Recently, a woman on Facebook admitted she received most of her news from social media. If true, she is making a couple of mistakes. First, she is foreclosing on ideas outside her narrow group of like-minded friends. Second, she’s vulnerable to fake news, much of it propaganda coming from foreign governments and generated by bots rather than people. (#IHeartMyDictator,” by Sean Williams, New Republic, Jan/Fe. 2017, pgs. 13-15.)
Rodrigio Duterte, president of the Philippines has an army of bots, about 20% of his campaign, that posts supportive comments about his death squads, which the dictator describes as part of his war against drug trafficking. Human trolls are paid up to $2,000 a month to do the same job. But Duterte isn’t alone. China has mobilized government bureaucrats known as the “50 cent” army. They are charged with creating 450 million fake pro-government comments a year. Turkey and Egypt aren’t far behind. Needless to say, Russia has mastered the art of internet propaganda. (Ibid pg. 15.)
Sadly, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, once had a dream. He believed social media would serve the will of the people. But governments soon saw the potential and have stolen the megaphone. As bots drown out dissent, Zuckerberg’s dream is morphing into a nightmare.
Our new president, Donald Trump, himself a master of Twitter, seems aware of social media’s dangers and may be reconsidering the pro-technology stance of his predecessors. He offers this advice to the unwary: “It’s very important, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe.” (Click)
I doubt Trump’s advice will be heeded. Technology’s genii escaped the bottle long ago. Today, a human’s greatest weapon is judgement. Rely on social networks as the main source of information and you risk becoming a vessel into whom evil doers pour out their wicked thoughts. The internet isn’t dangerous. Uniformed minds are.