The Quest for Control: Face-Scanning Political Ads

Big Brother’s eyes followed you across the room. But that was just an illusion to intimidate you. Real life is worse. From Raw Story: “Political billboards are now scanning your face for your reactions.

2016 presidential candidates have a new option in their quest to sway voters. “Neuropolitics” is the attempt to read your mind by scanning facial expressions and feeding them into an algorithm. Biofeedback—including heart rate, eye movements, and skin conditions—can  also be captured and used for political purposes and, perhaps one day, for government purposes.

The New York Times describes a recent example in Mexico City, where a Congressional candidate hired a company to deploy a digital billboard with a hidden camera. The billboard advertised for the candidate, but also scanned faces so the campaign could analyze facial expressions and tweak their message.

The technology has been used by politicians in several other countries, including Mexico, Poland, Colombia, and Turkey. The “taboo” that once characterized its use in the U.S. could vanish in the 2016 elections.

This control freak move should be seen for what it is: a result of desperation. These people can’t control themselves. Biometric technology is not going to enable them to control voters. In fact, this may be a real-life instance of “the emperor’s new clothes,” with political consultants playing the part of the swindlers.

However, academics are accusing neuromarketers of peddling junk science.

“For the most part, I think that companies selling neuroscience-based market research tools are taking advantage of people’s natural tendency to think that measurements of the brain are somehow more ‘real’ than measurements of behavior,” said Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at Stanford University.

Nonetheless, those eager to gain the power and influence that comes with being an elected official won’t let academic skepticism get in the way. They say that brain waves, facial expressions and neurobiology give true insight into a voter’s feelings and opinions. Many voters are reluctant to say how they feel about a candidate, but campaigns feel they should be able to get around the voter’s choice to keep their thoughts to themselves.

This is what happens when you won’t serve the people: You are constantly searching for a way to control them.