[…] But this new darkness lives almost exclusively on our smartphones and
almost always involves exploiting an American company’s platform.
Roughly 70% of smartphone users have an Android phone; the remaining 30%
are on Apple. There are 2 billion monthly active Facebook users, 2
billion monthly active YouTube users, and 1.5 billion monthly active
WhatsApp users. And when it comes to digital media, Facebook and Google
control almost 60% of the digital advertising market, with Amazon as a
distant third.The way the world is using their phones is almost
completely dominated by a few Silicon Valley companies. The abuse that
is happening is due to their inability to manage that responsibility.
All of this has become so normalized in the three years since it first began
to manifest that we just assume now that platforms like Facebook, YouTube,
WhatsApp, and Twitter will exacerbate political and social instability.
We expect they will be abused by ultranationalist trolls. We know they
will be exploited by data firms. We wait for them to help launch the
careers of populist leaders.To be sure, populism, nationalism,
and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of
history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress.
Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being
hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations. Why is an American
company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like India,
Italy, Mexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out
for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and
governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off.
And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.
[…] But it really doesn’t matter what country you’re in. The dance is the same everywhere you go.
Chances are, by now, your country has some, if not all, of the following.
First off, you probably have some kind of local internet troll problem,
like the MAGAsphere in the US, the Netto-uyoku in Japan, Fujitrolls in
Peru, or AK-trolls in Turkey. Your trolls will probably have been
radicalized online via some kind of community for young men like
Gamergate, Jeuxvideo.com (“videogames.com”) in France, ForoCoches (“Cars
Forum”) in Spain, Ilbe Storehouse in South Korea, 2chan in Japan, or
banter Facebook pages in the UK.
Then far-right influencers
start appearing, aided by algorithms recommending content that increases
user watch time. They will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to
transmit and amplify content and organize harassment and intimidation
campaigns. If these influencers become sophisticated enough, they will
try to organize protests or rallies. The mini fascist comic cons they
organize will be livestreamed and operate as an augmented reality game
for the people watching at home. Violence and doxxing will follow them.
Some of these trolls and influencers will create more sophisticated
far-right groups within the larger movement, like the Proud Boys,
Generation Identity, or Movimento Brasil Livre. Or some will
reinvigorate older, more established far-right or nationalist
institutions like the Nordic Resistance Movement, the Football Lads
Alliance, United Patriots Front, or PEGIDA.
While a far-right
community is building in your country, a fake news blitz is usually
raging online. It could be a rumor-based culture of misinformation, like
the localized hoaxes that circulate in countries like India, Myanmar,
or Brazil. Or it could be the more traditional “fake news” or
hyperpartisan propaganda we see in predominantly English-speaking
countries like the US, Australia, or the UK.Typically, large
right-wing news channels or conservative tabloids will then take these
stories going viral on Facebook and repackage them for older, mainstream
audiences. Depending on your country’s media landscape, the far-right
trolls and influencers may try to hijack this
social-media-to-newspaper-to-television pipeline. Which then creates
more content to screenshot, meme, and share. It’s a feedback loop.
Populist leaders and the legions of influencers riding their wave know they can
create filter bubbles inside of platforms like Facebook or YouTube that
promise a safer time, one that never existed in the first place, before
the protests, the violence, the cascading crises, and endless news
cycles. Donald Trump wants to Make American Great Again; Bolsonaro wants
to bring back Brazil’s military dictatorship; Shinzo Abe wants to
recapture Japan’s imperial past; Germany’s AFD performed the best with
older East German voters longing for the days of authoritarianism.
All of these leaders promise to close borders, to make things safe.
Which will, of course, usually exacerbate the problems they’re promising
to disappear. Another feedback loop.
[…] A study released this month
from the UK found that poorer British readers got less, worse news than
wealthier readers. And according to a new study by Pew Research Center,
only 17% of people over the age of 65 were able to identify fact from
opinion. Teenage Instagram wellness communities are already transforming
into mini Infowars-style snake oil empires.There
are deserts of information where normal people are algorithmically
served memes, poorly aggregated news articles, and YouTube videos
without any editorial oversight or regulation. Fact-checkers in Brazil complained
this month ahead of the election that most voters trust what their
friends and family send them on WhatsApp over what they see on TV or in
[…] In the final days before the second vote, it was revealed that Brazilian marketing firms have been using WhatsApp
to flood voters’ phones with anti-leftist propaganda. Then [Bolsonaro] announced
in a Facebook video several days later that if he becomes president, he
aims to change a rule created by WhatsApp that limits the number of
simultaneous messages a user can send at once.