In recent years, social media has evolved from being just a tool for entertainment and connecting with friends and loved ones. Today, it also functions as a powerful business and political tool, with immense potentials for social architecture.
Just like any other tool, the application of social media platforms in business and politics can be for good or for bad. On one hand, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter has allowed businesses and political groups connect with their target audience at a more personal level. However, these social media sites have also created an avenue for corporate and political entities to engage in propaganda, hate speech, deceit and incursion into the privacy of social media users.
The extent to which social media can be used to influence opinion is most noticeable in the political arena, and a case in point was in the recent US Presidential elections where it was discovered that the Russians and the Donald Trump campaign team had used the Facebook platform to influence the electoral results.
Take, for example, a tweet pops up on your twitter handle and immediately, begins to play an embedded video of a nasty attack on a political figure. It is sent by someone you have never heard of, most likely on behalf of a fictitious organization. Irritated, you scroll back up to figure out exactly who sent it.
This disappearing video technique was used by the Trump campaign –and probably by its foreign associates- thousands of times an hour in the weeks leading up to the finale of the 2016 campaign.
Another scenario, another Twitter target discovers something strange about a friends account. Not only have her followers grown from 1,200 to 120,000, but she is also making political statements which are repulsive. This is not your friend you know. You text her quickly, and she’s appalled by this impersonation and quickly deletes her account. She is unaware that her online doppelganger lives on and can be cloned several more times with imperceptible tweaks to her photo or bio.
The above two scenarios coupled with massive targeted political ads and anonymous sponsors shows how vulnerable the populace is to deception by politicians and political interest groups. Simply put, we are naked and vulnerable.
Tackling this problem is a bit of a problem, and the Germans and Brits are forcing social media companies to take responsibility for the content on their networks, the identity of those sponsoring it and probably, trace the source of payment. But these enforcement techniques are mostly useful after the act. The damage the Russians did in the U.S. was only known until several months after they had influenced thousands of voters.
In the long run, voters would have to be educated on how to spot the signs of deceptive news and when possible, report them.
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