Why Facebook must be Prevented from being used to Interfere in Elections Worldwide
How Facebook can be used to Influence and Interfere in Elections Worldwide
It is a known fact that social media, while easing communications and connecting Billions of people worldwide, can also be used by political parties, unscrupulous and malevolent actors, and even businesses and corporate entities to manipulate public opinion and to influence the outcomes of myriad events such as elections in democracies worldwide.
It is by now clear that Facebook’s handling of personal data and other data about political preferences of its users as well as their likes and dislikes has, from time to time, been diverted to third parties, who then “harvest” such information to be of use to their clients, that can include political parties.
Indeed, with all the revelations about firms such as Cambridge Analytica, and its use of proprietary information to manipulate the outcomes of the 2016 Brexit Referendum and the subsequent Presidential Elections in the United States, some experts worry as to whether Facebook is dangerous to democracy.
While the situation has not yet reached the alarming state, it is a far cry from the times when Facebook and more importantly, the Internet were seen as forces for good that would introduce transparency and accountability into the political and business domains.
While Media Manipulation is nothing New, Technology makes it More Lethal
Having said that, one must also note that this is something that is not new in the entire history of the communications world. Politicians and political parties have always used the media such as the early Newspapers, then the Television, and now the Internet for furthering their interests and to influence and manipulate public opinion.
Indeed, media manipulation is something that has been with us from historical times. However, what is new this time around is the sheer reach of the internet as well as the easy and ubiquitous way in which social media such as Facebook pervade our lives.
Given its vast user base and the entire world at the fingertips, what is alarming is that Facebook has the potential to reach into our heads and turn public opinion according to the way in which its advertisers and other patrons want.
Using its fabled Big Data and Artificial Intelligence driven algorithms, Facebook can make or mar the chances of politicians and political parties and this is where canny and shrewd players such as Cambridge Analytica can use techniques that are derived from manipulation of human psychology to influence and affect the outcomes of elections worldwide.
How Psychology Explains the Methods used by Facebook to Influence Human Behaviour
On the other hand, there are those who call for the users to be more aware of such methods and who exhort them to be more vigilant and alert to potential Fake News items and blatant political propaganda.
Their reasoning is that despite the awesome power of technology, there is the element of Human Agency or Will Power that can be exercised as far as using Facebook is concerned and hence, discretion and caution are advised.
However, recent research has shown that our Smartphone driven and Social Media suffused world is indeed taking away this precise aspect. In other words, the Irresistible nature of our Digital Devices combined with social media is making us lose our capacity for Agency and the Will to Will.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, Facebook uses advanced concepts from the modification of psychological tactics to influence human behaviour and hence, what we are now witnessing is a direct assault on our psyches to change our voting patterns and to influence and manipulate people into voting for a particular party or a politician.
With its targeted advertising at vulnerable and swing voters and its persuasive format making it easier to reach out to voters, there are many who are calling for Facebook to take action in this regard.
The Stakes are high for the Upcoming Presidential Elections of 2020
However, it is doing anything but that as the recent announcement where it specified that it would not stop accepting political ads or for that matter, ads and messages that is controversial in the run up to the 2020 Presidential Elections in the United States.
While this was not wholly unexpected, nonetheless, it was something that set off alarm bells in many quarters as the prospect of misinformation, disinformation, and plain fake news helping the cause of the Republicans means that President Trump is likely to be re-elected.
This is the reason why many progressive groups in the United States are planning to take the legal recourse to prevent Facebook and other social media platforms to influence the outcomes of elections worldwide.
Of course, the opponents of these moves point to how technology is essentially value neutral and hence, there is no point in turning the Clock Back on its advancement.
However, as mentioned earlier, when technology is combined with manipulative psychology concepts, the end result can be detrimental to humankind. Therefore, this is more the reason why there must be some regulation of Facebook.
Last, the other worrying aspect is that user data about preferences and likes and dislikes on Facebook should remain with it alone and should not be sold to Third Parties.
In times when Data is the New Oil, it is tempting to make money of such personal data.
While there is nothing wrong with us, the broader point is that users must be made aware of how and what their data is being used for.
This is the basic premise under which we argue that Facebook ought to be more transparent and accountable to its users.
To conclude, these and other such battles over Data and Personal Information as well as Psychological manipulation using technological platforms are going to become more vociferous as technology becomes central to our daily lives.
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