Weapons of Mass Manipulation

from Medium

Politics in the days of social networks has gone down some very strange paths. In non-democracies, such as China, the regime devotes more people to the elimination and manipulation of content on social networks than to its huge army: a significant part of the population dedicates its time to replicating the work of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, fabricating an alternative reality for the rest of the population, eliminating anonymous, critical or “unacceptable” comment, inserting praise for the government on forums, networks and newspapers using multiple accounts to simulate widespread support.

In Russia, things are pretty much the same: thousands of trolls, bots and fake accounts devote their time to protect the leadership of Vladimir Putin and manipulating the political landscape in his favor. The automation of disinformation practices the regime perfected in some former Soviet republics has now been proven to have been used in the recent US presidential elections.

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13 Responses to Weapons of Mass Manipulation

  1. Greg D'Ottavi September 13, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

    Social media is an aspect of society in which I have not lived without. Of course, technically, I was alive before Facebook and Twitter existed, but essentially, as far back as I can remember, the internet and social media has always been present. With that said, it has expanded exponentially since its birth and it is interesting now to see how it affects all other aspects of society. This article dives into the realm of social media from a political standpoint while also scratching the surface of social media’s overall effects on the public.
    The author begins his article by bringing up examples of how social media is viewed and used in other countries outside of the United States. As someone who has only been out of the United States once, it was interesting to read how differently a country like China uses social media. China is not a democratic country like the United States, which means their government has certain powers and aspects that do not translate to the United States. Social media is such a large platform that it used by so many people globally and China has taken to this platform to promote the likeness of the government and censor what its citizens are viewing. This is an interesting concept in my opinion because it is such a different side of the social media giant that I have never witnessed. This is also where the author begins to speak about the manipulation aspect within these societies. Manipulation through social media is not something that has gone unseen. In my own experiences, I can say that within a day I probably witness hundreds of promotions or advertisements through various social apps. The ability to reach millions of people at once from all over the world is something that has only been available in the last ten to fifteen years.
    The authors next example comes from Russia who, like China, is not a true democratic country and uses social media to manipulate. The involvement of Russia in the 2016 United States Presidential Election is attributed to the use of social media, specifically Facebook. Fake accounts were created to promote ads to US voters in order to change their opinions. This is something unprecedented within the political world and is definitely something that can become very dangerous. If more and more non-democratic countries begin to use social media in order to influence and manipulate voters around the world to their own liking, it will become a major issue. In my opinion, it is up to the social media giants to deflate these manipulation efforts by creating ways to more closely monitor an account’s activity. There needs to be some sort of process to pinpoint suspicious activity and stop it before it expands. Traditional media is finding its way out the door as social media has become the major news outsource for so many people.
    I am almost certain that the majority of people aging 12 to 30 get most of their news from social media outlets. It has become the societal norm to read the latest Facebook newsfeed and Twitter timeline each morning rather than picking up a newspaper or sometimes even turning on the television. This is an issue that has grown larger than anyone could have expected and at this point it is somewhat scary to think what might become of social media as time goes on. This article gave great insight to a side of social media that I have rarely considered and after reading it, I have a better understanding of how media is changing and effecting the world. Social media is a great thing when used properly, but unfortunately, there is a substantial amount of uncertainty that follows behind it. I am an avid user of various social media sources and have been for a while now, but I can safely say that I am somewhat worried for the future roles it will play in our society.

