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

Gloria Estefan Will Be Hosting A Latinx Spinoff Of ‘Red Table Talk’ Alongside Her Daughter And Niece, ’La Flaca’

Entertainment

Gloria Estefan Will Be Hosting A Latinx Spinoff Of ‘Red Table Talk’ Alongside Her Daughter And Niece, ’La Flaca’

gloriaestefan / Instagram

Facebook Watch announced just this week, that they will be creating a spin-off of their original series Red Table Talk —except this time it will feature Latinx musical icon Gloria Estefan. The Miami based show which will feature latinx celebs will be titled; Red Table Talk: The Estefans. Here’s everything we know so far. 

Facebook Watch is turning Red Table Talk into a franchise.

With the green light for a second series from Pinkett Smith and Westbrook Studios, señores y señoras, we’re getting a Latinx spinoff. Set in Miami, Red Table Talk: The Estefans, will feature music icon Gloria Estefan, her daughter and rising musician Emily Estefan and her niece and Daytime Emmy Award-winning TV host Lili Estefan. 

We’ll see all three generations of the Estefans talk about things that matter.

Like the original program, the spinoff will feature the three women of different generations discussing social and personal issues with family, celebrity guests and experts. Pinkett Smith and Gloria Estefan will both serve as executive producers.

“I’m incredibly proud of Red Table Talk, and thrilled to build upon this franchise with my family and with Gloria, Emily and Lili.” 

In a Deadline article Jada Pinkett Smith added, “Red Table Talk has created a space to have open, honest and healing conversations around social and topical issues, and what’s most powerful for me is hearing people’s stories and engaging with our fans in such a tangible way on the Facebook Watch platform. I’m excited to see the Estefans put their spin on the franchise and take it to new places.”

The new and fresh version will likely help keep “Red Table Talk,” one of the most popular shows on Facebook Watch.

Red Table Talk is available exclusively on the Facebook platform with new episodes of the talker streaming through 2022. 

Pinket Smith’s show was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy.

Red Table Talk debuted in May 2018 and has aired 50 episodes on Facebook Watch over two seasons. The show has over 7 million followers on Facebook and spawned a main discussion group with over 600,000 members as well as other group forums. “Red Table Talk” promises candid conversations of current social and cultural issues including race, divorce, domestic violence, sex, fitness and parenting.

Facebook did not announce an expected premiere date for “Red Table Talk: The Estefans.” 

In a statement, Gloria Estefan said: “I’m incredibly excited to carry the ‘Red Table Talk’ torch with my family in Miami. Jada and I have spoken about this a lot and feel my daughter, niece and I can tackle issues important to us and our fans with a new and fresh voice.”

Gloria Estefan’s journey to becoming one of the biggest Latin American pop stars began in 1959.

In 1959, Gloria’s family fled Cuba for Miami. She met Emilio Estefan in 1975; the two married in 1978, and shortly after that Emilio’s band, the Miami Latin Boys, changed their name to Miami Sound Machine —the biggest crossover act of the 80s and 90s.

Gloria Estefan has had one of the longest and most successful careers of any contemporary pop star.

And she’s done it in two languages, recording numerous Spanish-language albums, such as Mi Tierra (1993), Abriendo Puertas (1995) and Alma Caribeña (2000)all of which won Grammys for Best Tropical Latin Album. In 2015, President Barack Obama presented Gloria and Emilio with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2017, it was announced that Gloria is one of the recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors

We can’t wait to see what the Estefans bring to the (red) table.

Not to disregard the Pinket Smith efforts because they brought much needed discussions to the public with the creation of this show. The original Red Table Talk discussed race, relationships, culture, mental health and more —but we’re excited for the Estefans to discuss issues that affect the Latinx community specifically.

Facebook Watch knows that by giving the show a different angle, they can target another demographic group —and the Latinx community is on board with the representation. 

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be in business with such wonderful partners and are thrilled to expand the Red Table Talk franchise with Jada Pinkett Smith, the Estefans and Westbrook Studios,” said Mina Lefevre, head of development & programming for Facebook Watch. “Red Table Talk is a shining example of how content, community and conversation come together on Facebook Watch. We’re proud to keep this conversation going around topics our fans care about.”

A Quick Explanation About What Is Happening In The Dominican Republic

Things That Matter

A Quick Explanation About What Is Happening In The Dominican Republic

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Dominicans across the world are protesting in unison to demand transparency in the recent elections in the Dominican Republic. The protests stem from a recent municipal election that many are calling into question. Faulty voting machines and a lack of transparency have set off a warning call within the global Dominican community fearing election tampering and a power grab. Here’s what we know so far.

Dominicans are demanding answers about irregularities in the latest election on the island.

Four hours into the voting process, the Dominican government reported irregularities with the voting machines. According to officials, 60 percent of the voting machines were experiencing the same issue of showing voters incomplete ballots. Many showed just one party on the ballot. That’s when the government, in an unprecedented move, suspended the Feb. 16 elections.

People across the island have joined in taking to the streets to protest against the government’s decision to suspend the elections.

Tensions are flaring on the island about election tampering and voting after one party has ruled the presidency for 24 years. It is also three months until the general elections and Dominicans don’t trust the process after the latest snafu.

“The electronic vote failed us that morning,” Electoral Board Presiden Julio César Castaños Guzmán, said at a press conference.

Yet, Casatños Guzmán admitted that the Dominican government was warned that they knew of the issue before the elections began but were under the impression that they could be fixed when the machines were installed. The elections proved that the issue was not corrected.

Concerned Dominicans are desperately trying to shine a full light on what they consider an imminent dictatorship.

“The Dominican people are under a dictatorship disguised as democracy,” Alejandro Contreras, a protester in New York told NBC News. “We will be demanding the resignation of all the members of the electoral board, as well as a formal public explanation on the impunity and corruption within the government, among other issues.”

The protests and election fears come the same week as the Dominican Republic’s independence day.

On Feb. 27, 1844, the Dominican Independence War led to the imperial independence of the Dominican Republic from Haiti. The number of casualties from the war are unknown but Haiti is estimated to have lost three times more soldiers than the Dominican Republic.

The fears of a dictatorship are real on the island who was under a dictatorship for 31 years in the 20th century. Rafael Trujillo ruled the island with a brutal fist from February 1930 until his assassination in May 1961. He was president of the island for two terms covering 18 years from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1942 to 1952. After the last term, he ruled as an unelected military man keeping the island in fear.

All eyes are on the Dominican Republic and their government as Dominicans across the world fight to preserve its democracy.

Credit: @sixtalee / Twitter

Sigue luchando. El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido. Viva la democracia.

READ: After A Year Of Bad Press, The Dominican Republic Launches Campaign To Bring Tourists Back