Who is Responsible For Making the World Less Tolerant?

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Cast your minds back to before the big Facebook algorithm change in 2014. Before a new smart algorithm appeared, refreshing a Facebook newsfeed brought up a whole stack of new posts from friends appearing in chronological order. Or so it seemed.

If we know what the threats are, humanity can still win
If we keep communication alive and sharing facts and real information we can beat the manipulators. Photo by Moses Vega on Unsplash.com

Then there seemed to be a dramatic change? The news feed had become editorialized, as if social media was deciding what each person could see.

This is a new and emerging aspect of technology, which seem to be straight out of a science fiction novel, which we are now learning about because of a few brave people.

To be aware of what is going on is to not allow yourself to be controlled or dictated to by it.

Since the run up to the Presidential election in the United States, social media has been awash with press stories with a seemingly increased political bias. The source of these has now been revealed.

Today, it is possible to pull the various threads of isolated reports together to get a bigger story. Journalists essentially learn how to see through bias and seek truth through media in much the same way that a scientist is able to work with laboratory research findings.

How the Russians were involved

The Internet Research Agency was set up in Russia. In the wake of Trump’s election as president, reports of social media being flooded with Pro-Trump media stories have appeared in British and American newspapers.

The best representation of voters wishes could result in a fair race
Candidates in American politics are not always fairly balanced between candidates. Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash.com

The contract that Cambridge Analytica made with Trump’s campaign was to influence the vote by micro-targeting “persuadables”. These were people whose online behaviour suggested that their vote could be influenced by seeing various news stories. The paid advertising and other posts by disingenuous profiles that appeared in their Facebook news feed was to lead them towards voting for Donald Trump. On his campaign trail, Trump was presented as the candidate who could fix the problems this person that had been told were a threat to the American nation. Apparently, 70,000 swing voters in a few states caused the result.

The same tactic was used for the Leave campaign to persuade British voters to vote for Brexit. This result was won using a distortion of the truth, which left many voters a little dazed and confused after the results were announced.

There was a point made by Brittany Kaiser recently on Netflix’s documentary The Great Hack. Brittany started as an enthusiastic intern working for the Obama administration to initiate engagement between the voting public and the President. When Barack Obama was elected to his second term it seemed as if the White House followed everyone on Twitter.

Unpaid by both Obama and Clinton, Brittany then found work with Cambridge Analytica in 2014. Meanwhile, Facebook hosted a quiz, which gave users a chance to find out their personality type. This quiz mined data on millions of people.

Harvesting data was made possible with Facebook

Cambridge Analytica was a new type of communications company, made possible by new technologies such as social media. It would be considered incorrect for a company to turn down a client because it did not agree with their politics. Therefore, various nefarious agendas began to roll out over social media, targeting people whose behaviour patterns revealed that they could be influenced by media.

data has become the most valuable commodity above oil
Media and communications is now global but not every country as the same freedoms. Photo by Ariane Hackbart on Unsplash

Cast your minds back to the United Kingdom in 1983. We had a general election, which was won by Margaret Thatcher. Political historians have now suggested that it was media that swung this election for Thatcher. At the time, unemployment was rising steeply and Thatcher was unpopular with the working classes and those on a lower income. However, with the advent of Breakfast Television and cosy chats on the talk show sofa, the public got to see the human side of politicians for the first time. This greatly influenced the vote.

If you look at Britain’s Registry of Ministers’ Interests, a pattern emerges. Start in 2005 with the Conservative Party leadership contest, won by David Cameron. This blog post sums it up: Cameron was funded by all sorts of private donors with money and other means to aid his campaign.

Beating Big Money

In contrast today, it was wonderful to see Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’ victory in the 14th District of the Bronx in New York as portrayed in Knock Down the House on Netflix. This shows that grassroots campaigns can still beat big money.

The above story about Ocasia-Cortez reminds us why people working together can still triumph over big budgets.

It can appear to be very hard to keep confidence in doing what you think is right today. The media is used to discredit, call out or shame people through money passing hands in secret. However, a Dan Backer article in the Washington Examiner article on 21st February 2019 states:

Money is simply a tool used to disseminate ideas to the public.