  2. Lucas Nieves-Violet September 14, 2017 at 4:43 pm #


  3. Lucas Nieves-Violet September 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

    Speeches and debates will only be able to go so far nowadays. I remember last year watching the republican and democrat debates with my friends laughing at the absurdities that would come out of politicians mouth. The truth is that the pure laughter and messages to the audience as well as backlash of those debates didn’t come live, they came a couple of days later online in my case it was Twitter. Twitter is excellent when it comes to media and news, and I say that in a sarcastic manner. Be sure that every policy that nut jobs create end up on my feed or everyone else’s for that matter, whether we like it or not and that is where ideas start to form. The rumors and jokes come with a series of memes and eventually quotes like “Hillary said this” Trump stated that.” I have to admit it’s quite a kick to see, Seth Rogen’s (Sethrogan) posting pictures of DM’s (Direct message) conversations asking questions to Trump himself and then Trump Jr and then being blocked by them for expressing how he feels.
    This sort of way of communicating has become a way of exposing people it is in many ways a weapon. It is amazing the amount of time Trump posts something on twitter and states he never said such things and few hours or minutes later seeing someone post a picture or even quote tweeting Trump’s exact word proving him that he is wrong. This factor is not just Trump thought, he simply just always is a topic of conversation on Twitter. Why is that you may ask? I mean don’t even follow him on twitter and somehow he still ends on my feed. The whole point of social media is that we are in some way all connected. If a topic becomes significant enough it will eventually be retweeted, and once it is shared with enough people it becomes general, and everyone can access it. This is not just about the Twitter platform, it’s about all of them: Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Snapchat, even YouTube. All of those sites have something in common that is a “Trending”. What is trending right now, what do people want to see or what have they heard. Social Media is now made, so that is almost impossible not to know what is going It has become tailored for people to see and listen to what they want. If you follow Democrats on twitter for say you will most likely see people on your feed filled with Trump hate, but if you follow Republicans, you will probably see people cheering for him instead. It all depends as to the which person you are.

  4. Lucas Nieves-Violet September 14, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

    The U.S is known to be a free country that is why we can see all these different opinions online as well as on the streets. However other countries as stated in the article by Enrique Dans have limited and restricted internet to protect the political balance a country. The first two that come to mind are North Korea and Russia of course. I remember a couple of years ago hearing that North Korea did not allow access to Facebook or YouTube in their country and I remember thinking it was a joke and well it wasn’t. Some countries have such small political that any negative spread could damage the society and the country itself. The other reason is simply that the leaders want to stay in power, such as Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un. The chances are that if a topic is trending on one platform, it will most likely be trending on all the others. The fact that people can have such impact on society or even the world by typing things or saying things online just shows us how important and powerful media sites are.
    As for making fake accounts, it is important to know and understand that they are just as important and powerful as an actual user. If there are enough fake accounts, then the topic they discuss will eventually become trending to real users, and once this happens well, the topic and new ideas will have already spread. Ads and social media a re very similar and alike. Advertisements in a way are imposed on us whether we like it or not we see them at one point or another.

  5. Lucas Nieves-Violet September 14, 2017 at 5:05 pm #

    What Russia is doing according to the article is nothing but advertisement strategy which is what we do in our daily lives, it may be shocking when we first notice it but after examining our surroundings, it becomes more clear that advertisement and social platform can be used to change the political balance and opinion of a country.

  6. Nicholas Birchby September 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Social Media is so interesting because it is used for such a wide variety of reasons. You can chat with friends, watch funny videos, do research, or even rig presidential elections. Social Media truly is a tool of Manipulation in some cases. Countries such as China have extremely censored social media, so the government controls everything they can and cannot see. The most shocking example occurred very recently and is still ongoing. Facebook has said over 450 accounts have been linked to Russia that were using money to buy ads regarding the upcoming election. The goal was for them to cause a divide in the citizens, and it is estimated that there ads were seen by 70 Million U.S. voters. It is extremely unsettling knowing that Russia has the power to truly influence the outcomes of our elections. Being that Russia is arguably our biggest rival, it should scare Americans that they are almost making our decisions for us. I think it is completely unacceptable we as a country allowed this to happen. The communication power of apps like Twitter have never been seen before. When Donald Trump clicks the Send button, his message is instantly spread across the globe to millions of people. For reference, there is approximately 700 Million people currently active on twitter. Never in the history of the world have we been able to spread news faster than with Social Media. When terror attacks occur, within an hour it would have spread across all social media and would have been shown everywhere. This power of communication is the reason social media is such an efficient way to spread a message, or to influence a very large group of people in a very short amount of time. Social Media is everywhere we look nowadays. Walking to class, you will see hundreds of Seton Hall students with heads down, reading Twitter as they walk through campus. This is the same all across the country, this is why social media is so manipulating. Almost any major company uses Social Media. Apps like Twitter and Instagram are perfect for businesses to advertise their products. In the United States social media is very diverse, meaning you can find just about everything on it. However, in countries such as China and North Korea, there social media is extremely restricted. There is nothing negative about politics on social media, or else the person responsible for it would go to prison. Their governments do not allow for freedom in social media because they want to control exactly what their people think of them. If you go on Twitter in America, there is millions of people saying negative things about the government, because it is completely accepted. It is shocking when you consider the differences between the two worlds. People my age would be in complete shock if one day our social media was cut off, it has become a part of our lives. Everyone has a smart phone, everyone has the internet and social media at the tips of their fingers. It is easy to see how news and advertisements spread so quickly across the country. Social Media has manipulated the entire world into a whole new era, where everyone on the planet can be connected through one small device that fits in your pocket. It is incredibly exciting and incredibly scary to see where technology and social media will go in the near future.

