Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

To what extent do social networks influence elections?

¿Hasta qué punto influyen las redes sociales en las elecciones?


The concept of 'fake news' is incorrect. A news, to be such, must correspond to a fact. By definition, therefore, it can not be false. The best definition of the phenomenon is disinformation or propaganda. Both ideas are much older than the Internet. Beyond the defining debate, there are those who even question the real scope of the threat.

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The case that brought fame to the 'false news' was the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Investigations by prosecutor Robert Mueller recently concluded that: "no evidence was found that Donald Trump's election campaign was carried out in accordance with Russia." This also does not mean that the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the famous 'Trolls Factory' in St. Petersburg, has not tried to play a role in that election.






"No evidence was found that Trump's election campaign was carried out in accordance with Russia"


According to the latest available data, cited in an analysis by Niccolò Locatelli for the geopolitical magazine Limes, the Russian agency managed the publication of more than 9 million tweets between 2013 and 2018, more than 80 thousand organic posts and 3,519 sponsored content on Facebook between 2015 and 2017. The IRA tweets represented 1% of all those inherent in the elections that appeared on the platform in the two and a half months prior to the vote. It seems a lot, but it is not.

Russian action, as explained in a study conducted by the Computational Propaganda Project from the University of Oxford, he focused mainly on topics capable of involving the undecided and directing them towards Trump, as well as reinforcing the convictions of conservative voters. Issues such as the right to own arms and immigration were central in the attempt to push part of the electorate towards the Republicans.


"That the Kremlin has tried to influence the presidential elections of 2016 is undeniable"


"That the Kremlin has tried to influence the presidential elections of 2016 is undeniable and, from a geopolitical point of view, impeccable," reasons Locatelli. "For Moscow it made sense to favor the victory of a less Russophobic and, above all, less experienced candidate. At the same time, and with the backing of the data, the Russian intervention was irrelevant. Reinforced only established guidelines, "he notes.





Something similar to a classic case of 'bubble filters', in which most of the news, true or 'false', is consumed by a small minority of politically active people with highly oriented information diets. These profiles are more willing to accept dubious statements, but according to their preferences.

Examples of accounts that Twitter associated with Russian propaganda efforts during the US elections

Examples of accounts that Twitter associated with Russian propaganda efforts during the US elections
(Twitter)

Other investigations show that the majority of voters did not visit the pages and platforms where the Russian action took place. Undoubtedly, Facebook was a perfect vehicle to disseminate misinformation, but the Trump and Brexit victories in 2016 had already matured beyond the digital sphere. The truth is that too many unforeseen events in such a short time needed a culprit and Marck Zuckerberg, without doubt, ownsle physique du rôle'

It should also be remembered that the threat of disinformation as a tactical weapon in political confrontation has not been agitated only by Western democracies, but also by China and even by Russia itself. From there comes the suspicion that some governments use a real problem as a pretext to limit the freedom of the network in your own country.






The alleged 'fake news' becomes an alibi for defeated candidates "


As the political analyst Dario Fabbri writes: "the supposed 'fake news' fail to affect the strategic processes, while they become alibis for the defeated candidates, who do not take long to attribute their bad results to unlikely evil forces. Or they end up being a justification offered to governments of all kinds to reduce freedom of expression in their countries. With the prejudice, more or less malicious, that it is necessary to defend the citizens of themselves ".

That said, if the online disinformation for purely electoral purposes may have more limited effects than is believed, no doubt very dangerous are the lies that try to spread false theories in the field of health. On YouTube, a seven-minute clip that misinforms tumors has been viewed more than 7 million times and Russian "trolls farms" have been discovered bombarding American citizens about the false risks of getting vaccinated.


We have moved to a 'mass-self communication'


Conspiracy theorists and land-planners have always existed, but now they have formidable platforms that increase the speed and spread of contagion. In the same way, the political propaganda he has always taken advantage of all the means at his disposal. After the murder of Julio César, Octavio had some short phrases recorded on the coins, where Marco Antonio was described as a womanizer, alcoholic and potential traitor. It was not true, but the Romans ended up taking the side of the future Augustus. Propaganda of a lifetime.





The substantial novelty is that the network has reduced the filter function, traditionally played by journalists or members of some elite, between political information and citizens. In the definition of Manuel Castells, one of the leading experts on the Internet, we have moved on to "mass-self communication" A completely new type of communication, whose structure is formed by an innumerable number of points connected to each other.

Soviet government propaganda poster starring Russian writer, actress and sculptor Lilia Brisk.

Soviet government propaganda poster starring Russian writer, actress and sculptor Lilia Brisk.
(Wikipedia)

The interaction between the subjects that move within this new form of mass communication is carried out through a "many to many" scheme, completely different from the one that characterizes television, radio and newspapers. This scheme necessarily leads to new implications in terms of legitimacy, credibility, diffusion and nature of the messages transmitted.

"With the Internet, you do not need a regulator to stay informed. In social networks you will always find someone willing to tell you what is happening according to their point of view. This empowerment of the citizen coexists with the demonization of large institutions and organizations. Hence, a large number of citizens believe more what they read in networks than what official communications say, "explains Eva Moya, Cyber ​​Threat Intelligence Manager.






The empowerment of the citizen coexists with the demonization of the great institutions and organisms "


This reorganization of the system has not been digested by all the actors involved, including traditional media. "Focusing on the phenomenon of 'false news' served to pressuring the Internet giants to take greater responsibility about the content that they host and, at the same time, to try to limit an increasing power and freedom of action and not always in line with the strategic objectives of the governments, "says Locatelli.

There is no doubt that Efforts should be made to promote digital literacy and teach people to distinguish between correct and incorrect information, rather than promoting widespread cynicism. Because, beyond the just warnings, creating alarms and exaggerated paranoia towards 'false news' could have negative repercussions even on the credibility of legitimate news. Until ending up in a world where nobody believes anything, or only what was already believed.

The 2018 Eurobarometer ensures that almost 80% of Spaniards are faced with online misinformation at least once a week and 55% of these Internet users are convinced of being able to identify it. "The threat is real - Moya warns - and the challenge facing the democratic societies of our time is to protect freedom of expression without it becoming the weapon that destroys them. In this case, the best antivirus is education and culture in the use of technologies ".






The challenge is to protect freedom of expression without it becoming the weapon that destroys them "




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