Your ‘For You’ Page is Analyzing Your ‘Data Double,’ Tailoring Diagnostic Advertisements

Diagnostic advertisements on social media shape our understanding of ourselves and disability through digital surveillance.

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The algorithms behind our online presence are diagnosing, misdiagnosing, and disabling us on the internet without our consent. In a new article, Amy Gaeta of the University of Wisconsin Madison utilizes ‘crip autotheory’ to explore the impact of ‘diagnostic advertisements’ on our self-conceptions.

Gaeta points out that the algorithms may not be analyzing us so much as our “data doubles’–the informational profiles that each respective algorithm has created to understand our scrolling and to keep us scrolling. Indeed, as you read this article on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, you contribute to your ‘data double’s profile.

“Rather than simply a collection of a person’s data, the data double is a shadow self that is created by the capture of data,” Gaeta writes. “People are broken down into series of discrete informational flows… then transported to centralized locations to be reassembled and combined in ways that serve institutional agendas.” 

Perhaps one of the most insidious institutional agendas is that of biomedical surveillance. Gaeta explains the approach:

“Rather than contribute to the robust and growing literature on how algorithms discriminate against disabled people, I consider how the phenomena of diagnostic advertisements may alter a user’s sense of self in ways that disrupt the ability/disability binary and the various identities built around it. I take a humanities-based crip technoscience approach and ask: What might the rise of diagnostic advertisements mean for the social status of disabled people and disabled users’ sense of self? In answering this question, I will focus on 1) The potential of diagnostic ads to shift the contours of disability communities and identities, 2) What the ads suggest about larger trends in medicine and surveillance, and 3) The slipperiness between the user and their data profile.”

Over three months (March 2022-May 2022), Gaeta, a disabled scholar, utilized their own Instagram feed as a case study for what they call ‘diagnostic advertisements.’ Diagnostic advertisements work to identify consumers on the internet and then sell them health and medical products. They necessarily medicalize our day-to-day life solely to profit off of it, argues Gaeta.

Diagnostic advertisements on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook differ from the pharmaceutical advertisements we see on television because they are uniquely intimate and private and function to pull more data out of us to then sell off again.

Gaeta comments on their Instagram feed:

“Apart from some diet food products, the majority of advertised health-related products would be ones that would keep me online, including telehealth services, therapy journaling apps, nutrition trackers, etc.”

What is more, when we see a pharmaceutical ad on television, we can write it off immediately because we know that the ad is being shown on every television that is turned to the same channel. However, Gaeta argues that because diagnostic advertisements are intentionally, intimately, and repeatedly placed on our respective ‘For You’ pages, they facilitate a kind of curiosity that can be meaningful to identity creation. In turn, they can also harm how we know ourselves—forcing us to question and negotiate our identity at any moment.

Gaeta puts it this way:

“By interjecting diagnoses into my feed, a projection of power through the screen, the ads create a sense of intimacy and personalization with me, even if that intimacy is unwanted or unsettling. As a disabled person, I find a strange sense of excitement about seeing their ads that make disability public and interject disability into the feeds of millions. I recall how diagnosis and claiming disability were pivotal moments in my self-cultivation. For this exact reason, the ads that made incorrect assumptions about my body began to facilitate a curiosity about how my body worked, and eventually a sense of incoherency about myself. The more ads I saw, the more I wondered: “Could I have borderline personality disorder? What about my data says I’m pre-diabetic? Why does Instagram think I’m suicidal? Am I?”

A key takeaway is that the algorithm is making predictions based on online behaviors that have not been reliably linked to these outcomes or conditions in the real world in any empirical sense.

Over time, through their research, Gaeta began to understand these advertisements as a sign of the times for the “medicalization of everyday life.” A phrase the author uses intentionally to refer to “the commonplace practice of subjecting people to the clinical gaze in non-medical spaces.” The diagnostic advertisements are the clinical gaze on your smartphone screen, they argue.

However, rather than diagnosing your physical body, the algorithm is diagnosing your data—or, to be more precise, your data double.

“In a world centered on ability,” Gaeta claims, “subjecting even the data double to the clinical gaze implies that even the virtual body is a site of medical micromanagement and commodification.” 

In an email correspondence with Mad in America, Gaeta stressed that the self-diagnosis that can occur through interactions with the diagnostic advertisements could be both helpful and harmful, depending on the circumstances:

“… it isn’t a bad thing if someone sees these ads and the ads are correct or they do resonate with their bodymind experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we should be critical and think carefully about our experience and consult various types of sources, including community, before self-diagnosis.”

Gaeta also points out that these diagnostic advertisements appear and affect diverse demographics differently. In particular, disabled people who rely heavily on the internet to work, connect and find community are more likely to be inundated with diagnostic advertisements. Whereas Black people, who are historically underdiagnosed and face barriers to accessing healthcare, may not receive as many diagnostic advertisements, continuing the legacy of what Gaeta calls the “cis-heterosexist criteria for diagnoses.”

Gaeta concludes:

“My exploration of diagnostic advertisements can support conversations about the web of influences at work in present-day personal biomedical decision-making and disability identity. My data double being disabled in ways that I am not poses questions about where our bodies begin and end in the era of mass surveillance and big data. One way to study this question is by using target health and medical advertisements to examine the slipperiness between the self and its data double. In tandem, the concept of diagnostic advertisements may benefit disability and/or technology justice activists by illuminating how these ads may compromise users’ decision-making and how platforms use algorithms to shift the norms around personal health information and privacy. With the right set of tools, examining these ads could be a way to work backward to understand how companies are identifying target audiences and if they are reproducing disability tropes and stereotypes in the process.”

