Last Updated: December 2019
Whether due to political struggles, wars in distant lands, economic turmoil, or other kinds of danger, we as a society are used to seeing the rise and fall of threats in the public eye almost daily.
However, many of these threats end up unresolved by the time they fade into obscurity, either because the topic doesn’t gain enough traction to generate an impactful response, or because of saturation of the topic due to reiterated and continuous coverage.
Examples abound, such as the Taylor Oil Spill, which since 2004 has leaked ~500 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, the killing of innocent prisoners of conscience in China since the 2000’s to fuel a booming organ transplant industry, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, which has resulted in a continuous leakage of radioactive material into the sea to this day.
While the majority of these threats are endemic, others involve our society at a worldwide scale and have repercussions in the daily lives of the majority of people, directly or indirectly. This paper focuses on a subset of the most pressing of these issues.
Modern humans appeared around 200,000 years ago, but it is only since around 1800 that our population has skyrocketed from 1 billion to almost 8 billion today. UN projections estimate we can expect to reach up to 11 billion people by 2100, although the growth rate will slow down to 0.1%.
While the population is likely to stabilize in the future, the effects of overpopulation can be clearly felt today. Increasingly worrying issues are inevitably arising every day around the world, such as water scarcity and conflict, overdrafting, urbanization, population density, industrialization, land degradation, waste disposal, and other myriad of socio-economic issues.
In a world that is increasingly interconnected, corporations and governments have taken advantage of the massive exchange of information happening around us, often leading to negative consequences for the public.
In 2016, the following countries were labeled as having ‘endemic surveillance societies’, with their governments lacking serious privacy enforcement, protection, and safeguards, while enforcing surveillance, communication interception, data-sharing and retention, and civilian monitoring:
2. THIRD PARTIES
Today, most products and services gather and sell personal data, especially if they are free. Examples include:
Privacy-first apps aren’t exempt from this either: When installed, most cell phone VPN applications request permissions they don’t need, and log outgoing connections despite claiming not to do so. Paid products aren’t any safer: 7 in 10 paid smartphone apps collect and sell private information.
3. DATA BREACHES
Alongside companies and governments hoarding information for longer periods of time is the increasing occurrence of information leaks, either due to hacking, poor security, inside jobs, accidental publishing, or loss of devices and media.Excluding accidental publishing, information leaks have increased over the years in number and magnitude:
Moreover, as storage technology advances and corporations decide to gather more data for longer, the amount of records being compromised in each leak have increased to gargantuan proportions. For example, in July 2017 Equifax suffered a breach where hackers accessed ~150 million records of citizen’s data, including full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and credit card credentials.
Unfortunately, most leaks are never disclosed or discovered, meaning the numbers shown here could pale in comparison to the actual number of events.
25% of the world will at some point be affected by a mental disorder, with 1 in 6 people suffering from one right now. While the vast majority of the mentally ill could recover a normal lifestyle with the right treatment, 70% receive none.
Mental illness is more prevalent than cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and it arises due to a number of biological (genetic, infection, injury), psychological (trauma, neglect, abuse), and environmental (social, contextual) factors. While often a combination of these three are responsible, environmental factors are especially critical in mental illness, being the source of around 50% of cases. Some of these factors include:,
Income is particularly crucial, with those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder being up to 7 times more prone to having mental illness. The growing economic inequality in the world has been, among other factors, one of the reasons why worldwide suicide rates have gone up 60% in the last 45 years.
The mentally ill also are poorly portrayed in the media, being shown stereotypically as people with violent and unpredictable behaviour. It is also commonly thought that there is a correlation between mental illness and violence. However, research has shown that the mentally ill are often victims rather than perpetrators of violence. To put this into perspective, studies show that less than 5% of shootings are committed by people with a diagnosable mental illness. Additionally, many famous and respected people have had mental illness, including Isaac Newton, Ludwig van Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and John Nash, among many others.
