whose specialty is social proof and how it can be used to influence people's behavior, was on that team.
You've written about the concept of social proof and conformity.
Help me understand that.
Define that for me.
-For me, it's the tendency to decide that something is the right choice because a lot of other people are doing it or have been doing it.
The proof is in the social aspect of what's going on, not the merits of the thing.
-It's not factual proof.
It's not logical proof.
-It's social proof.
It's not just what a lot of other people are doing.
It's what a lot of other people like me are doing that most informs me of what would be appropriate for my choices.
How do people deploy this kind of concept in politics?
-You know, there are two strategies that I saw that were employed back in 2008 by the Obama campaign.
-One was -- You know that sea of faces you see behind speakers who are candidates of one sort or another?
You used to pose people up on a stage against flags.
-With curtains or flags behind them.
-Now there's people behind them... -Yeah.
-...who can't see the speaker.
-What sense does that make?
-They're the worst seats in the house.
-It's not in their interests.
It's in the interests of the audience... -Mm.
-...who can see a lot of people who have come to support this candidate.
-The other thing that was done is to scrupulously arrange that sea of faces so any audience member looking at that scene will see somebody like him or her.
If you're blonde, you'll see a blonde.
If you're old, you'll see an elderly individual.
If you're young, you'll see a kid.
Somebody just like me... -Yeah.
-...has decided that this is somebody to support.
-To literally back this guy.
-Right, to back this guy.
The behavioral scientists also advised the campaign to use shaming techniques, like telling people voting is a matter of public record, and that if they didn't bother to vote, their neighbors could find out.
-Let them know what their peers are doing, even in things that can sound a little bit like blackmail -- that they could be judged, that they could be surveilled.
The first time this was tried, it increased turnout among the people who received it by 28 points.
The guy who sent it got death threats.
I think both of those facts together point to something that social psychologists have long known, which is what they call social pressure is incredibly potent.
-To find out how it worked, I went to see Mike Moffo, who was the liaison between the campaign and the behavioral scientists.
It's, like, a political operative's dream, right, to send this, like, squad of assassins who, like, know exactly what you want.
-Yeah, and so here is a bunch of really highly intelligent, you know, guys who have studied human behavior who say, "Look, people don't make rational decisions, um, you -- but there are ways that you can help them do it."
And that was pretty compelling for me.
-You're like, "Sign me up."
-It was a pretty compelling first conference call.
To make people aware that the fact that they voted or the fact that they did not vote is public information, and in the context of a historically high turnout, it could be particularly embarrassing or particularly -- You know, I don't know if shameful is too strong a word, right?
-Shame is the word that comes to my mind.
[ Crowd chanting ] The Obama campaign's marketing strategy proved very successful, and he was elected to two terms.
Then, in 2016, a man who had used his marketing expertise to build a worldwide brand and a billion-dollar financial empire decided to run for president.
-What Trump was doing throughout this campaign was taking tools of consumer marketers and branders.
They came out of the world of selling goods and services to people, and they decided to sell Donald Trump on the Internet the same way they were used to selling his hotels and his golf courses and his wines and his steaks.
-The campaign's digital media director was an expert at it.
"I always wonder why people in politics act like this is so mystical.
It's the same [bleep] we use in commercial marketing."
Parscale worked closely with a British data and marketing firm, Cambridge Analytica, which claimed it had taken the use of behavioral science in political campaigns to an entirely new level.
-Cambridge Analytica's parent company had been involved in working for governments and working for candidates and working for military organizations around the world.
I think Cambridge Analytica loved the idea that they were outsiders coming in and shaking up not just a new industry, but another country's politics.
-So it could test out its theories on Americans, Cambridge Analytica got illegitimate access to the private data of more than 50 million Facebook users.
But the Trump campaign insists it did not use that data.
Instead, it used data it acquired by, for instance, sending out links to a video game app on Trump's Facebook page.
While users played the game, the campaign collected their personal data from their devices.
Then the campaign did something revolutionary with all that data.
Like Acxiom does with consumers, they divided Facebook users into categories based on past behavior.
Then they used Facebook's "ads auction" feature to send out different cues to each category of potential Trump supporter.
-And I went to Wall Street, and I basically said, "Cut it out."
-Then, as in any experiment, the campaign assessed the results.
How many people in each category did things like click on the big blue "Like" button on their Facebook page after being exposed to a cue?
-One of the sort of wonders of Facebook is that it is cheap and fast to test lots of things at once.
They just started pushing out reams of content on Facebook -- videos, static images.