  7. Henry Steck September 15, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    In countries like Russia and China, social media is at the top of a long list of restrictions. These countries which possess deep autocratic histories simply cannot allow their populations to gain autonomy through freedom of expression. The side effects of freedom of expression are strong and include civil disobedience unseen in places like China. The Arab Spring exemplifies the aforementioned theory of power loss. Wars in Libya and Syria have been fought just as much over social media outlets as with guns. Youtube, Facebook and twitter brought down dictators like Gaddafi, and it can do the same in countries like China where hundreds of millions of voices are muted each year in elections.

  8. Rebecca Hu September 15, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    This article written by Enrique Dans published on the Medium website. It mainly discusses the influence of internet and politics. As technology improved, our lifestyle has also changed. We no longer rely on prints for news or entertainment. No matter you are an adult or a kid in elementary school, almost everyone in the world has access to the internet through their device. People are no longer restrained in front of TV or a newsstand for information. It is common for people to access political information on their social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
    The article also mentions that in countries such as China and Russia, the government put in a lot of effort to restrict the negative influence on the political government and leaders. The social network system is a portal for advertisement, for the government “using social networks to pursue a specific strategy, to manipulate public opinion”. I do not think this should be something new. Since the start of the First World War, people have been using posters, propaganda to advertise nationalism and the “ultimate enemy”. The only difference is that it use to be in paper form, now it is on the digital platform.
    I have spent some time living in Beijing the capital of China, also lived in Hong Kong. The biggest difference between the two cities is that Beijing’s network is under the regulation of the Chinese government. Which means there is the China Firewall, restricting you to access sites like Facebook, or YouTube. Where the government has no control over what is being posted on the websites. Same with Google, Google refused to provide data to the China government, therefore, they are forced to exit the Chinese market.
    On the other hand, in Hong Kong it is more “freedom”, there is access to sites such as Facebook, YouTube. The only concern rising in Hong Kong is that people who posted statements that have a negative influence on the Chinese government rule are either “sick” or having “vacation” in China. There are consequences with the freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is currently ruled under the one nation two-system rule, this system will expire in 2047. Recently Hong Kong’s attitude towards the central communist rule is disapproval and disappointment. With the system expire, maybe the capitalist Hong Kong will no longer exist.
    After reading this article and some comments raised above I see that the point raised the most are countries such as Russia, North Korea, China the government have censorship. In the United States of America, it is a “free” country. I agree with the statement on how in the United States of America, there is a certain amount of rights and freedom given to the citizens. The most important one is the freedom of speech, different voices and opinions can be heard but other than that actually United States might be not as “free” as many of us think it is.
    In the name of security and terrorism, I believe the United States intelligence agencies are monitoring almost everyone. I do not think that a democratic nation who do no “censor” is a more free country. The public is always the last one to know the truth. The nation has other means to control the mass population. Just think about the Snowden incident, there are documents being leaked information that is confidential, not suitable for the public. All in the name to protect the country and the population.
    I believe that since the invention of the internet, nothing is safe. Everything is under the control of the government. The Internet is so convenient it connects everyone, however, it is a double edge sword. It can benefit us, it can also be a tool for the government to “regulate” and restore order in society. Maybe because I have witness censorship in China and Hong Kong. I do not feel surprised when this article reported, “a significant number of voters were manipulated by the inflammatory messages spread by the intelligence service of a foreign power”. A social network system is a tool, different people use it for different purpose. We should not be naïve enough to believe everything posted on the internet, everything has two sides. There is always the bright side we are looking at, however, we should always remember that there are always some dark secrets behind the bright side. This trend will continue, as technology is an undividable part of the current lifestyle.

