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Mandatory participation 1/2: social media

Mandatory participation 1/2: social media

Dont' want to read? Watch 7min video on Youtube.


This is a two part series reviewing how optional activities can unintentionally become mandatory, and result in unintended consequences from those who developed the technology.

Part 1: how social media has become mandatory
Part 2: how genome sequencing may become unavoidable


Part 1 of 2:
Social Media is no longer optional

It was reported in late March 2018  that proposed changes to the United States Visa screening process, Notice 10260 and Notice 10261, will require the submission of past social media & communication accounts for the visa approval process.

If accepted the changes will require applicants to submit "any [social media] identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding". Social media platforms subject to this regulation required will evolve over time.

One must also submit "five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel".  

In the Department of State explic stated purpose, the inclusion of emails and telephone numbers could be make it extremely easy easily for the Bureau's software to compile and analyze data from other online accounts


Absence of evidence, as evidence of guilt

Originally, social media was an optional activity. One could participate if one wished, but one could also remain private and personal if one wished.

However, employers, other large institutions, and and soon the government will search for your social media footprint when screening applications.

Having a social media trail that starts 'recently', or is 'new' is seen as suspicious over one with a longer tail.Not having a social media presence is now seen as more suspicious than having one with some mistakes and screw ups in it.  

I suspect an entire industry will emerge of providing people with fake digital identities and carefully curated accounts.

23 Million Hours

The proposed changes to the visa screening process state that this will apply to an estimated 14 million nonimmigrant Visa respondents, and take the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa office an estimated 90 minutes average time per response. An additional 710,000 respondents in the Immigrant Visa & Alien registration category will require 155 minutes per application. Totalling 22,834,167 annual hours of screening time.

At working 7 hours a day, five days a week, for 50 weeks a year, that would require 13,048 people to process this data annually.

(Note: the documentation is not 100% clear if these times are to review the entire application or just to review the new information being collected. I suspect it is the entire application)

Enter: Surveillance State

Federal Register March 2018

To expedite this process, it is reasonable to assume that machine learning techniques & natural language classifiers will be used to sift through the profiles and flag problematic applications. These systems will not be perfect and will make mistakes.

Will these systems understand sarcasm and jokes? What about reposting offensive material to express disapproval?

What about sabotage? Will it be possible for your rivals to target and undermine your social media accounts? Will it be possible to associate your social media account with the accounts of extremists, without you even realizing it? Certainly.

Will the knowledge that such systems are being used, restrict freedom of expression? Will people self censor in order to not accidentally be flagged by an over zealous algorithm.

We've already seen the recurring mistakes with current classification algorithms on contemporary social media platforms (YouTube in particular), and their ability to screen against mainstream opinion that runs against the political values of the organization or some of its more vocal users.

Unintended consequences 

I have no idea how the Bureau is able to sort through 14 million applications a year with accuracy and reliability. I am not opposed to changing the Visa process - despite the above article. Acquiring more data points about applicants seem like a reasonable step forward. Machine learning and algorithms likely will provide the best route forward to scale this very complex process.

To me, the most important takeaway is the constant threat of unintended consequences from the technologies and processes we design. Social media was always an 'optional activity' to bring people together.  But now it is a mandatory activity used to divide people apart. We do not yet know the social implications of mass screening & profiling of digital social media footprints for Visa applications. But it is naive to believe there will not be any unintended consequences. 


Part twohow long will widespread genome sequencing remain optional?

Thank you:  to Liam Black for editing

Mandatory participation 2/2: genome sequencing

Mandatory participation 2/2: genome sequencing

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