And running all these simultaneous experiments let them see not just what types of content resonated most effectively with their supporters, but what types of supporters responded to certain types of content, and then roll that out to a larger audience.
-Lock her up!
Lock her up!
When Americans saw crowds chanting "Lock her up" on the nightly news, and some commentators suggested that Trump was damaging his brand by appearing unpresidential, the candidate himself looked very confident it would be a hit.
Because the message had been tested and proven highly effective on Facebook before he ever rolled it out on national TV.
[ Shouting ] As for the fights sparked by his controversial messages, the candidate realized they would be broadcast by the ratings-hungry media over and over, thereby encouraging his own supporters to fight back.
[ Crowd shouting ] -Knock the crap out of them, would you?
I will pay for the legal fees.
-Donald Trump understood this.
The way you get people to pay attention to you, to talk about you, is to say or do something outrageous, to pick a fight.
-This is becoming violent.
This is -- There is pushing and shoving going on inside this arena.
People are throwing objects.
-And so what you end up with is these groups of people that are driving themselves into a froth based on their pre-existing common emotions and campaigns that are feeding them the types of material that they already want.
-[ Woman laughs ] -Whoo!
-The country is falling apart right now.
-And remember what a powerful force loss aversion is in shaping human behavior?
Well, it turns out that restoring a loss makes us feel much better than gaining the exact same thing.
-The American dream is dead, but if I get elected president, I will bring it back... [ Cheers ] ...bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.
Thank you very much.
-For those eager to return to the America of their childhood memories, it was a persuasive message.
The Trump campaign also used Facebook to conduct experiments on Clinton voters.
First, the campaign identified thousands of likely Clinton voters, such as African-Americans, women, millennials.
Then, it tested which anti-Clinton messages made them decide to not vote.
Results in hand, the Trump campaign used a Facebook marketing feature called Lookalike Audiences to identify millions of Americans with similar user profiles, and sent the messages to them.
It was the most sophisticated voter suppression effort in American history.
♪♪ Trump also realized that Twitter enabled him to send one tweet after another to people he already knew were receptive to his messages.
Like every other tactic, it was based on what the campaign had discovered about the psychology of its potential supporters.
[ Crowd shouting ] -I think that Trump had a remarkable sample for a psychological study, which is, you know, there was a country that was transfixed with him, and he had a base of supporters who were ready to respond to whatever triggers they were offered, and so the campaign took advantage of this, and they basically had a big lab of 100 million people out there who were, you know, potential Trump enthusiasts, and they could see what made them give money, what made them come out to a rally, what made them share content online.
-It wasn't just politicians who used carefully targeted behavioral science techniques during the 2016 election.
So did the Russian government.
♪♪ Facebook was one of the Russians' principal tools.
For instance, Russian hackers posted this video game online, called "Hilltendo."
It enabled players to help Hillary delete e-mails before she gets caught... ♪♪ ...and then throw the Constitution as far as possible.
Unknown to the players, Facebook tracking software embedded into the program enabled the Russians to identify who they were, and suddenly they, and their Facebook friends, began receiving a steady stream of anti-Clinton posts that were actually created by the Russians.
More than 150 million Americans were exposed to the Russians' psychological operation.
Since whether a person decides to vote and how they vote can never be traced to a specific attempt to influence them, the impact on the election will always remain uncertain.
But what is certain is that the Trump campaign's use of social media to test and then deliver the messages most likely to get his supporters to go to the polls worked brilliantly.
-...safe again... -On Election Day, Trump overcame his deficit in every major poll and became president of the United States.
God bless you, and God bless America!
[ Train horn blows ] -Where will the campaign arms race go next, and how will we manage it?
It's possible that automatic barriers can be created to safeguard voters from being manipulated by foreign powers, but it doesn't seem appropriate or even possible to create barriers that will safeguard voters from being hacked by the candidates themselves.
And yet, in a 21st century where politicians and corporations have access to vast amounts of data about every one of us, and to behavioral science techniques that would make a 20th century dictator drool, can democracy survive?
[ Shouting ] In our next episode, we'll explore why the way we think makes it so very easy to divide us... [ Both yelling ] ...to the point that today Americans live in separate echo chambers where rumors run rampant, and one side's facts are the other side's fake news.
We'll see how that kind of divisiveness can fuel the rise of authoritarianism, and we'll begin to discover why there's still tremendous hope that we can save our democracy -- on the next episode of "Hacking Your Mind."
♪♪ ♪♪ -Learn more about "Hacking Your Mind" by visiting pbs.org.
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