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

The Internet Wants To Know How A Prisoner Got A Popeyes Sandwich And Posted It To His IG Story

Culture

The Internet Wants To Know How A Prisoner Got A Popeyes Sandwich And Posted It To His IG Story

@eugene3005 / Twitter

Context is often everything when it comes to social media, but users have so many questions about how a Popeyes chicken sandwich landed behind bars into the hands of a “lucky” prisoner. The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich has taken the nation by storm, selling out at nearly every Popeyes. Some have made half a dozen visits to the fried chicken chain before being able to sample the elusive sandwich. This is the collective mood Twitter user FBG Eugene (@Eugne3005) was in when he was looking through his Instagram stories. Then, he sees his friend, Frank Gutta, post himself eating a Popeyes sandwich from his cot in jail, and he’s about had it. “N***** in jail ate the Popeyes chicken sandwich before me IM SICK,” Gutta tweets in joking anger, along with the visual proof.

Now, another collective meltdown over this sandwich is underway as people try to understand how Gutta even got the sandwich delivered to his prison cell, or posted it to social media, for that matter.

Before Frank Gutta sinks his teeth into the sandwich, he poses for a quick photo.

CREDIT: @EUGENE3005 / TWITTER

“Trying to see what all the hype bout,” Frank Gutta captions the photo on his Instagram story. What’s more, it seems like Gutta has a second sandwich sitting beside him. “I’m dead af,” comments one Twitter user. Someone else tries to comfort Gutta’s friend, Eugene, who presumably is not in jail, saying “don’t get your spirits crushed homie! the man’s eating a soggy sandwich meaning that ain’t no regular popeyes chicken sandwich right there is a Popeyes Booty chicken sandwich or a Popeyes C****** chicken sandwich! either way you still have a chance for the original!”

Others wondered out loud if that cot is a prison cot or a dorm cot. “This look like some college freshman dorms. Whachu mean?” asks @KhariSafari. “Jail/college same thing” replies @___Yashiro. Khari Safari agrees, “except you owe more money after one of them.”

Gutta posts one more photo to his story to anonymously credit his “bae.”

CREDIT: @EUGENE3005 / TWITTER

Looks like Gutta is on to his second sandwich, and remembers to offer a “thanks bae.” More outrage. “He didn’t even tag or say shorty’s name 😅He belongs to the streets,” tweets one Carmen (@3ntr0_P). What lengths did “bae” go to to ensure Gutta got his chicken sandwich? First, she had to overcome the hurdle that every other sandwich-seeking-American has to go through to just obtain the sold-out sandwich. Then… how did she get it in? “Wait… don’t that mean she put it in her cooc- nvm,” asked Sweet Don (@itsbbydon).

Some people couldn’t accept that the receiver of the holy fried chicken sandwich could be so cruel. “Or maybe she’s a guard and he’s tryna protect her job and his connection to the outside world,” offers Ashley Wilson (@anwxo). It’s a far more pragmatic explanation than it is a romantic one, but that explanation “makes a lot of sense… it’s all adding up” for Carmen. 

The conspiracy theories are in: “bruh gotta be busting down a female guard.”

Credit: @6e_Drt / Twitter

Light Yagami’s (@YvngLxnk) theory that “bruh gotta be busting down a female guard” is the most liked opinion on the matter. “They allow workers to bring in food at a prison, it just has to either be sealed or able to be opened to get checked for drugs/cellphones & other stuff. We damn sure didn’t eat chow hall food,” offered @TheNappyAfreaux based off her personal experience.

Humble-braggers are now flocking to the thread to glorify their victory.

CREDIT: @NEWROUGESTON / Twitter

“I just got my 1st and 2nd taste of glory yesterday after 5 unsuccessful tries over the past few months. Added ketchup & cheese on them muff****kas,” tweeted The Wasted Talent (@NewRougeSton). Others are just dropping photos of the coveted sandwich in the thread with no caption and no likes. 

With nearly 64k likes and 22k retweets at the time of publication, the Internet is also wondering how Gutta was able to post the cultural phenomenon to social media from his cot. “Not only that … bro posted on his IG story,” tweets El Padrino (@ImGooooood). Other users are like “F*** it, he’s already in jail.” “People in jail still deserve some level of humanity. Glad bro got to try something that’s still next to impossible to get lol,” a @KhaptainKhan tweeted.