  9. Brian Ayoub September 15, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    To begin, I thought the title of this article was pretty funny. “Weapons of mass manipulation” really gets to me because during a time where America’s main focus should be the rise of weapons of mass destruction such as the nuclear weapons that countries like North Korea and Russia are playing around with, the news is filled with controversy dealing with manipulation of elections and public opinion through social media. It is baffling how much of a low point the world has hit. You would think by this day in age that a country so advanced like America can prevent things like fake accounts swaying a presidential election to occur. However we are left to witness Twitter “beefs” between former Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. This is not the first time this has occurred though. During the 2014 World Cup, the North Korean government used twitter to manipulate the people of their country to think that their National team won the World Cup. If that happens, then I suppose this Russian manipulation should not come as a surprise.
    Although this article focuses on politics in the world of social media, the same applies for all, like sports and media stars. Some of the most outlandish things are said by sports media. ESPN has been accused many times of creating ridiculous headlines just for clicks and attention. Just the other day, ESPN made a list of the top 100 basketball players going into the 2017-2018 season. The picks were questionable, to say the least. Rookies like Lonzo Ball, were coming in higher than established NBA superstars, like Carmelo Anthony. This is just the start of the problem. A company like ESPN loses all credibility when they strive for media popularity, and not actual sports analysis.
    Another example of social media manipulating the public for popularity and clicks is the trending page of YouTube. I spend countless hours watching videos on Youtube when I should be doing homework. While some of the content is genuine quality, a lot of the time content creator choose to manipulate their viewers into something called “Title and Thumbnail click-bait”. This is when content creators make a totally outlandish title and thumbnail for their video just so people can click on the video and get a view. This results in money for the creator, while most of the time, these titles and thumbnails have nothing to do with the actual content of the video. To top it off, YouTube promotes these videos on their “Trending” page. Because YouTube promotes trashy content and neglects real videos of substance, they lose all credibility as a site.
    Now to move back onto the actual article, the same kind of manipulation that goes on in sports and social media, occurs in politics as well. CNN and Fox News are both so biased towards their political preference, that they both lose credibility as networks. The days of actual quality content is rapidly fading away, and social media manipulation is taking over.
    It is up to us to be able to look away from the social media bias and be smart enough to find content of real substance. I would like to think that this past election was a practice run for how politics will operate under the presence of social media. Now that we are experiencing the worst, we can now learn from our mistakes and not let social media manipulation fool us again. All social media websites should run under integrity and not under the mindset of being the most popular or wealthy. I know for a fact that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular social media powerhouses can easily filter out fake accounts and make algorithms to promote real content, not content that will get them the most website traffic.
    To conclude, it is up to us as a society to look past fake content and use our brains to do what is best for our country. It is one thing if we are under a dictatorship and can only see certain things, however we are completely free and are not censored at all. While saying this, social media websites should also have some integrity and find ways to prevent what happened with Russia rigging the election from ever happening again.

