Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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The Repercussions of Social Media


Source: Pexels

Social media has undoubtedly had a remarkable history, with a recorded number of 2.5 billion social media users. Since its introduction in 1997, social media has been a medium for connecting people from around the world, bringing friends closer, and spreading information. This worldwide and inclusive property of social media has been its uprising. However, recent discoveries of “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, as described by Facebook and Instagram, on social media sites have generated controversy on whether social media is still a positive force for humanity. What follows will be a list of harmful side effects of social network sites that have recently been exacerbated.

Foreign interference in elections

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has brought a series of contentions, many surrounding Donald Trump. Just weeks after his election, multiple reports from the CIA, FBI, and NSA firmly concluded that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” in order to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. […]Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump”. Further investigation by these agencies revealed that Russia’s methods of intervention were through state-run propaganda. This included producing pro-Kremlin content through RT and Sputnik, two Russian government funded news agencies, labeling Trump as a victim of traditional US media outlets, having negative coverage of Hillary Clinton, including accusing her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and having ties to Islamic extremism, using trolls to misinform Americans, and disruptively meddling on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram.

Another instance of foreign intervention through social media was in the months leading up to the 2018 U.S. midterms election. Russia’s Internet Research Center was the suspect of backing 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts that spread offensive and provoking editorial cartoons. Facebook found that the Internet Research Agency was a co-administrator of one of the pages that were removed by Facebook for a while

Fake news

According to a study conducted by MIT, “Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. […] It took the truth about six times as long as falsehoods to reach 1,500 people.” This may be due to the surprising and alarming nature of fake news. The science journal published by MIT found that “false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information.” This can be dangerous for anyone, as any social media user can take advantage of their platform to spread falsehoods to promote, discredit, or provoke someone or a group of people. Many of these organizations or people also use alternate accounts to rally up their base, making permanently banning anyone impossible.

There have been many fake news incidents circulated widely on social media, including:

  • Claiming that the Sandy Hook never occurred

On December 14th, 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After the massacre, stories began circulating that the grieving parents were frauds, the children never existed, and the massacre itself never happened. The parents of Sandy Hook victims also received countless death threats.

  • Election fraud

A media outlet called Christian Times Newspaper (CTN) published a story claiming that thousands of fake Hillary Clinton ballots were found in a Columbus warehouse, setting up the election as rigged in favor of her. Citizens reported their concerns (of a rigged election) to the Franklin Country Board of Elections, which later debunked CTN’s story.

  • Internet trolls

An internet troll can be anyone who provokes or upsets people by posting inflammatory and often off-topic messages in an online community in an effort to receive an emotional response. This is usually done for the troll’s amusement. Trolls can prove to be very disruptive.

4Chan is an example of a “troll” community. It is an English-language imageboard website with users posting anonymously on anything. It regularly has members “raiding” online streams (often Twitch gaming streams) where 4Channers send small amounts of money to streamers along with inappropriate or distracting content that forces the streamer to respond. But aside from their twitch streaming raids, 4Chan (with its 22 million visits monthly) has pulled off some ridiculous stunts:

  • Sending Justin Bieber to North Korea

An online promotion for Justin Bieber asked to choose Bieber’s next tour destination. 4Channers rallied up and voted him to North Korea. Justin Bieber responded by terming the contest as not legitimate.

  • Trending Hitler

When Pepsi Co. asked online users to name their new apple flavor of Mountain Dew through voting, 4Chan was able to bring the name “Hitler did nothing wrong” to the top of the leaderboard.

  • Voting Taylor Swift to sing in a school for the deaf

A contest was organized so that the public could vote for a school Taylor Swift would sing at. 4Channers swept the leaderboards.

  • Voting Kim Jong Un as Time’s person of the year in 2012
  • Convincing people that the Apple iOS 8 included microwave recharging.

After many people tried the new “wave” feature, complaints of it not working were immediately tweeted to Apple. This demonstrates that people are easily susceptible to fake news.

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