There is much evidence to say it is not that simple at all. Money has been spent on manipulating people through their social media accounts. They have been influenced because they have not been given all the facts on a whole range of life issues that govern their lives.

The motives for writing this article are justice, fairness, equality, doing what feels right and to remind us of the magnificence of our humanity. The phrase “follow the money” can be applied to determine any ulterior motive for a story appearing in any form of media.

What has happened?

The following BBC article provides a timeline for micro-targeting through social media. In the United States of American, Mueller is investigating the effects of political manipulation and media influencing through the purchasing of data gleaned from millions of people via social media.

This political manipulation started, as the Guardian reports, with Ted Cruz’s campaign. Three years ago, the Guardian’s Harry Davies reported:

Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission

American political campaigns have often played quite dirty. Digging up dirt and slinging mud at the opposition has been witnessed. However, never have people been manipulated to this degree to act against their true selves.

There is still something to be said for be in amongst the people
Ordinary people can still connect with candidates from within their communities to represent them in parliament. Photo by Juano Colombo on Unsplash.com

In conclusion, the whole scandal involving Facebook, Russia’s Internet Research Agency, Cambridge Analytica, British strategic communications firm SCL working for Nigel Farage’s Leave Campaign, Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and other elections can be called a gross manipulation of voters. Evidential fact and truth have been lost in a sea of fake news. However, there is an upside. People such as Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez can still beat much richer opponents.

However, what we ought to be aware of and protect ourselves against is a military-style tactic of weaponizing communications and using social media campaigns to influence and manipulate people. Particularly, when this results in crime, hate and harming other people. The rise in gun culture in America could be the impact.

Using any technological device could result in a company harvesting your personal data
Means of harvesting personal data from people’s use of technology is not declared transparently. Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

The manipulation of voters in your own country to achieve your political ambitions takes political bias to a whole new level. With print media bias, they are exposed to stories which favour one political leaning over another. One side gets more column inches than the other. One set of leaders appear in photographs more than the other. One side is asked for quotes or invited onto TV more than the other. One side is simply mentioned more than the other. This report by the London School of Economics demonstrates political bias in recent British politics and media.

However, with the more recent development, articles devoid of journalists’ standards of balance and objectivity, which convey predominantly right wing views have flooded social media. People in disagreement have circulated these stories to criticize them and people who agree have shared them widely amongst their networks.

 

 

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Sophie Sweatman
Born in south London and brought up in Surrey I had a very enjoyable social and active childhood and then got sent to boarding school where the only escape was team sports and music. I greatly enjoyed trying to predict number one records. My first published piece was in the school magazine, then after my O’levels I got the plum work experience job on the local paper and after a second attempt at house style, got all the wedding reviews printed that I had written up, plus a few extra pieces. This led me to a job offer at GQ magazine but my “housewife and mother” education was continued and I went to cookery school. I started work writing for a café and booking bands, which led to work experience at Lynne Franks PR, where I learnt to do music listings, putting me in good stead for 10 years of music promotion. I booked bands at the Laurel Tree in Camden in 1997 amongst various other places, some sadly gone. Some curdled mayonnaise later I went to an art college, which was part of the American College in London to do all sorts of art-based subjects and being taught English in American was interesting but they taught Harvard Referencing so well it was no bother and I got a top grade for a 10,000 word dissertation on music law focusing on George Michael’s court case against his record company. After looking for work in non-arty south west London I moved to Crouch End and had a painting exhibition in 1994. After working for the local paper I got into the London College of Communication to do a postgraduate in periodical journalism. This was followed by an industrial placement at the Camden New Journal, where I wrote health columns inspired by What Doctors Don’t Tell You a newsletter started by Lynne McTaggart that still goes today. The Camden New Journal also inspired me to do theatre reviews, which I did each week for the London Newspaper Groups stable of papers from 1998 til 2000. My thirties was spent on self-development, resulting in a good job by 2010, when I started planning a move out of London. With an unconditional place at London College of Communication to do an MA in Broadcast Journalism but instead I moved to Falmouth and did a Professional Writing MA. In Cornwall I write for various publications and work for a record company promoting musicians and local artists. I still read What Doctors Don’t Tell You and research on health, nutrition, ancient humanity, science and various other subjects.