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!