The Trace

It started out harmless, just a passing fad. A silly little book that called what we did horrible and tried to convince everyone to turn against us. But we knew it wouldn’t work. We controlled the hordes. They thought as we wanted them to think, bought what we influenced them to buy. We wouldn’t have even bothered in fighting it, except for what the data told us. Those who read the book stopped using our platforms. And those who stopped rarely came back. The threat to our profits was very real. Investors were outraged that we allowed people to share something so egregiously harmed our potential future profits on our platforms. So we set to work surpressing it.

Image recognition models were trained to observe the book. Lists of anyone who purchased or mentioned the book were made. Since most people used their credit cards, this was easy enough to achieve. There was a record. Sure, some people may have paid with cash, but we flagged them when they mentioned the book or snapped a picture with it in frame. Later in the process, we also used facial recognition to match the faces of pedestrians who walked by with the book. Convincing shops that police would only investigate if there was security footage was one of the best ideas we’ve had in recent decades. Still more were flagged when their phones overheard them mentioning it. There might have been some who slipped through the cracks, but not enough. We caught enough to stop the movement.

Once the first set of dissidents were found and labeled, we started to control the spread while rounding up the rest of them. Those we marked were introduced to a series of “random” electronic failures. Nothing serious, just minor bugs and annoyances. Their Wi-Fi would go out. Messages on their phones would fail to send. Images wouldn’t load, apps would crash. We never banned mention of the book. That would have been obvious that we were censoring it. No… instead we made their lives more frustrating, made them less likely to share with their friends. Just enough annoyances to discourage them. This is why we studied how bugs affect user engagement, so we could toe the line in times like these.

Even still, the book became more widely known. And it continued to confoud our predictions of profit growth. Drastic measures had to be taken. We knew we couldn’t ban mention of it still. Too risky. The point is to make it so that nobody wants to discuss it. So we had to occupy them. Businesses already were buying psychological profiles from us, to track and get rid of employees who might become problems. So we tweaked the algorithms. You won’t have time to discuss or read books when your boss is questioning your performance and committment. And they weren’t able to switch to a new boss either. Recruiters would see their psyche profile and treat them like they were radioactive. Lose your job? Good luck finding a new one. Looking for a job, scrambling around worrying about health insurance, they had no energy or initiative to spread word about the book.

The government also buys psyche profiles from us, and so the police and anti-terrorism units became another tool we could use to get rid of any mention of the book. And now the threat is almost gone. Demand for the book evaporated, and so bookstores and publishers stopped providing it. And it’s really easy to pay someone to check out a library book and never return it.

The threat might be gone, but there might be another. So we’ve marked them all, the writers, the intellectuals, the politically active. And when the time comes, we can suppress them! We’ve done it before.