Mental disorders can affect a person’s life heavily. For example, they can lead to:
Few opportunities are given in our daily lives to vent frustrations and feelings without the fear of being judged or having to deal with the consequences of sharing those thoughts. Because of this, many people engage in denial, blaming themselves or others, and displaying destructive or addictive behavior.
While there are effective aids to stress and pressure (e.g. social or professional support, mindfulness, self-help, meditation, and prayer), most people are likely to engage in unhealthy behavior foremost, which has led to:
In a world where obesity has tripledsince 1975 and cardiovascular disease has become the number one cause of death, a proper diet is indispensable to remain healthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested cutting consumption of sugar to less than 25g per day, salt to less than 5g per day, and fat to less than 60g per day in addition to avoiding saturated and trans fats in favor of unsaturated fats.
However, there are many issues surrounding the traditional western diet:
Today more than four thousand distinct religions exist, with 85% of the world considering themselves believers to some degree. It is no surprise then that deceptive cults and sects trying to take advantage of these numbers have appeared over the years.
Two out of three new members of cults are young people induced to join in periods of personal crisis, such as broken romance, death of loved ones, or failure to get a job or enter a college of choice.
Most people who join cults:
Moreover, because modern cults and sects are persistent and often deceptive in their recruiting, new members usually have no knowledge of what eventually will be expected of them in the long-term.
Some of the internal mechanics these groups have adopted to retain and abuse their members include:
While the line between religion and cults/sects can at times be blurry, specific organizations have been widely recognized as being in the latter group by governments and the general public:
We can expand as an example on the widely known cult of Scientology, where witnesses and ex-scientologists have spoken up about the practices that happen inside the organization. These include extortion, brainwashing, tax evasion, harassment of “enemies” of the church, disconnection of members from loved ones, beatings (many ending in death), attempts to censor negative search engine results of their organization, and creation of confinement facilities like “The Hole”, where dozens of senior executives have been imprisoned for years and to this day. In 1993, the organization was also granted tax-exemption status in the U.S after conducting espionage, harassment, bogus lawsuits, and intimidation of IRS officials.
Because of the consequences cults can face after becoming widely known, they tend to engage in heavy public relations campaigns in order to present their organizations behind a veil of appeal and philanthropy. The Church of Scientology, for example, sponsors charity programs and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying expenditures every year.
Fraternities and sororities (also known as Greek letter organizations, or GLOs) are social organizations at colleges and universities. They admit undergraduates as new members and give them lifetime memberships, and are most prominent in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and the Philippines. Currently over 80% of Supreme Court justices and executives of the top 500 American corporations belong to GLOs.
While they vary in the way they operate, most practice heavy secrecy, single-sex membership, housing of undergraduates at private residences, usage of identification symbols like greek letters, passwords, badges, and hand signs, and selection of new members via heavy vetting and probation (known as rushing and pledging). Joining a GLO has been proven to be extremely beneficial to a person’s career and well being, including:
Once outside university network opportunities expand greatly, with graduates being known to exchange secret handshakes with executives from their own GLO to get better treatment and competitive positions
Despite the philanthropic activities displayed however, the public perception of GLO’s is generally negative, and many worrying facts have surfaced over the years that have ended in the permanent closure of many of these organizations:
Worldwide distribution of wealth has significantly shifted over the last 50 years:
This inequality has grown to such gargantuan proportions that today 26 people have 50% of the world’s wealth, while half of all adults in the world on average have less than $2,300 total.
The reasons for this disparity are many, but we can name a few:
1. Wage gap
Executive compensation has increased almost 1000% in the last 40 years, with CEO’s currently earning 270 times more than the average worker; in other words, they earn in two days what the average worker does in a year. Their type of compensation has also shifted from direct cash to company stocks (from 5% to 30%), which increases in value alongside company success, and allows for side-benefits like having shareholder decision power.
At the other end, increases in salary of the average workers have far been outstripped by rises in the cost of living. With a disappearing middle class, the breach between the upper and lower classes keeps widening, making it harder for wealthy people to lose their wealth, and poor people to escape poverty. In fact, the latter are in such a dire position that 20 years of ‘nothing going wrong’ are needed for them to escape above the poverty line.
