Things That Matter

From WhatsApp To Facebook, Here’s How Social Media Has Been Weaponized Against Free And Fair Democracy

veja.abril.com.br / Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Social media has been credited with the success of mobilizing young voters to elect Barack Obama into office; it was the catalyst and accelerator of the Arab Spring; it put racial injustice at the forefront with #BlackLivesMatter. 

But with each story celebrating how the tech tool has helped democracy, there’s a matching narrative with nefarious players choosing to use it in order to undermine free and fair governments. One does not need to look too far to find a recent example of this issue—the 2016 election and the Trump administration is synonymous with fake news.

Our personal data has been weaponized by third-party organizations attempting to sway elections without regard to the will of the voters.

Credit: @SusanSoloman / Twitter

The Great Hack,” a 2019 documentary, provides further proof of how data from Facebook was weaponized by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting company, in order to give rise to the Trump Administration, Brexit and other far-right political agendas. 

The way this was done was bombarding swing voters with messaging that stoked their fears. Depending on information collected from a one-click personality test, a personality assessment was made and then used to manipulate them for the benefit of Cambridge Analytica’s clients. Some people might believe themselves to be smarter than the person who willingly gives up personal data to a third-party vendor who uses it to sell them things. However, Cambridge Analytica was so far-reaching because they didn’t just crawl the profiles of the original user giving access, they also mined that person’s network—regardless of the fact that they did not have permission.

How much information was collected, who was targeted and how that data was used remains a mystery. What is clear is how a tool meant to connect family and friends, is being used in a way it was not intended for. Which begs the question of whether or not technology is threatening the democratic process. 

“For all the negatives said about social media, what cannot be denied is that it is the greatest tool so far invented to spread awareness of an issue to the masses,” Andrew Selepak, media professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and Director of the graduate program in social media, said. “Politicians who didn’t have the money or connections of the establishment would never be heard or have the opportunity to win office.” 

It’s true, the internet, followed by social media, is often touted as an equalizer. But what happens when some of these viral social cause campaigns are actually orchestrated to meet the needs of the people who are working to sabotage progress?

Take the “Do So!” movement in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The Great Hack” offers it up as a case study on the topic. The campaign, orchestrated by Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, targeted young people in the country—a key voter demographic—and encouraged them not to show up at the polls. They labeled it as a sign of resistance against the politics around voting. Young people participated in rallies, YouTube videos promoting the campaign sprung up organically and street art promoting the cause peppered the prime minister’s home.

A Cambridge Analytica executive explains how on Election Day, the Afro-Caribbean youth did what the Do So! campaign wanted. They stayed home and didn’t vote. However, the Indian kids showed up at the polls. Even though they participated in the protests and made their pledge not to vote, they did. Why? The exec explains how they knew this sub-set would not go against the wishes of their parents. They had fun participating in the protests and counterculture, but in the end, their personality profile predicted a certain behavior that was manipulated by Cambridge Analytica to get the election results they wanted.

Even apps like WhatsApp have served to radicalize supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Credit: @xeni / Twitter

According to an in-depth report on Huffington Post, WhatsApp helped spread misinformation about Bolsonaro’s left-wing challenger. WhatsApp, which is used primarily as a text messaging service in the U.S., has a much different purpose in Brazil. A reported 120 million people in the South American country use WhatsApp from everything ranging from text messaging to disseminating news and information in groups.

According to the report on Huffington Post, these groups resembled a pyramid with a small group of influencers at the top creating misinformation intended to go viral and passing it to larger groups to spread the information and serve as an online army.

The most notorious moment from the misinformation campaign on WhatsApp was the attacks on Bolsonaro’s opponent Fernando Haddad. Bolsonaro supporters spread information stating that Haddad openly endorsed homosexual pedophilia. The baseless claim took on a life of its own on WhatsApp reaching such proportions that Haddad’s campaign and reputable news outlets had to reject the notion.

Is this enough to say technology is hurting democracy? Not necessarily.

Credit: @ewarren / Twitter

“Tech is inherently amoral—it doesn’t care about right and wrong—it simply does whatever it’s programmed to do,” Monica Eaton-Cardone, tech expert and COO of Chargebacks911 says. “In the hands of a responsible, egalitarian society that respects individual rights and personal liberties, tech can preserve and enhance our greatest democratic ideals.”

This is perhaps the alarm “The Great Hack” is trying to raise. The tech giants have created an enormous problem where our personal data can be used against us. It’s not a partisan issue. Both sides of the political parties are being duped into fearing and hating people unlike them. The film underlines the damage done to the execution of a free and fair election—stressing it will take years to recover from. 

