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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One Instagram Page Is Exposing All Of The Gay Men Willfully Breaking Covid Guidelines To Party

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One Instagram Page Is Exposing All Of The Gay Men Willfully Breaking Covid Guidelines To Party

ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has dragged on for almost a year and it is getting very exhausting. However, that doesn’t mean you get to just break Covid guidelines. Gaysovercovid, an Instagram page, is exposing all of the gay men posting clear violations to Covid guidelines and it’s just so shameful.

GaysOverCovid is masterfully shaming gays who think they are above Covid guidelines.

Covid has killed more than 1,976,000 people around the world. The virus has forced governments into lockdowns to save lives. However, some people have continued to party and gather and travel with no regard for the consequences of their actions. Health officials have been urging people to avoid nonessential travel, not gather, and follow basic guidelines to keep people safe.

The account is exposing the white privilege and hypocrisy of some healthcare workers.

The vaccine is currently in circulation but the vaccine only prevents you from getting severely ill from the virus. You are still able to contract and spread the virus. The end of 2020 was a real booming moment for the Instagram page as gay men flocked in mass to Puerto Vallarta and Brazil to ring in the New Year while flouting life-saving Covid guidelines.

A lot of the men exposed quickly make their social media accounts private.

Maybe it is because they are embarrassed that they are part of the spread problem. Or maybe they are doing some soul searching after their actions. Most likely, they think that making their accounts private long enough will give everything time to blow over so they can act like normal members of society when we are finally through this hard time.

The Instagram page has even helped to expose underground parties.

Covid is still killing people. Los Angeles, where many of these gay men live, is among one of the worst outbreaks in the nation. It is so important that people keep doing their part and being responsible. We are nearing the end of Covid with vaccination plans rolling out across the nation. Be patient. be responsible. Wear a mask. Don’t travel. Avoid crowds. Do the right thing.

READ: Music’s Biggest Night Is Officially Postponed As COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc On California

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Selena Gomez Is Holding Tech And Social Media Accountable After Trump Mob Shuts Down Congress

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Selena Gomez Is Holding Tech And Social Media Accountable After Trump Mob Shuts Down Congress

VALERIE MACON / AFP via Getty Images

A pro-Trump mob stormed Capitol Hill Jan. 6 following months of President Donald Trump and his allies attacking the 2020 elections. Selena Gomez, like most Americans horrified by the attack, spoke out on social media about what happened. She made it clear that part of this falls on tech companies and social media companies.

Selena Gomez called out social media and tech companies for enabling hateful rhetoric.

President Donald Trump and his supporters have used social media to spread misinformation since he was elected in 2016. Americans have watched as President Trump used Twitter to spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories. There have been so many debunked claims that President Trump and his allies have spread with no consequence.

Recently, Twitter started to flag some of President Trump’s tweets as disputed or misleading. It was the first time a social media platform did something that checked President Trump and his rhetoric.

People quickly came to Gomez’s side to uplift her statement.

President Trump has a long history of hateful and dangerous rhetoric on social media. He has misled her supporters with false statements and has incited violence. The president has defended white supremacists on multiple occasions and even retweeted a video of a man shouting white power.

Social media platforms are finally muzzling President Trump with bans and suspensions.

Twitter has put the president on a temporary suspension after he incited the crowd that breached Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg enhanced the original 24-hour ban to a indefinite ban that will last at least until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. However, people think it is a little too late for these actions.

“Disinformation and extremism researchers have for years pointed to broader network-based exploitation of these platforms,” Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said in a statement. “As I have continually said, these platforms have served as core organizing infrastructure for violent, far right groups and militia movements for several years now – helping them to recruit, organize, coordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content.”

What happened Jan. 6 at the nation’s Capitol was avoidable, but it’s clear who incited this violence.

Congress has officially certified President-elect Biden’s win. What should have been a quick process to certify an election turned into a horrifying scene. It is a day that will always define President Trump’s legacy.

READ: Far-Right Trump Supporters Violently Storm The US Capitol Forcing Lockdown

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