2. Wage theft
Wage theft is currently a bigger problem than robbery. Studies targeting low-wage industry workers have shown that:
The US is also the only developed country without paid maternity leave. Workers without paid sick leave have also been shown to be likely to have incomes below the poverty line.
College tuition has increased over 1100% in the last thirty years, twice as fast as income. While community colleges offer cheaper alternatives, they are discriminated against by professionals as being of lower quality. Moreover, 2 out of 3 “entry-level” jobs today require at least three years of experience, making college degrees less relevant in comparison to having professional associations and connections.
Materials have increased in price as well. While recreational books have slowly become cheaper, educational books have on the contrary increased over 400% in price since 2004, its market being monopolized by five textbook companies. Today, 30% of students need aid to purchase textbooks.
Unions around the world have been steadily decreasing in density over the last 50 years, with the biggest cause being union busting - employers and governments preventing workers from joining and organizing them. This has had an increasingly negative impact for workers, with studies showing a robust link between union decline and the rise of inequality, as unions otherwise would allow for better wages and benefits, lower employee turnover, better workplace safety, and job security.
5. Job Availability
The current infrastructure of society demands a steady amount of workers to take care of undesirable, dangerous, or poorly paid jobs like sewer inspection, plumbing, coal mining, and crime scene cleaning, among others. This has the implication that guidance, encouragement, and high-tier education can only push a minority of people to get pleasant and well-paid jobs, this minority often being composed of the wealthy, as young people who get financial support are proven to have greater career success. Moreover, wealthy parents have been shown to be involved in corruption networks, where bribes are given to test proctors in order for their children to pass entrance exams and be admitted into elite universities like Yale or Harvard.
$10 in 1950 had the same buying power as $100 today. Inflation has made it so that uninvested money will slowly lose value over time, deprecating a person’s total purchasing power, greatly affecting the poor more than the rich.
In 1983, 50 companies owned 90% of American media, while today this number has dropped to five:
This centralization of power has resulted in a severe loss of diversity in viewpoints, media integrity, and editorial independence. Letting the people that control these companies manipulate or withhold information from the public influences the audience's views on politics, economy, and culture. Furthermore, studies show reading news gradually leads to fear, aggression, and hinders one’s ability to think critically, thus making media an effective tool of control.
A clear manifestation of selective withholding of information can be seen in disaster reporting, where between 1968 and 2002, volcano eruptions were covered if even a single death occurred, while in comparison food shortages were not covered unless they caused at least 38,000 casualties.
A more direct example can be seen in editions of Time magazine, where political information has several times been purposely withheld from the U.S. public in contrast to the rest of the world:
But information control also extends to search engines. Despite there being over 2 billion websites online, the average user visits no more than 100 per month. As new sites are usually found via search engines like Google or Bing, users unknowingly give these companies power to determine the level of visibility pages get.
One issue with this relates to the results of a search: Over 50% of users click on the first result they get, and 90% don’t go past the first page. This makes placement critical, and pushing a result to the third page or further can effectively starve a website of traffic. Furthermore, search engines change results dynamically based on user preferences and previous searches, in order to hand-pick advertisement and promoted content. Perhaps worst of all, Google accesses users’ computers and cell phone microphones to listen in conversations, both to sell that data afterwards, and to detect what type of ads a person is interested in.
Another problem is related to the autocomplete mechanic while typing. Studies show that Google has often rigged its autocomplete feature to promote some results and hide others. More than 25% of elections worldwide have had votes changed due to search engine manipulation, in what is known as the “Search Engine Manipulation Effect”.
Moreover, 60-70% of social media links go to just 10 online domains. These companies dominate the online narrative, and have made it so non-mainstream beliefs and ideals can be effectively cut off from the stream of information most people see.
Today, two out of three adults get their news from social media. Because user-created content is hard to fact-check, this has given room for organizations, governments, and individuals to push propaganda cheaply and efficiently. Two students carried this into practice in 2013 by using “fake accounts and upvotes bought for under $200” to get made up content to reddit’s front page.