“The real failure we’ve seen so far in tech is that the pervasive use of propaganda has become a whole new industry,” Alexander M. Kehoe, co-founder of Caveni, says. “While we may have become numb to the propaganda posters that worked on our ancestors, the effectiveness of new strategies—deep fakes, social media bots, convincing fraudulent news sources—is making it incredibly easy to spread misinformation. Tech, like all tools, can hurt or help, depending on who is using it and for what purpose.”

And perhaps this is why Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist who uncovered the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, made an emotional plea to the “gods of Silicon Valley,” in a Ted Talk earlier this year. Her voice cracks as she asks them to consider their role in all of this—and not in just terms of profit.

As to the answer of whether or not this new form of communication is a blessing or curse, Eaton-Cardone said it best.

“Tech is simply a tool, it’s our responsibility to use it wisely.”

READ: The Alarming Issues Raised In ‘The Great Hack’ Will Keep You Up At Night

Because We Can Game: Latinx Games Festival Showcases The Best Talent En Español

Things That Matter

Because We Can Game: Latinx Games Festival Showcases The Best Talent En Español

Latinxgamesfestival / Instagram

For the past few years the gaming industry has gotten a bad, very bad reputation when it comes to gender, sexual and ethnic diversity. Even though video game fans are as diverse as society itself, some hardcore gamers, mainly white males, have created a dangerous environment online where women and minorities can feel threatened. This is why minorities in the video game world, such as Latinos, need to create their own, safe spaces.

Even though gaming is as widespread as say, watching television, and we play more than ever before, some online communities formed mostly of white men believe it is their right to claim the entirety of the gaming world for themselves. Yes, really. 

Just a few years ago, in 2014, the industry experienced a series of online attacks called #gamergate, whereby keyboard warriors spit their venom against women in the industry.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

Things have not changed much, and cases of sexual harassment and discrimination still run rampant in the industry. This is why Latino video game enthusiasts have had to create safe spaces for themselves, where alt-right minded gamers do not get territorial and try to protect a cultural practice that for some reason they consider their own.

Gawker describes #gamergate as follows: “Even regarded generously, Gamergate isn’t much more than a tone-deaf rabble of angry obsessives with a misguided understanding of journalistic ethics. But there are a lot of reasons not to regard the movement generously”. Truth is, #gamergate made everyone related to video games feel unsafe. The need to find a community of one’s own became key. 

So Jason Vega created the Latinx Games Festival, which just had its first and very successful run.

Credit: Instagram. @LatinxGamesFestival

Jason Vega is a famous Latino gamer who saw an opportunity in bringing together gamers and developers from both sides of the border. So professionals from the United States and Latin America, a region that has a nascent and in crescendo independent games scene, got together at the Museum of Latin Art (MOLA) in Long Beach, California. September 14, 2019, will be remembered as a watershed moment for collaboration among Latino gamers. Vega has worked in mainstream games such as Madden NFL 2009 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, for which he was a tester.   

Networking is king!  

Credit: Instagram. @LatinxGamesFestival

The idea behind the festival was to bring people of color together to identify and fight against political, social and economic obstacles that impede their inclusion in the digital games industry. Vega hopes that this event will plant the seeds for future networks of professionals. He also advocates for a DIY culture: we got the tools and we got the creativity, so a trabajar, mijos!

And the attendees heard some pretty inspiring words!

Credit: Twitter. @latinxgamesfestival

Vega said in the inaugural address: “This story is not about me. It’s about everyone in this room, community organizers, all you here. [It’s] also about using my own money, the sleepless nights, the pain you feel in your skin when you’ve been working too hard and your eyes don’t feel the same. You don’t wake up the same. You have nightmares about things going wrong”. Preach, hermano! If something can distinguish the Latino gamer community in the future is that sense of solidarity that makes us who we are.

And there were some great speakers such as Trinidad Hermida!

Credit: Instagram. @LatinxGamesFestival

This Latina is the head of diversity and inclusion at Niantic, one of the industry’s giants (just to give you an idea, the company developed Pokemon Go!, perhaps the most successful Augmented Reality game of all time). Hermida is an amazing woman who has broken many glass ceilings in the  digital technology industry, working for companies like Dell. She has a great philosophy, “setting a standard of incorporating everyone’s genius, we can change the game.” We are right there with you! 

And Fernando Reyes Medina, a wonderboy of the industry.

Credit: Instagram. @LatinxGamesFestival

There is some great, young Latino talent in the industry. That is why Vega included Fernando Reyes Medina in the speaker program. He was born and raised in Mexico City (eso, un chilango, carajo!). He has worked in such big projects as incorporating the Microsoft Cortana personal assistant into the Xbox platform. He is changing the industry from within: he is part of Latinx in Gaming, an initiative born within Microsoft. The future is shiny for him and we are sure he inspired more than one gamer in the room. 

