18:18 5 September 2018
Post by: WBJ

Is the internet evil?

A WHILE AGO I developed a habit of listening to inspirational podcasts while running. The other day I was out running and happily consuming my hour of wisdom from thought leaders in storytelling, social media marketing, brand building and company value systems, when I heard one of the speakers say: “Twitter has become so evil and angry – people are taking to Twitter to complain, disagree and share their dissatisfaction.”

 I am hardly an avid twitter  user myself, but the word “evil” in connection with social  media started to haunt me.  There is obviously a lot of room for abuse there. When  you think about it, people share a lot of things they haven’t  verified or often even read. And like most parents, I  fear that my kids see stuff they shouldn’t see and follow  influencers they don’t understand. Search algorithms  profile you and feed you content based on your history  of activities online. They probably know more about you  than you’d ever want them to. It’s all very disconcerting, I  know, but the internet isn’t going away. We already spend  15-20 percent of our time with it every day.  But what should really make us uneasy is the fact  that someone may be deliberately using the internet to  manipulate us, trying to destabilize democracy and create  unrest. Few companies have made as many headlines  recently as Cambridge Analytica with its infamous  involvement in manipulating the 2016 US presidential  election. By now we’ve all expressed disbelief and outrage  over the mind-boggling numbers: how Russian  agencies managed to reach 126 million  American voters through their Facebook profiles  alone, published 131,000 tweets through  robot-operated accounts and uploaded 1,000  videos to Google’s YouTube service. The fact  that they used people’s own data against them  to create conspiracy and defraud the US, to  set Americans against their own government  – that really makes me wonder whether there  is indeed evil deeply entangled in the fabric of  the internet.  What is even more mind-boggling is how  long the scheme remained undetected. It took  Facebook six months to realize its data had  been stolen and was being used unlawfully.  And many people who were manipulated still  aren’t aware of what had happened and how  they became the target of fraud. After all, many  of them never really read through the messages  they received. They skimmed, scrolled and  browsed. And in the midst of all the scrolling,  they became a tool for an attack on democracy.  Now that is scary.  Of course, in general the internet has been  an invaluable source of good: think of all the  knowledge we’ve gained, the help we’ve been  able to find, the fun and entertainment it has  provided, including the ability to stay in touch  with people even when they are on the opposite  side of the globe. But all that is true so long  as the technology is consumed responsibly  and in moderation.  Let me pose a little question: Do you  read more than just the headlines you come  across on the internet? Do you actually watch  through the entire two minutes of the videos  that Facebook accounts provide from brands,  news outlets and from your friends?  You’ll probably answer: yes, at least sometimes.  But if you’re completely honest with  yourself, you know that more often than not,  you’ll just scroll, snap the top and you don’t  bother to get the whole picture. The quantity  of the content is just too overwhelming for  us to act differently. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? To  always just scratch the surface, never get to the  bottom of things, never fully understand.  On the bright side, Facebook, Google and  Twitter are taking measures to avoid similar  situations from happening in the future. They  claim they will work together to spot sophisticated  threats earlier and coordinate with  law enforcement when appropriate. But even  if they actually put their money where their  mouth is, will it ever be enough?  Anyhow, they’d better behave. Margrethe  Vestager and the European Commission are  after them!   

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