The Era of Mass Manipulation: Governing Thought in the Age of Social Media

by November 21, 2016 0 comments

Popular social media platform Facebook has been criticized by users for promoting fake news content on its website. It became mired in controversy after some users complained that fake news changed the outcome of the US election.

Zuckerberg had earlier responded to criticism of fake news on Facebook by saying that over 99 percent of its content was “authentic”. Later, his stance on this issue changed and he said that the company was “looking into it.”

Now that the cat is out of the bag, there is no sense in pretending we don’t know what’s really happening.

Everything is possible in this brave new digital world. The struggle for control over access to information is the defining struggle of our times.

The growth of social media has transformed propaganda and now it’s nearly impossible to regulate or officiate it. Ironically, the way we are engaging with this medium on daily basis to share our views, we have all become propagandists!

Facebook, Twitter, and Google are under pressure to decide what type of news content is supposed to be posted on their platforms, making them reluctant judges of what is misleading, hateful or true.

But then do we really want Facebook and Twitter to decide what we can talk about? However, the internet companies could face declining public trust if they don’t act on the propaganda and harassment spreading on their sites. Social media platforms have given people the power and liberty to speak their minds out. But, such unchecked power has the potential to do more harm than right. For example, Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump on Facebook or the new INR 2000 currency declared the best currency according to UNESCO. Both the above-mentioned examples are false but have been propagated widely on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

Our new Rs 2000 note is declared as the "BEST CURRENCY OF THE WORLD."

Our new Rs 2000 note is declared as the “BEST CURRENCY OF THE WORLD” by UNESCO.

Social media and responsibility

Social media is all about responsibility as most of the people believe in the news or content that are circulating there. If Facebook is going to traffic in journalism and information as part of what they do, they are obliged to separate the truth from lies.

Using social media to spread information has become a popular method for activists to get their stories out. In popular revolutions, uprisings, and protests across the world in the recent past, social media has played a major part in mobilizing, informing and influencing public opinion and shaping consensus. International media house like CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC regularly kept a tab on the social media during the Arab spring to scoop out the relevant news.

Social media as a news agency

Social media has become a big source of news for the traditional media and now the latter is prominently covering news which appears on the social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Many media companies have made a deal with platforms like Facebook for showing their news on their news feed.

They have been forced to embrace the social as that’s where the people are and no one wants to lose a potentially massive audience. Also, many users don’t visit the news site but they are highly active on social media platforms as they get access to wide variety of content.

Social media offers anonymity

Social media can offer anonymity to people who need it, and there are several cases where accounts have been exposed as fake, or deliberately designed for political purposes. This demonstrates just how important social media is in the ongoing information war. Twitter is full of fake parody accounts and there are times when people believe the account to be real.

There is a reason why certain information on the web is visible while the other is not. Charlie Hebdo is one of the best examples in this case as it was on everybody’s Facebook feed while the massacre of more than 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram went unnoticed. The reason is that the flow of information is not unfiltered and the information which is relevant lies hidden in some dark corner of the internet.

The hashtag war between the BJP and AAP trends on daily basis and both are supported by a team of dedicated followers. This overt, as well as covert way of manufacturing opinions is powered by social media.

The social media has now become the new political battleground.

The social media has now become the new political battleground.

Noam Chomsky in his seminal work Manufacturing Consent states that propaganda is to democracy what violence is to a dictatorship. He argues that people need to work to develop independent minds as control of thought matters more to the governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states.

Propaganda and communicating technology have evolved side by side and with every new way to spread information, the dissemination of propaganda is bound to evolve as well. Breaking news and updates will always find a place in social media, but they should not be exploited to distribute fake information and to serve as a tool for propagandists who want to manufacture consent based on lies.

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.