The event was a success and fans were quick to thank the organizers.

Credit: Twitter. @_Ben_Wu

Yes! This is what Vega was aiming for, the establishment of networks of professional collaboration and emotional support. We gotta stick together! Ben Wu, who identifies as Asian-Latino, is literally over the moon after the event

Twitter Drags LeBron James So Hard After His Trademark Request For ‘Taco Tuesday’ Is Rejected

Entertainment

Twitter Drags LeBron James So Hard After His Trademark Request For ‘Taco Tuesday’ Is Rejected

KingJames / Instagram

I know I speak for many when I say there was a collective ‘WTF’ moment when news broke that LeBron James was trying to trademark the now ubiquitous phrase “Taco Tuesday.”

Sure, many of us are devout lovers (some may even say super fans) of the Mexican food classic. Like seriously, we stan all kids of tacos. Al pastor. Barbacoa. Vegano. Nopal. Bistec. Todos. But I would never think about trying to trademark a now popular phrase that has already entered the mainstream lexicon. Like maybe I’m just not that bold (slash delusional) but it just doesn’t seem like something a normal person would do.

Enter The King himself, LeBron James.

The King’s campaign to own ‘Taco Tuesday’ was flat out rejected on Wednesday.

LeBron James took a major loss today when in request to trademark the phrase “Taco Tuesday” was rejected by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. James, who has engaged his social media fans on Instagram with his videos of him and his family and friends eating tacos on Tuesday, was rumored to be looking to brand the videos and continue to do what he does best: make money.

The news that the request was denied comes from Darren Rovell, who tweeted out the decision on LeBron James’ request, which followed the L.A. Lakers’ star’s decision to try and trademark the commonly used phrase just a few weeks ago.

All this Taco Tuesday madness began when it was reported that James had filed a trademark request for the phrase.

James filed the trademark late last month through his company, LBJ Trademarks LLC, with the intention of using “Taco Tuesday” for “podcasting services,” as well as “online entertainment services… and social media posts in the field of sports, entertainment, current events and popular culture.” His company also acknowledged their plans to use the phrase for advertising and marketing services. It was only a matter of time until LeBron James attempted to monetize “Taco Tuesday”. 

For weeks, LeBron has been yelling the phrase “Taco Tuesday” on social media and it seems like he’s trying to own the phrase for social media posts and an upcoming podcast.

James applied for the trademark after he began posting Taco Tuesday posts on his social media channels, showing his family enjoying, you guessed it, tacos on Tuesdays (real original, James…)

Many scoffed at James’ trademark attempt, as “Taco Tuesday” is, as the government decided, an extremely common phrase, but according to James’ spokesperson everything went according to plan.

And let’s not forget, a Wyoming taco joint already owns the official rights to ”Taco Tuesday.”

Unfortunately, for James, even though his “Taco Tuesday” request was reviewed, according to Josh Gerben, a small Mexican restaurant in Wyoming actually already owns the phrase, which is pretty hilarious when you consider every single taco joint uses it for marketing every Tuesday night.

Given the fact everyone likes to pile on LeBron James when something like this happens, social media had some pretty A+ reactions to the news. 

That’s right people! #TacoTuesday belongs to toda la gente! I don’t care how many coins you’ve got or what you do, you can’t take that away from us.

Some speculated as to what the basketball great may try and go after next…

Throwback Thursday, Casual Friday, Hump Day, Thirsty Thursday, Flashback Friday, Man Crush Monday…are they all at risk of being trademarked these days?

Many on Twitter claimed to have already filed their own trademarks for some of these popular hashtags. Some hope to beat others to the punch. But given the reason cited by the judge who rejected James’ request – that it already enjoyed popular widespread use – none of these are likely to be approved.

Some took to GIFs to express their emotions.

I mean that’s a pretty accurate depiction of what happened in this case.

While some on Twitter were upset about the supposed double standard happening with this case.

To many on Twitter, this was a classic case of cultural appropriation at work. A person from outside one community was trying to profit and capitalize off the hard work and culture of another community. Many were left wondering where the outrage was at?

Latino Twitter wasn’t having any of this crazy publicity stunt.

Though the group was small, there were several Latinos annoyed that someone from outside the community would attempt to profit off a food that’s important to a different community.

And some pointed out that only a person of privilege and wealth would be able to attempt something like this.

And it’s totally true. There’s a steep application fee just to start the process plus, in most cases, you need a lawyer to argue your case for you. Lawyers are not cheap.

There’s just one thing that this publicity stunt succeeded at…

I’m beyond craving some good tacos right now and no, it’s not Taco Tuesday. But maybe Taco Thursday could be a thing?