Hacking the Brain


What is Brain Hacking? 

Brain hacking is a particular affectation used to describe certain behavioural traits. As humans, we are so willing to open our brains and minds to a plethora of information from social media and the internet. We willingly allow our minds to be programmed to conform to how the creator of the content has intended. And in doing that, there is no mindfulness or effort to filter the content.  

It would be silly of us to connect a laptop straight to the internet without installing anti-malware, anti-virus, or anti-defence systems. If we do that, the laptop will probably be riddled with malware in no time. We are, however, perfectly happy to consume information that profoundly changes the way that we think, act and behave based on other people’s views, without substantiating these views. We are living in the age of ‘Facebook experts’. Sometimes our views and opinions change, and we are not even aware of it.  

Brain hacking occurs when the particular way in which we act and think is intentionally taken advantage of. Humans are so easily persuaded, even before the internet age. We are willingly opening up our minds to have our human psychological vulnerabilities exploited daily. The context is much broader than merely social engineering, phishing, or cybersecurity. Our political views and buying habits are changing. So much power is going into the hands of people that can exploit these vulnerabilities. 

What gives people the power to manipulate en masse? 

The power of manipulation comes from the fact that we don’t know that it is happening, and our arrogance is part of the problem. We think it only happens to other people. Before we go through our feeds on Twitter, we never stop to filter information. We don’t stop and think, ‘what am I reading and why am I reading it?’. The brain is a valuable resource, and there is only so much energy we can give it to think. The brain expends a lot of processing power to come up with a perfect retort to somebody else’s point of view, only to procure likes and shares. You are burning away energy on something that is essentially meaningless so that you can get a dopamine hit! You could have spent that energy on doing something constructive or enjoyable, but instead, it was wasted. People need to start to put filters in place and think about their actions. 

Echo Chambers 

Your thoughts are not only manipulated by others, but they are also manipulated by an artificially intelligent algorithm. We are being reprogrammed, unknowingly, to the whim of AI – which is frightening. An echo chamber is an environment in which a person only encounters beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own. Echo chambers recognises what you look at a lot, and it feeds you similar information all the time. It strengthens the cognitive feedback loop and neural connections so that you are a lot more likely, through sheer pattern recognition, to only encounter similar views to that which you already have. So, your view is actually being monetised. Your views and your opinions are being used to target advertising at you. Brain hacking techniques could be used to change or strengthen your political viewpoints, or even recruit you for terrorism or nefarious activities. 

You could be presented with information that has some truth to it, but the truth gets exaggerated. Or incorrect information may be shared in a very convincing manner. The pseudo-science behind this action will make the information appear legitimate. However, it may be smoke and mirrors to divert your attention from the facts and get you to focus on a mistruth or biased viewpoint.  

What advice would you give people to stop that from happening? 

Be aware of what is happening around you. You are not immune to this phenomenon and complacency is dangerous. Have a stop check to see what you are looking at. What emotions is it eliciting? What message is it? Is it a legitimate view substantiated by real facts? What benefit is this message giving me? If the answer is no benefit at all, you have wasted emotion, brainpower, and time. Once you have read something, whether you believe it or not, it has been assimilated into the brain to some extent. You cannot ‘unread’ it, and it has likely influenced your view. We need to filter information and be mindful of what our brains are processing and how it is affecting us.  

The dopamine phenomenon caused through approval seeking is a big part of the problem, some people are desperate for approval on social media, and it becomes addictive. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamine spike your dopamine levels in similar fashion to someone ‘liking’ your Facebook post. And you start valuing yourself accordingly. There are petabytes of information out there, but a huge percentage of it is approval seeking nonsense.  

It is a huge shame that the internet, which could have been such an amazing resource, is in some places a cesspit of nonsense. The ability to chisel through all the rubbish to find anything of value is becoming a skill! It’s difficult to find decent quality, expert-driven, peer-reviewed material. 

What does the future hold for our ability to navigate this data landscape? 

How the data landscape is manoeuvred, will have to be driven by our own behaviour. If we stop feeding the beast, it is going to die. And every time we go in search of likes, retweets, and endorsements from our peers, we strengthen the neurons that make us want to do that. If we could change our misguided behaviour when it comes to working with the internet, then the content that drives our damaging behaviour will start shrinking.  

We need to realise that we are damaging how we think. And we are damaging society. This incredible tool that we have created for information exchange, called the Internet, is starting to work against us. The internet is becoming diseased, so please be aware of the time that you are spending in its manipulative areas. The algorithms trapping us in echo chambers will have to adapt once we change our behaviour. Diversify your views; look at the opposing views rather than those that confirm your current one. Seek quality information sources and make sure that what you are reading is peer-reviewed. It has to start with us…  

Malicious algorithms and content are spurred on while they continue to get views and make their creators money. So, we must hit them in the pocket and change our behaviour, it must start with us. If we change, the web will change. 

Right now, our minds are being hacked, and we need to get some AV firewall, end-point detection, and intrusion detection. Let us start protecting our minds from hackers who wish to corrupt their integrity for cash. 

P.S. While you are here, please visit our website and browse our cybersecurity services 😉 

Please note: This article has been transcribed and summarised from our podcast of the same title.