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

Lin-Manuel Miranda Says Criticisms Of ‘Hamilton’ Are Valid And It’s All ‘Fair Game’

Entertainment

Lin-Manuel Miranda Says Criticisms Of ‘Hamilton’ Are Valid And It’s All ‘Fair Game’

Theo Wargo / Getty Images

Update July 7, 2020, 4:00 p.m. PST: People are going after “Hamilton” because of its depiction of Alexander Hamilton, who was a slave owner. In a time when Confederate monuments are falling, some people want to cancel the show because it does elevate the people of the time. Lin-Manuel Miranda does not disagree with them

Lin-Manuel Miranda validated the criticism lodged against “Hamilton.”

There was a lot of criticism recently lodged at the musical. The renewed attention is partly because Disney+is streaming the very successful play during the 4th of July weekend. While Miranda has said the criticisms are valid, he did express the difficulty of creating a play and capturing every moment of the Founding Fathers in one play. There is no arguing that the Founding Fathers were not indeed problematic and owned slaves.

During this time, it is important to have tough conversations about the legacy of this country and what we can do to acknowledge and rectify the issues.

“Hamilton” is an exquisite work of art. The casting sets it apart from other plays that do not try to be as inclusive. Yet, it is very important to remember our history. Some of the people we are taught to celebrate and hold in high esteem are not worthy of that praise. Some are responsible for killing off large amount of native people. Others were involved with the brutal slave trade that created one of the largest diasporas in human history. You can honor the work of a Latino creator and acknowledge the flaws even he admits to.

Original: Families across the nation celebrated their 4th of July weekend watching “Hamilton.” The musical is one of the most celebrated musicals in recent history. Yet, some people have a problem with the musical and its debut on Disney+ has angered some Twitter users.

“Hamilton” is currently streaming on Disney+ and fans are so excited.

The very popular musical is a Broadway sensation. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play is one of the most celebrated shows in recent history with sold-out shows across the country. The play tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The play has been celebrated because the actors cast in the production are all actors of color. It took a white story and was filled with people of color showing a side of Hamilton people don’t often address. Miranda admitted that he didn’t know much about Hamilton until reading a biography about the man while on vacation. He felt the story of Hamilton is inherently an immigrant story and deserved to be told with a twist.

#CancelHamilton started trending over the weekend and a quick search shows that most of the tweets are from conservatives.

There is a movement happening right now in the U.S. with people tearing down statues honoring Confederate soldiers and leaders. The Confederacy is the side of the Civil War fighting to preserve slavery and lost the war. The hashtag is filled with people complaining that other Confederate monuments are being torn down, so why not cancel “Hamilton.”

One argument being made against canceling “Hamilton” is that it is fiction. Those for the cancellation of “Hamilton” claim that is should be torn down like Confederate statues. Yet, those against the cancellation claim that the show is a fictitious account and not the same as monuments and statues built to celebrate a legacy steeped in slave ownership.

Some of the people defending the show are pointing to the cast of filled with people of color.

The show made history with its diverse cast offering a glimpse into history through the voices of people of color. This kind of representation gave young people of color a chance to see themselves represented in history. It might only be a play but it is a play that has captivated an audience of Black and brown people who can see people who look like them representing U.S. history.

It has reignited the debate about cancel culture being weaponized and weakened by bad actors.

The cancel culture has come after several celebrities and businesses calling out bad practices. It seems though that every week there is a new attempt to cancel someone or something. Cancel culture has come under fire for cutting people before giving them a chance to learn from their mistakes.

Some people want to cancel cancel culture instead of “Hamilton” and that thought is spreading.

Cancel culture has claimed a lot of people. It started to grow in prominence as social media became more and more popular and far-reaching. What do you think about Cancel Culture?

READ: ‘Hamilton’: Disney Plus Drops Trailer For Musical Film — Watch Now!

Military Members Are Sharing Stories Of Sexual Assult In The Military Using #IAmVanessaGuillen

Things That Matter

Military Members Are Sharing Stories Of Sexual Assult In The Military Using #IAmVanessaGuillen

David Dee Delgado / Getty Images

Vanessa Guillen went missing on April 22 from a parking lot at Fort Hood. Before going missing, Guillen confided in her family about alleged sexual assault and harassment she faced at the U.S. Army base. Her story sparked an online movement to talk about sexual assault in the military.

Women are using #IAmVanessaGuillen to talk about sexual assault in the U.S. military.

It wasn’t until recently that movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp made it clear that society was done with making excuses for sexual assault. Powerful and influential men have fallen because of their behavior. The disappearance of Vanessa Guillen is shining a renewed light on sexual assault in the military.

The stories range from inappropriate behavior from superiors to rape from fellow soldiers.

Women see themselves reflected in Guillen and her story. Former military women are shedding the shame and fear of coming forward to tell their stories in a public space. The unity on social media is offering women comfort and support as they open up about the most personal thing someone can talk about.

Some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking.

According to a report from the Defense Department, sexual assault in the U.S. military went up 3 percent between fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The department reported 7,825 reports of sexual assault on service members. However, Pentagon officials assert that the change cannot be characterized as an increase in assaults. A prevalence survey on sexual assault in the military is conducted every other year.

According to some women, the assault and harassment started quickly.

The same study found that sexual assault at the 3 military academies saw a spike of 32 percent. The figures show an increase of 117 reported sexual assaults in 2018 compared to 149 sexual assaults reported in the academies.

“Our Academies produce our future leaders. At every turn, we must drive out misconduct in place of good order and discipline. Our data last year, and the findings from this year’s report, reflect the progress we have made in some areas, and the significant work that remains,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, the executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said in a statement obtained by ABC News. “We will not falter in our efforts to eliminate these behaviors from our Academies and to inculcate our expectation that all who serve are treated, and treat others, with dignity and respect.”

Some men have also used the hashtag to share their own experiences.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. The study also shows that 1 out of every 33 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone, you can call 1 (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN by clicking here.

READ: Partial Human Remains Found Near Fort Hood During Search For Vanessa Guillen