The following is an example of steps taken by propagandists:
Wikipedia is an especially popular (and alarming) vector for propaganda, as it is the 5th most visited site in the world and is considered a prime source of reliable information by the vast majority of people. Companies and governments have been known to pay prolific editors to create, edit and delete pages from the site; in particular, to remove damaging information, bury evidence of past controversies, or erase criticism. Examples include Facebook and NBC, which have been repeatedly shown to pay editors to purge their pages of negative associations, and entrepreneurs, who pay to have profile pages created and embellished for them by authoritative editors.
But that's only part of the issue: Today, 8 out of 10 articles are written by just 1 percent of editors, which means these users have enormous power over the way millions perceive topics and make decisions. This has caused untold damage to the medical treatment industry, as doctors have to keep watch over Wikipedia pages to avoid paid editors from pushing fake narratives and potentially changing the opinion of investors and the destination of millions of dollars for research.
Other public records show for example that the CIA has edited out references to torture from their own Wikipedia pages, and various United States Congressional staff have removed undesirable information from their own biographies (e.g., broken campaign promises), added favorable information or positive attributes, and edited in negative information to opponents' biographies. A particularly notable case involved edits from the U.S. Senate, where whistleblower Edward Snowden's description was changed from "dissident" to "traitor" in his page, during the 2013 global surveillance disclosures.
A 2018 report by watchdog organization Freedom House reads as follows: ”Deliberately falsified or misleading content is a genuine problem, but some governments are using [the problem] as a pretext to consolidate their control over information. In the past year, at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws that would restrict online media in the name of fighting “fake news” and online manipulation.” Perhaps most notably are the New Zealand laws regarding the March 2019 mosque mass shooting, where the government has threatened with up to 10 years of imprisonment for possession of the manifesto or shooting video. An 18 year old currently faces up to 28 years in prison for sharing the video online. Heavy censorship laws have also been put in place recently in Russia and China.
This slow spread of censorship has become widespread online, where companies deny registration, close, or even delete accounts of users who are controversial or become source of bad publicity, citing ambiguous or open-ended interpretations of rules as reason for closure, or at times giving none whatsoever.
An example of this includes Paypal, where users who registered while being minors have been banned decades later, while in their 30s. Google Play is another clear case, in which veteran creators publishing on the platform for over a decade have had their accounts banned, but have been given no reason by the company nor the possibility of an appeal.
More often than not however, corporations will “gang up” on users who could be a source of negative publicity, should other people see the tampering of their account as unreasonable. This is done by simultaneously shutting down the user’s accounts on many platforms to avoid any one of them being pointed as the sole culprit of the action. A notable example of such events is Gab, a reddit-like social network that in October 2018 was banned from Paypal, Stripe, Joyent, Medium, and Shopify for having unwittingly hosted (although later banned) a user who had anti-semitic remarks in its profile. However, no other platform suffered the same fate, despite the criminal also having multiple Twitter accounts which he threatened politicians and journalists. More surprising is the fact that this event was a catalyst for such a dramatic response, despite the fact that mainstream social networks routinely host criminals and have a long history of criticism (in the case of Facebook, there is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated solely to it). There is evidence however that big corporations actively try to suppress and eliminate competition via unethical means.
Twitter has also been in the eye of other controversies. In 2017, Donald Trump’s account was temporarily deleted. The culprit was found to be a customer support employee who triggered the deletion without the need for authorization from a superior. While the action was quickly reverted and an apology posted, similar events happening to non-VIP users for apparently no reason have become commonplace today, with one such event seeing the mass shutdown of over 1500 accounts using an ‘NPC avatar’, irrespective of the type or amount of content shared on the accounts. More recently, Twitter was found to have also started shadowbanning users, alarmingly those in particular posting politically relevant and impactful data, like evidence of Russian interference in American elections.