  10. Chris O'Handley September 15, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

    As the revolution of social media continues to progress, it becomes more clear that social media might pose just as many negatives as it does positives. Social media of course makes it much easier for people to stay in touch with one another and there is no doubt that many advancements in technology as a whole have made life easier but I cannot stop thinking whether or not it will be worth it in the end. Social media has made it too easy for people to express opinions without receiving recognition for those opinions. What I mean by that is that people know they can say whatever they want behind a screen anonymously and know that the average internet user would not be able to trace their posts back to them. This allows them to say things they would never say face to face and it really creates a dangerous environment online because you never really know who is who. This has led to an increase in cyberbullying, catfishing, and now propaganda. People nowadays tend to side with the popular opinion even if they do not necessarily share that opinion because it is much easier to hide in the crowd rather than going out on your own to stand up for something you believe in. That being said, politicians know how to use this fact to their advantage. This is not something that just came along with social media, politicians have been using propaganda for as long as politics has existed, but social media now makes that even easier. Before social media, politicians could still broadcast their opinions to a mass amount of people but back then, the people knew exactly who was expressing that opinion and could react accordingly. Now, anyone who wants to have an influence on any pressing issue could express their opinions anonymously and with multiple different personas. This allows one person to potentially have one opinion, and make it seem like a large mass of people agree with that opinion but in reality it could just be the same one person expressing their same one opinion on a bunch of fake profiles. This of course makes it easier for people to agree with the opinion because they see a bunch of other “people” agreeing with that opinion so they think it must be true. This is becoming very problematic, as evidenced in this article, because now politicians from other countries have caught light of this and have begun to make their own network of false identities to help endorse their opinions. This allows people who really should not have any say in our elections to falsely express wide belief in an opinion and make American voters start to believe in said opinion. It is problems like these that really make me question how far social media will have to evolve until people begin to think it could be causing more harm than good. With how rapidly social media is progressing, this could end up happening sooner than you think.

  11. Arielle Fortes September 15, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

    When someone has mentioned a weapon of mass destruction, what do you think of? Perhaps an atomic bomb. Like the atomic bomb that caused intense radiation poisoning and that caused many people to die in Japan in World War Two. Or perhaps you think of a biological weapon, one that can affect many people with disease. A hydrogen bomb which yet again causes damage in massive amounts. There could also be others who think of a chemical bomb, another dangerous weapon which is hard to keep track of. However, there is one weapon of mass destruction which many people would not have thought of which is social media.
    Have you ever heard the saying that if you want to keep a secret tell no one except yourself? As humans, we seem to love to know something that someone else doesn’t know. Also we like to share that we know what others don’t. We also know that humans are social creatures and love to share everything, especially what we think that other should know. I believe that this was the basis of social media. We just wanted everyone else to see what we knew. However, the negative side is that even if something is not true, the desire to share it that we have can make that rumor spiral out of control. There is an idea that some people have that if so many people shred it that it must be true.
    The increasing use of mass media makes this weapon so powerful. There would not be as much impact if there was not as many user of social media as there are today. According to statista.com, there are sound 2.46 billion social media users world-wide. There are around approximately 7.5 billion people in the world according to worldmeters.info. That means around one-third of the people in the world have some form of social media account. With such as large base it is very easy for anything to spread around. If something is very interesting or eye-catching then more people will view it, and see the information. Or best case scenario what someone is trying to say will spread around. In politics this is very helpful and very hurtful at the same time. This is extremely helpful for politics because it is so easy to spread information or more accurately propaganda. Due to all the people on that network many people will see good propaganda that people have spread about the politician or what the politician has spread for himself. There are fake accounts simply to spread propaganda for certain politicians. Even if a person does not necessarily view the article they can see the headline and have a more positive impression of them. However, the opposite also holds true. People can spread rumors about different politicians. Even if they are not true rumors many people can see these articles and spread them around to many people. This means that many people might see the headline and many a negative impression of the said politician.
    The easy accessibility of the media is also one aspect of the media which makes it so simple to gain or share information on it. You can just go onto your phone or computer for five minutes and view something that you want to see. You can search the entire social media base for key words to show what you want to see. This can make article pop up within seconds and can make sure that you won’t even take too much time browsing through the articles.
    Although social media is not the first weapon of mass destruction that you think of it can be something very impactful in politics and our everyday lives. It is so easily accessed by anyone who wishes to access it. Also, it is very fast to access it and can make sure that you can view what you want to extremely fast. The large base of people who access the network can ensure that information whether positive or negative can spread very easily. This can make sure that propaganda by politicians can be used for and against him. In conclusion, even though we know social media as the fun positive place where we can share photos and information of ourselves with others; it also has a darker side where politicians can use it to their advantage.

