Things That Matter

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

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

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Mariah Carey Got Her First Dose Of The Vaccine And Made It Into An Iconic Moment

Entertainment

Mariah Carey Got Her First Dose Of The Vaccine And Made It Into An Iconic Moment

Vaccines are rolling out across the country. People are getting their shots so life can finally start getting back to normal after a year of quarantining and social distancing. Mariah Carey let her fans join on her first shot and it became iconic.

Mariah Carey got her first shot of the vaccine and hit that whistle note.

More and more Americans are finally getting vaccinated to get the world back to normal. More than 160 million vaccines have been given in the U.S. and people are starting to see the results. Life is slowly getting back to normal for families who haven’t seen each other in years.

The singer was “excited and nervous a little bit” about getting the vaccine. Her demeanor showed just how impactful it is for people to do their part to get us back to normal.

True to form, Carey was in her camera-ready pose when she was getting ready.

People receiving the vaccine are told to keep their arm relaxed but Carey clearly isn’t made for that. How do you just turn off your star charisma?

It’s important to keep your arm relaxed while you are getting your vaccination to save you from the pain. If your arm is tense or in an awkward position, it is more likely to move during the jab, which can be painful. Listen to your nurses.

Some people are very curious how someone so young got the vaccine.

President Joe Biden announced that all states must make vaccine eligibility open to all adults by April 19. Some states are allowing people as young as 16 to get vaccinated. This is an accelerated deadline from the previously called for May 1. President Biden has worked hard to push the vaccination rate up and he has delivered on his promises for various vaccination deadlines.

People want to know if the vocal skills are a side effect of the vaccine.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories circulating about the vaccine. Some people believe that Bill Gates is microchipping them using the vaccine. It is a conspiracy that persists despite people definitively debunking the theory.

Congratulations, Mariah!

The world is eager to get back to normal and the vaccination rollout across the world is going to get us there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is slowly releasing new guidelines about what fully vaccinated people are able to do.

For example, it is safe for fully vaccinated people to gather in small groups indoors without masks and social distancing. Fully vaccinated people can also fly on airplanes without much risk because of the effectiveness of the vaccine.

READ: This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

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From COVID To Elections, Here’s Why Misinformation Targets Latinos

Things That Matter

From COVID To Elections, Here’s Why Misinformation Targets Latinos

One of the big surprises of the 2020 election was how even though most Latino voters across the U.S. voted for Joe Biden, in some counties of competitive states like Florida and Texas, a higher-than-expected percentage of Latinos supported Donald Trump. One factor that many believe played a role: online misinformation about the Democratic candidate.

Another important subject that’s been victim of a massive misinformation campaign is the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing vaccination program. But why does #fakenews so heavily target the Latino community?

Since the 2020 campaign, a large misinformation campaign has target Latinos.

Although fake news is nothing new, in the campaign leading up to the 2020 elections it morphed into something more sinister – a campaign to influence Latino voters with false information. The largely undetected movement helped depress turnout and spread disinformation about Democrat Joe Biden.

The effort showed how social media and other technology can be leveraged to spread misinformation so quickly that those trying to stop it cannot keep up. There were signs that it worked as Donald Trump swung large numbers of Latino votes in the 2020 presidential race in some areas that had been Democratic strongholds.

Videos and pictures were doctored. Quotes were taken out of context. Conspiracy theories were fanned, including that voting by mail was rigged, that the Black Lives Matter movement had ties to witchcraft and that Biden was beholden to a cabal of socialists.

That flow of misinformation has only intensified since Election Day, researchers and political analysts say, stoking Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen and false narratives around the mob that overran the Capitol. More recently, it has morphed into efforts to undermine vaccination efforts against the coronavirus.

The misinformation campaign could have major impacts on our politics.

Several misinformation researchers say there is an alarming amount of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.

Democratic strategists looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections are concerned about how this might sway Latino voters in the future. They acknowledge that conservatives in traditional media and the political establishment have pushed false narratives as well, but say that social media misinformation deserves special attention: It appears to be a growing problem, and it can be hard to track and understand.

Some believe that Latinos may be more likely to believe a message shared by friends, family members, or people from their cultural community in a WhatsApp or Telegram group rather than an arbitrary mainstream US news outlet; research has found that people believe news articles more when they’re shared by people they trust.

Fake news is also impacting our community’s response to the pandemic.

Vaccination programs work best when as many people as possible get vaccinated, but Latinos in the United States are getting inoculated at lower rates.

In Florida, for example, Latinos are 27% of the population but they’ve made up only about 17% of COVID-19 vaccinations so far, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And Latinos are relying on social media and word-of-mouth for information on vaccines — even when it’s wrong. There’s myths circulating around the vaccine, whether you can trust it and the possible the long-term effects.

And it’s not just obstacles to getting information in Spanish, but also in many of the native Mayan indigenous languages that farmworkers speak in South Florida.

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