Dark Side of Social Media |
Khaleej Times - 14 June, 2012
Author: Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
There is no question that the Internet has been an overall boon to communications, education, providing a voice for the voiceless and power for the powerless worldwide.
Social media in particular have created an integrated universe where friends and strangers alike can exchange news and views. In many ways, social media have won the battle, forcing traditional news outlets to tap into social media capabilities and use them to disseminate their news.
However, with all the advantages have come many risks. I am not going to talk about the ease with which criminals have used the Internet, how law enforcement agencies have been trying to combat cybercrime, or how criminals appear to be one step ahead of the law most of the time.
Nor am I going to talk about hacking per se, which is already illegal in most countries, regardless of its motives. Or about the “Cyber Warfare,” which seems to be taking place between Iran and its opponents – Stuxnet, Flame … etc.
What I would like to address today is political uses and abuses of the Internet.
In the Syrian conflict, the Internet has been the main source of news from the inside in light of the government’s refusal to permit access by foreign media into the country.
To get the news out, activists upload videos via proxy servers, which are located in other countries, so that it’s more difficult for the government to track them.
In US politics, the anonymity of the Internet has made “dirty politics” during this election season much easier.
In the birthplace of the Internet, Americans seem to have perfected the art of Web political campaigns. During this political season, “dirty politics” is the order of the day on the Web, where anything goes. Or so it appears. Social media are changing the way political campaigns are run. Websites and social media pages seem to make the difference between a successful, well-oiled and well-funded campaign and a losing one.
The Internet has played an equalizing factor between rich and poor, between powerful lobbies and grassroots organizers.
However, Internet has made dirty politics easier as well. Opponents could use fake Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and anonymous posting that do not have to be vetted by anyone. Their authors cannot be traced, if they are careful enough, without much expense and effort.
Impersonation or the establishment of fake accounts is quite common in Twitter and Facebook, frequently succeeding in diluting an opponent’s message or reversing it altogether.
Some extremists and hard-liners have used social media to wage smear campaigns against their adversaries, taking advantage of the anonymity of the Internet and social media. There is a pattern: They create false identities and use them to start relentless campaigns, repeating the same things.
They may often establish fake accounts in the name of their victims. These witch hunts are based either on entirely fabricated news and made-up quotes, or on quotes taken out of context. After these bits of misinformation have made the rounds of social media, they move for the kill. Depending on the case, they may accuse their opponents of disloyalty or straying beyond the pale of faith.
As elsewhere, those who abuse the Internet are taking advantage of the lack of accountability that is inherent in any new activity. They are challenging lawyers and government officials to try to put a limit to this abuse, without harming the positive aspects of this communication revolution.