  12. Adam Rakowski September 20, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    The article touches on a rather sensitive topic especially since the most recent presidential elections were held not too long ago: how the power of the internet and social media can highly influence politics. As the years go by, innovators and entrepreneurs have more time to unleash a flood of social media applications and sites than ever. This high yield of technological advances has an extreme impact on our lives and the way we live it. Newspapers and magazines are now obsolete thanks to the rise of media platforms and those same newspaper companies transitioning to online news coverage instead. What is even more fascinating than the transition itself is the accessibility everyone in a modernized country has to this technology. With more and more platforms displaying news and the accessibility of these platforms rises, the possibility of misinterpreted or even false information is on the rise. The majority of youth in today’s society depend on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat to access any sort of news or current events going on today. While this all may seem great and convenient, the problem with this is that most of the news displayed on sites like Facebook with the help of BuzzFeed or the Washington Post, is complete and utter rubbish. It takes factual evidence, mushes it up, and sprinkles a little appeal to emotion and bias to earn more views and ‘likes’ among a naïve audience.
    There are, however, two sides of the coin here. While more modern countries such as the United States and Canada allow and encourage the widespread use of social media and technology, countries such as China and Russia do quite the opposite. The countries go beyond to put firewalls on major internet websites and platforms to avoid the potential of negative views and discussions about their government and political machine. This is just as ridiculous as it seems because what exactly makes them think that people will not have negative views towards their corrupted governments? Granted, technology and the internet has the potential of kindling the fire and spreading word of the errors of the government, but holistically, it seems irrational to be so strict when people are going to have those views anyways. The earliest form of this type of influence and manipulation were in the form of posters and propaganda that vilified governments and institutions that differed from each other. It is almost exactly the same here except those posters and billboards have become completely obsolete.
    My own parents grew up in Poland during the 70’s and 80’s, which was a time of strong Soviet/Communism influence so they knew firsthand what it was like to be restricted from doing or saying a particular thing. Backgrounds like that often bring up the possibility that those people who lived in those times will often have conservative views in the future and may not necessarily be open to adopting new ways of life. I do not think that that is a display a close-minded mentality, yet it is more of a habit and dogmatic lifestyle that they were brought up in. Despite all of the negatives in displaying current events using social media and the internet to manipulate or convince people to think a particular way, there are indeed many benefits. People have unlimited access to the news and it exposes important points in modern times to a younger audience who might not have necessarily been exposed to the age of newspapers and early 20th century propaganda. It is vital for the youth to be aware of what is going on around them because that same youth may be responsible for significant change in the future.

  13. Amber Esposito September 22, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    Social media has grown substantially over the last 17 years. Social networks have changed the way we socialize, behave, and view the world. Being born in 1997, social media has always been in my life. The older I get, the more I realize what an impact social networking has had generation Z in comparison to previous generations. From Myspace to Facebook, to instagram and news forums, social media has grown into a being that can manipulate the thoughts and views of people of all nations. Politics is not just watching the morning and evening news anymore, or just reading the news paper. It has evolved into around the clock live news coverage, blogs, and advertisements while you work, relax, eat, and sleep. You open your computer to a homepage filled with scandals, politics, and news updates.

    Enrique Dans, author of Weapons of Mass Manipulation, writes about how far social media has gone in the agenda of politics. The live coverage is there, but people put their own spin on things. News networks and people with political agendas can use social media forums as a platform to manipulate your opinions, and alter your social and political views. Where in the past, that was not available, and was not there to be used as a method of persuasion; just as a method of information. As stated in the article, we now face the most sophisticated assault on the foundations of democracy. Governments are using social media as a strategy manipulate public opinion, favor of their own. At the rate this is going, social media influence is only going to get worse. Social networks have to refine their filters to help stop the interference in electoral processes.

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