We Can Have Social Media As We Know It, Or We Can Have Democracy

from Fast Company

In early September, President Trump retweeted a video allegedly showing an “black lives matter/antifa” activist pushing a woman into a subway car. The video is nearly a year old, and the man in question was mentally ill and had no connection to either group.

As a researcher studying social media, propaganda, and politics in 2016, I thought I’d seen it all. At the time, while working at University of Oxford, I was in the thick of analyzing Twitter bot campaigns pushing #Proleave messaging during Brexit. As a research fellow at Google’s thinktank Jigsaw that same year, I bore witness to multinational disinformation campaigns aimed at the U.S. election.

That is nothing compared to what I am seeing in 2020. The cascade of incidents surrounding both this year’s U.S. Presidential contest as well as a multitude of other contentious political events around the globe is staggering. From doctored videos, “smart” robocalls, spoofed texts and—yes—bots, there’s an overwhelming amount of disinformation circulating on the internet.

Meanwhile, political polarization and partisanship inflamed by these technologies continues to rise. As I sift through social media data relating to the ongoing U.S. election, I’m constantly confronted with new forms of white supremacist, anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and anti-LBGTQ content across massive social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. This rhetoric also shows up on private chat applications such as Parler, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

I thought we’d have made progress in addressing the problems of propaganda and disinformation on social media by now, and on the face of things we have. Major tech firms have banned political advertisements, flagged dis-informative posts by politicians, and made tweaks to their algorithms in attempts to stop recommending conspiracy-laden content. But, in the grand scheme of things, these actions have done little to quell the sheer amount of both low-tech and algorithmically generated propaganda online.

More here.

Posted in Future Thinking, Ideas, Law, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. Basing my opinion off of the theme of my last blog post, I personally believe that social media is a manipulated and politically motivated platform that has been misused over the years of its existence. I personally, really enjoy this article. It is about time that people voice their opinions on this issue, commonly pushed into the shadows. People, including myself, everywhere and everyday use social media as second nature, almost mindlessly scrolling through information presented to oneself over the course of countless hours sometimes. Most of this information is seen as interested entertainment to the user, for they follow the creators on said platform and commonly view their content. However, being that they follow said user, they trust them and their posts for the most part. This means that if a user goes to voice his or her opinions on this platform, their followers will see it, and believe it most of the time. This is dangerous, for social media in its entirety has caused a lot of people to believe things that they see without questioning them. In addition to this, the media companies and their owners design the platforms to push an agenda in which they want and silence those that they do not want. For these reasons, the visibly innocent and entertaining side of social media can also be very dangerous and dark if put in the wrong hands. This, in its entirety, takes our fundamental view of democracy into question while threatening our constitutional rights. With regards to democracy, social media completely takes away our say in things and instead places it behind the owners who control the platforms, for they are the decision makers on this virtual marketplace for thoughts. And that is exactly what it is, a marketplace. You are selling your thoughts and beliefs at what costs. The costs are invasion of privacy, censorship, silencing, and public humiliation. Now with all this being said, social media has its upsides, again, if place in the right hands. Most of the media companies, however, are only seeing its users as a dollar sign, and nothing else. It is both unfortunate and scary at the same time.

  2. Disinformation and fake propaganda campaigns on social media are very significant issues. The U.S. election was faced with constant fraud posts and technological tricks undermining the good qualities of social media. One instance of false news in the recent election was the widespread tweet of thousands of uncounted ballots. Empty envelopes were discovered in a dumpster in Sonoma County in California. A website expanded the incident and disclosed that many mail-in ballots were dumped by the county workers. Within a day, 25,000 Twitter users shared this release including Donald Trump Jr. This was a clear and evident case of disinformation since ballots for the 2020 election hadn’t even yet been mailed and these empty envelopes were from the 2018 election gathered for recycling. We should be careful about whom and which organizations to trust during general elections.

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