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Death, Taxes and AI-enabled Social Media
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Death, Taxes and AI-enabled Social Media

Last Updated on July 20, 2023 by Editorial Team

Author(s): Dr. Adam Hart

Originally published on Towards AI.

The 13th Century Chichester Guildhall

“Bad as he is, the Devil may be abus’d,

Be falsly charg’d, and causelesly accus’d,

When Men, unwilling to be blam’d alone,

Shift off these Crimes on Him which are their Own.”

Daniel Defoe — The Political history of the Devil, 1727

As the saying goes, there is nothing more certain or inevitable than death and taxes.

Yet, it has been reported in a recent ‘fair tax’ analysis that the ‘Silicon Six’ (West Coast 5 + Netflix) is estimated to have underpaid tax to the extent of $100 Billion USD since 2010.

So, are the world's most profitable tech giants who use population-scale advertising revenue through social media organizing their tax affairs through off-shore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands?

Yet after this was reported, Google has settled a decade long dispute with the Australian Tax Office, paying $481.5M.

In comparison, Britain’s highest-paid executive, Bet365 cofounder Ms. Denise Coates takes her ‘obscene’ £265M GBP 2017 and £323M GBP 2018 salary in wages so she pays income tax accordingly.

Tax avoidance of revenue derived from social media or gambling addiction both seems unethical and unfair. But is it? Should we blame the Devil for a system that is of human making?

The inevitability of tax is highlighted by renewed collection attempts that breach implied data privacy.

Using data matching ML techniques the Australia Taxation Office is now targeting Australians who have a disparity between lower-income and high-value luxury assets like yachts, race horses, fine art. The deputy tax commissioner cites that paying tax is fair, and if you don't pay your fair share of tax, you are “stealing from the community”. They can do this because the tax office has forced insurance companies to cough up private customer data for 350,000 tax payers over the last five years using this threshold:

Marine vessels: $100,000

Motor vehicles: $65,000

Thoroughbred horses: $65,000

Fine art: $100,000 per item

Aircraft: $150,000

The same as advertising, tax is everywhere. Income tax, capital gains tax, death tax, goods, and services tax, luxury car tax, fuel excise, fringe benefits, the list is endless. There are 766 separate pieces of tax legislation. The main income tax assessment act in 1997 is 5473 pages long in 12 volumes!

The use of the word ‘fair’ in relation to ‘tax’ must be an oxymoron.

Tax is an impost on our earnings that gets taken away from us and collected by government bureaucrats who are supposed to provide necessary infrastructure and services to keep its citizens safe, informed and healthy.

Which often fails. Bureaucratic error.

For John Rawls the libertarian philosopher, justice is fairness and fairness seems to somehow resolve to equal entitlements and equal distribution irrespective of birth into a position of entitled affluence or otherwise. He describes “a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights and cooperating within an egalitarian economic system.”

This doesn’t sound like a planet any of us are living on. The world is somewhat careless, random, people get hurt, people get cancer, we’re taxed too much and can’t make ends meet without absenting ourselves from our families for 10+hours a day, all to ‘pay our fair share of tax’. Stated like this, the world seems nonsensical.

Invoking principles of social justice and fairness from government representatives is like a prison executioner saying “please don’t scream when we electrocute you, it hurts my ears”. Or the school bully saying “keep still while I hit you and steal your lunch money’.

Another form of tax is clicking in-line Social Media advertising. A tax upon your time.


When we’re 70 years old, will your best memories be of PewDiePie’s ten-thousandth YouTube video or the Instagram lifestyle engineers who influenced you to abrogate your choices and do what they suggested? Will your best memories as a young child be of Ryan Toys Reviews, padding an 8-year-old’s $40M per annum earnings?

Shouldn’t we be spending our free time to be making our own meaningful memories instead?

Even if some social media experiences are your best memories, God forbid, the purpose of these content publishers is not entertainment, but enablement of serving adverts.

This is the fundamental problem with Social Media time-tax and the abuse of the internet’s ability to connect all of us into a global digital community. The problem is twofold:

  1. The foci of the communication are not human betterment but enslavement to Advertising;
  2. The parties to the communication are not peer(s) to peer(s) but intermediated by an invisible, authoritarian, panopticon type ML/AI-enabled advertising platform.

And, unlike death or taxes, whose inevitability stems from biological or governmental imperatives, this shouldn’t be inevitable, but it seems to have become so.

While it has been commentated upon that some social media apps have the characteristics of gaming, combine this sophisticated use of marketing and psychological techniques with pattern analysis and ML/AI-enabled AdServers and social media is as inevitable as death and taxes.

For these reasons, 2.3B Facebook users are finding it hard to switch off. And why should they?

But invoking fairness and equity as a reason to reject the underpayment of taxes, or Social Media, or gambling for that matter, is not effective. Fairness is a myth. Facebook is not fair. Use it for free and accept the terms and conditions, including the less than private data mining policies.

In our human face to face dealings, we like to think we are in control. In the virtual digital non-face-to-face realm, these rules of behavior seem to be weaker.

What is more effective is to take a position of self-control and self-determination. Personal digital ethics that says ‘I am in control’.

I think the biggest problem that makes social media inevitable is #2 above. While we can be in control and strong, an invisible agent, The Advertising ‘Devil’, is intermediating our human communications to surreptitiously cajole us to buy products with features that we don’t need.

No need to turn off social media. Use it and be strong, simply don’t click any advertisement. Because that’s the slippery slope. Keep personal ethics top of mind. Educate your children about their addictive dangers. Be cognisant of the marketing and psychological based advertising techniques that attract the eye and encourage clicking.

Don’t click in-stream advertisements. Don’t facilitate a lifetime digital tax in your free time.

As an experiment, try it for a day. You may be surprised at what else you can do instead to use your potential.

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Published via Towards AI

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