READ: A Fight Turned Fatal After Two Men Got Into An Argument Over A Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

MJ Rodriguez Makes History By Signing First Ever Beauty Deal With Olay Body As Trans Woman

Fierce

MJ Rodriguez Makes History By Signing First Ever Beauty Deal With Olay Body As Trans Woman

mjrodriguez7 / Instagram

Actress and singer MJ Rodriguez is having an incredible whirlwind year. In 2019, she continued her role as Blanca Rodriguez in the history making series “Pose.” Her moving and capitalizing performance won her “Best Actress” at the Imagen Awards; the first time an openly trans women has ever received the honor. She also became the first transgender woman of color to play the role of Audrey in a major production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Rodriguez even preformed the play’s popular love ballad “Suddenly Seymour” on the “Late Late Show with James Corden” ⁠— wowing the TV audience with her powerful vocals. In addition to all that success, this week, her activism, advocacy and talent was celebrated when Rodriguez was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 NEXT.

Now, Rodriguez officially has one more win to close out her successful 2019.  

Twitter / @outmagazine

This week, Rodriguez made history by securing her first ever beauty campaign. The “Pose” star announced her new partnership with Olay Body at the 5th Annual Diversity Summit where she gave the keynote speech. She will officially be one of the label’s brand ambassadors — making her the first trans Afro-Latina to fill this role with Olay. 

“Olay Body is leading by example for other brands by opening doors for trans individuals like myself,” Rodriguez said during her speech. “I am so excited to work with Olay Body on this campaign leading up to my speech at the Diversity Summit. This is officially my first ever beauty campaign — I am so thankful to have the opportunity to show other trans women of color everywhere that they are seen and that they are worthy.”

Rodriguez’s campaign joins other trans women like Laverne Cox, Tracey Norman, Lea T and Geena Rocero — who have all recently worked with hair, makeup, and skincare brands in public roles. 

Twitter / @pedro_a

Rodriguez isn’t the only one excited about this new opportunity. Olay Body also expressed their eagerness to explore the new partnership and the diversity and inclusivity that Rodriguez brings to the brand. In an email to “Out,” the body care company shared their excitement over their new brand ambassador.

“Olay Body is excited to work with Mj Rodriguez on this campaign, as Mj is truly a recognized trailblazer,” the brand wrote. “She has transformed not just personally and professionally, but also as a leading advocate for diversity and inclusivity. This makes her the perfect fearless partner, where she is able to share her authentic journey of feeling confident in her own skin. As we begin to plan for future programs, Mj is definitely top of mind. We can’t divulge specifics at this time, but stay tuned for what’s coming next!” 

For the first act of their partnership, Rodriguez did Olay Body’s 14 Day Transformation and posted the results on her Instagram. 

Instagram / @mjrodriguez7

While she’s incredibly honored to have been selected as a brand ambassador, the call from Olay caught her off guard. Rodriguez even doubted if she was up to the task.

“When they called me, I screamed on the phone, because Olay is one of the leading forces in beauty,” she explained to “The Cut” of her new project. “I was like ‘Oh my god, am I really being considered for this, am I worthy?’”

Rodriguez explained that for trans women and women of color, these opportunities don’t usually come around so she was overwhelmed yet honored with the responsibility. 

“For starters, I’ve never been able to be considered for a partnership like this,” she told “The Cut.” “A lot of girls like myself — trans women — we don’t get the opportunity to have open dialogue, let alone be in partnership with organizations like this. As a woman, as a black or Latina or trans woman, we have to constantly give words of affirmation to ourselves. It’s just hard for us. I’m just focusing on amplifying my voice, trying to get it out there as much as possible.”

Of course, Rodriguez’s online fans showered her with love and affirmation for her new role with Olay Body. 

Twitter / @outioflove

Rodriguez’s mentions are full of fans congratulating her and wishing her the best for her career. One tweet by @guida told the star, “You deserve every good thing coming your way, I’m so happy for you!” Another by @nel_mamaboho thanked the actress, saying, “I actually truly love you just because YOU ARE SEEN. Your visibility makes so many more of us unavoidable. Thank Y.O.U.”

Rodriguez is truly paving the way for the visibility of other trans people and people of color. As an Afro-Latina, a trans woman and a member of the LBGTQ+ community, she represents many groups of marginalized people. As such, her role with Olay Body will set the precedent that these groups can and should have a visible place in our society.

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