To lobby is to seek to influence a politician or public official on an issue. While lobbying can be of advantage to individuals, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups trying to defend the public interest, it is today primarily a system abused by corporations, which spend 340% more than public interest groups and unions combined. Studies show spending on lobbying is a "spectacular investment yielding blistering returns” as high as 22,000%.
Lobbying groups can influence topics as diverse as tax exemption, encryption, fake news, or immigration regulation, and yield enormous power in the world of politics. Bank lobbyists have drafted financial bills almost in their entirety, and Facebook lobbyists have threatened to pull investment projects from Europe and Canada if their demands were not met.
The topic of lobbying today is tightly correlated to that of the “revolving door” of personnel from Congress to private lobbying organizations, where their influence and connections become powerful tools. In the 1970s, less than 5% of retiring senators went on to become lobbyists, while today almost 50% do. Part of the reason is the extremely lucrative job offers they get, sometimes including a salary fifteen times higher. Quoting former lobbyist Jack Abramoff: “I would say to [a member of Congress], ‘When you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ The moment I said that, we owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do.”
In 1955, General Motors was at the top of Fortune's Global 500 - a list of the largest companies in the world - with a revenue of almost 10 billion dollars. Today, Walmart is king with over 500 billion; that’s more than the joint revenue of every single company in 1955. In fact, many of these corporations are so big that they surpass the revenue of entire countries.
One of the many reasons these corporations have grown so much is due to extreme leniency shown by authorities, resulting in minor or no punishment after discovery of law breaking. Serious cases of corruption and money laundering have resulted in authorities going as far as to insist on fining companies rather than prosecuting, and the trend has been worsening. From 1992 to 2004, the Justice Department reached 25 agreements with corporations ending in non-prosecutions, while during the following 8 years it reached almost 250. One of the most prominent examples of this is perhaps the worldwide financial crisis of 2007 -2008, for which only a single person was convicted - and did two and a half years of sentence.
An extension of this issue relates to the so called “too big to fail” companies, which are seen as crucial to the economy and thus will be supported by the government in case of failure. These protective policies allow companies to seek to profit by them, deliberately taking high risk positions and engaging in aggressive activities knowing they have a safety net. Despite insistence by experts (including nobel-prize winners, professors, and heads of banks, among others) that such institutions should be broken up, little to no action has been taken by most governments
Part of the reason companies today behave in such a manipulative and profit-centered manner is perhaps due to the fact that one in five CEOs are clinical psychopaths, alongside people in upper level management positions who consistently are shown to display dark triad traits. This means a sizable amount of people in power positions are manipulative, self-centered, and feel little to no remorse for their actions, thus setting the tone of corporate culture and ideology in the companies they lead.
The results of merger and acquisition (M&A) projects can carry massive benefits:
This process is happening today at a record pace, with the last two years being the highest in history in number of deals and high-dollar deals, and Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft alone having acquired over 500 companies in the last decade. These and other titanic corporations are targeting high-valuation companies as well as up-and-coming startups in order to expand and acquire cutting edge technology.
80% of startups fail before their first year, and from those that remain, 50% consider being acquired their long-term goal. This gap between a large number of small companies aiming to be acquired and a select number of massive companies feeding off competition are impacting consumers due to the resulting higher prices and lack of product and service diversity, all characteristics of monopolization.
Over the last few centuries marketing strategies have radically changed the way companies interact with the public.
Planned obsolescence refers to the design of a product with an artificial limited time of use, in order for it to become obsolete so the consumer has to purchase it again. Two ways exist to create planned obsolescence:
A clear case of obsolescence was seen with the Phoebus cartel, which in the 1920s started fixing the useful life of incandescent light bulbs to control their sale and manufacture. Today, 50% of typical incandescent light bulbs still fail after ~2 months of use, in comparison to those before the change in design which could last years or even decades. An old design lightbulb in California for example has been continuously on since 1901.
Studies have shown that planned obsolescence is widespread and worsening: The average lifespan of electronics has been falling steadily over time. Also falling is the long-term usage of home products; today, consumers trash 99% of products within 6 months of purchase.Back