Gaeta’s article highlights how Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok algorithms frequently get it wrong. Past research and reporting have demonstrated how these programs can misjudge suicide risk and send police to intervene with people who have been vulnerable on Facebook. Although these algorithms can, at times, allow us to explore different parts of ourselves, they can also be harmful. Gaeta’s work reminds us to remain vigilant when our data double is being diagnosed online.

 

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Gaeta, A. (2023). Diagnostic advertisements: The phantom disabilities created by social media surveillance. First Monday. (Link)

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is beyond timely.
    I attended a Neurodivergent workshop at my work the other day. The line blurring what I call DSM/psychiatry cult and real life situations are colliding now in speed I have never seen before.
    To add a salt on the wound, this link is from Economic World Forum 2023 and what is to come for all of us (if not already happening). https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2023/sessions/ready-for-brain-transparency

    at the workshop at work the idea was to disclose if you have any neurodivergent diagnosis (clinically or personally) and you should be accommodated. But what I heard was give us access to your mind and brain and body basically so we can manipulate you to maximum productivity.

    The most ironic thing about the link I provided up there is the words The right to cognitive liberty and I could not help but feel, the gig is here.

    I do not want to come off as paranoid humanoid, but just wanted to share the 2.0 of psychiatry if they survive to the future or if we do.

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  2. This may be a LONG comment…. I actually have some relevant FACTS to include here, along with my usual strongly-worded opinion arising out of my decades of lived experience. My lived experience began at 15, when I was taken to a quack psychiatrist, who slapped a bogus “diagnostic label” on me, then used that bogus label as an excuse to shove potent neuro-toxic drugs down my throat. My parents, especially my father, were also unwitting dupes and victims in this recruitment process. The next 20-25 years of my life were a living nightmare hell of psych drugs, incarcerations in jails and psych wards, including stays in a State prison, and 2 State mental hospitals. I successfully escaped over 25 years ago. You do the math. I’m a disabled retard….But enough about me….

    I want to note 2 other prolific and valuable writers here, “bcharris”, and “dogworld”, who both comment above. There comments provide excellent context….

    Samantha Lilly earns her gold star for her excellent reporting here.
    The scholarship of Amy Gaeta seems also very high quality.

    Maybe it’s simply a problem of brevity in these short articles, but I suspect not.
    What Gaeta especially, and perhaps Lilly BOTH MISS, are evils best identified and expressed as:

    1.TECHNOCRACY
    2.TRANSHUMANISM

    The reference and link, above, from “dogworld” is very welcome here.

    The “World Economic Forum” is the playground-workshop of the Globalist Technocrat Transhumanists. The WEF is the brainchild creation of the evil Klaus Schwab, billionaire author of the book “The Great Reset”….
    “The Great Reset” is the public playbook where the GLOBAL RULING ELITE & GLOBAL BANKSTERS, – the “GREG B.’s”,- lay out their plans for Global domination and subjugation and enslavement of humanity on Planet Earth.
    These already too-rich-and-powerful people are actively enslaving humanity, and turning us all into slaves and robots. Technology is their tool, and WEAPON….
    What Gaeta describes as happening on the internet, through websites and algorithms and personally-targetted “ads”, is merely a step towards directly connecting all 8 billion humans through global “IOT”, or the “Internet of Things”.
    Through transnational corporations, humans are reconceptualized as nothing more than sources of money, power, and control by and for the rich ruling elites.
    Who desire ALL the money, power, and control for themselves.
    Make no mistake. These people really don’t care whether you or I live or die.
    They want to drug us into submission.
    They want to lull us into impotence by technology.
    By “medical” “diagnosis”, then market products, drugs, and services to us, for THEIR benefit and profit, NOT OURS.
    The algorithm writers don’t care about you, me, or us.
    They ONLY CARE ABOUT THEMSELVES.
    THEY ARE EVIL HUMANS.
    They are the TECHNOCRATIC TRANSHUMANISTS.

    1.TECHNOCRACY
    2.TRANSHUMANISM

    The EVIL TWINS.

    I haven’t yet followed the link which “dogworld” provided above, but I bet the woman referenced is Nita Farahany, a supreme transhumanist technocrat.
    Her nightmare dream is for all humanity to be directly wired and controlled by a central, global authority. She spoke at the WEF recently, and video of her talk can be found online.
    She truly believes that she is on the side of good.
    But her ideology blinds her to the true evil which technocracy & transhumanism represents.
    Farahany and her ilk have set themselves up as enemies of humanity, but of course they can’t see that legitimate perspective. She works for the Global Ruling Elite & Global Banksters, who want to enslave all humanity under THEIR POWER, PROFIT and CONTROL…..

    Me? I work for ALL HUMANITY, trying to FREE ALL PEOPLE from the enslavements of ignorance, confusion, fear, and hatred….
    Farahany is NOT my enemy. But Farahany has made me her enemy, by her own grossly-over-educated ignorance, and HUBRIS. But hubris is for another topic, another article, another day….

    Yes, remote monitoring and control of a persons thoughts IS technologically possible….

    May God have mercy on us all….
    (c)2023, Tom Clancey, Jr.

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