Social Media, Fake News, Misinformation and Extremism

Hello French Fries!

    There is a bug going around the Denver area (where I live), and it has claimed many of my coworkers, peers and colleagues to a pre-3 day weekend sick leave. I’m afraid that I myself am starting to feel the onset of this bug inside myself. So, if you do not hear from me for the rest of the week after today, chances are I’m hiding in bed trying to break a fever and a cough. You have been forewarned. If you, like me, are a germophobe and are afraid of catching the flu, please get a flu shot! It’s not too late!

And now my rant of the day: In a blogpost last week I discussed the role of social media and social networks in cyberbullying. In the week since I discussed cyberbullying, there’s been a whirlwind of news surrounding social media and it’s role in society, so I intend to circle back to the topic in this post. Social media and social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, are a very important and valid tool for spreading information and organizing grassroots political movements. They are as important to political and social life today as cable was in the 90s, and traditional newspapers were for a century prior. However, many of the authors and actors of the dissemination of information over social media, like me, are a one-person act.

     With this blog, which I share on my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn networks as often as I can, I am the sole researcher, author, editor, and organizer. I do this by myself, with no assistance or support. Now, that’s not to say that once my blog become a big smashing success, I won’t invite guest bloggers every now and then to contribute a post, but I’m not at that point yet. Traditional cable news networks and newspapers have specialized teams. They have a lead researcher who researches an article, another person or team will draft the article, another person or team will review and polish the article, a further person or team will then edit the article and then another person or team will decide weather to publish the article and how. With a newsroom or publication staff, there is a specialization of work, but also an inherent system of checks and balances that ensure that most articles released are accurate, well thought out and appropriate. Lone wolfs utilizing social media, such as bloggers like myself, do not have this system of checks and balances. While I may be a morally upstanding citizen with no nefarious and ulterior motives, other bloggers and social media content developers may not share my values of observing and reporting with impartiality.

Social media is truly a democratizing form of information sharing. Anybody can put out there anything they would like, and it can be seen without editors determining it’s value first. There is a reason why President Donald Trump is dubbed the Tweeter-in-Chief. He uses twitter as a platform to communicate his views and opinions without the need to go through the traditional channels of the White House Communications Office. While achieving his goal of quick and instant communication with his followers, it does come at a perceived cost of legitimacy. Like Donald Trump, and many other political campaigns and movements, social media such as Twitter is used to spread information through the lens of the author’s worldview. This includes persons and organizations with what would normally be considered socially and politically extreme views, who use social media to communicate those views, organize around them, and act upon them.

Over the past couple years, prominent examples of extremism utilizing social media to promote their ideology have come to the fore. The Islamic State (or ISIS) has been quite adept at attracting recruits and spreading information through social media. They even started their own social network to create an echo chamber unencumbered by dissenting opinion. The leaders of ISIS are quite aware that social media sites such as Facebook are one of the best places to meet and recruit disillusioned youths who feel an angst to lash out, and they know how to reach out to these youths and turn their angst into their destructive force. It must be noted that the Islamic State is a criminal and terrorist organization. Their members, while few, are not representative of the peaceful and contributory Muslim community at large, just like the Ku Klux Klan is not representative of the Christian community at large. Similarly, like the Islamic State, the Ku Klux Klan has been able to use social media to it’s advantage.

  During and after the conservative wave of 2016 that elected Donald Trump rose to power, many different and diverging far-right extremist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and White Supremacy organizations unified behind the banner of the ‘Alt-right’. Like the Islamic State, the Alt-right has utilized the medium of social media in order to spread their views, attract recruits and organize their movement. Also, just like the Islamic State, the Alt-Right has created it’s own social network in order to possess an echo chamber unencumbered by dissenting opinions. They have utilized the social media to organize events such as the Charlottesville protests in August. However, the Alt-Right and the Islamic State have both found out that while anybody can say anything they want on social media, this does not prevent their words and thoughts to be used against them in the court of public opinion.

Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites have recently ratcheted up their efforts to cull extremists from their sites. Just this week, Twitter has started to ban many prominent alt-right leaders due to hate speech. It’s not just the companies running the social networks that are repulsed by hate on their sites, many users after the Charlottesville protests used social media to identify and out violent members of the Alt-right who were present at the speech. This clamp down on hate speech on social media has let to sympathizers of the Alt-Right and the Islamic State, amongst other extremist groups, to claim that their rights to free speech have been violated (for those in the United States, freedom of speech is protected under the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution). Some have gone as far as to use the bans to further their own agenda. However, from a legal standpoint, the first amendment applies only to government actions. Since Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are run by companies and not the government, conventional wisdom states they are not bound to first amendment considerations when they block somebody for their speech. However, this becomes a legally grey area when government officials using social media become involved and block certain followers for their speech.

    As mentioned above, the President loves to use twitter as a medium of communication. He also has a pattern of being intolerant towards dissent from his opinions. One of the features of twitter is the ability for users to follow other users, and comment on their posts. Donald Trump has made it a practice to block comments that disagree with him, and to block the users of who’s comments he disapproves. While twitter is a platform owned and managed by a company, Donald Trump, as President of the United States, is a public governmental official, so his blocking of dissenters on his twitter platform could be possibly unconstitutional. There is a lawsuit filed by several blocked critics of the President that will be interesting to watch. It could redefine how the government and social media companies interact, and the consequences have the potential to be far reaching. Regardless of how this lawsuit is ruled, it points to one undeniable truth: Social media is a very relevant and important form of mass communication in the modern day existence.

    Now for my tech tip of the day: While there is snipping tool to record images from your screen, and audio recorder to record sounds surrounding your machine, there is not a built in video recorder of what your screen is displaying. There also is not a good free option available to download off the internet as far as I’m aware. For me, this has been a problem because I’ve been encouraging my coworkers to live stream their presentations on webinars for attendees who can’t make their presentations in person. I like to record their webinars in order to build a digital library of the work my organization does. The workaround I found is through Powerpoint. If you open a new slide in Powerpoint, and go to the ‘Insert’ tab, there is category under the tab called media. In this tab, there is an option called ‘Screen Recording’. If you select this tab, your screen will go grey, and a box will appear. In this box there will be an button called ‘Select Area’ that you must select and then frame the portion of your screen that you want to record. Then you can hit the record button, it will give a countdown from 3 and then start recording. When you are finished recording. You can select the resulting video that pops up in the slide, right click it, and select ‘Save Media As’ where it will give you the option to save the video file separate from PowerPoint.

I thank you for being a loyal reader of my blog. If you have differing opinions, similar opinions, or unrelated opinions with relation to social media, or just want to give me a compliment, please comment in the comment sections and let’s get a dialogue started. Otherwise…

…the catsup is in the sauce.

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