How social media has been used to fuel propaganda

Progress Namibia - How social media has been used to fuel propaganda
21 January 2019

Back in the day, the radio, much like social media today, was revolutionary because it allowed information to be transmitted quickly and uniformly to vast populations. Unfortunately, it was often used to promote and spread bad and false information. Radio became a powerful propaganda tool. It was an important tool for Nazi Germany, was used during the First World War in Great Britain, and closer to home, it was used in the genocide in Rwanda. Both prior and during the Rwandan genocide, the radio station Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (and other forms of media) was used as an instrument to create a Tutsi enemy image. It is deeply psychological (using, e.g. Spillman and Spillman's 1991 paper that talks about the seven characteristics that connect to the syndrome of the enemy image). Paranoia and hate spread through the masses, and well, we know the tragedy that ensued. The perception of "us" versus "them" is a key consideration in pushing propaganda, usually so that a small group can take over power.

Now we have the internet. A tool that was supposed to connect humanity, beyond boundaries, race or religion. But social media has been used in exponentially increasing amounts to spread propaganda and hate. People garnering for power have deployed armies of fake accounts to do this. Recently, innocent men and women in India were massacred after fake stories about them stealing children spread on WhatsApp. A study in Germany found that the more people used Facebook, the more attacks there were on refugees. Many elections around the world have been influenced by propaganda through social media, including Trump's USA, UK's Brexit, Brazil's recent elections, and risk many others, including Canada, the upcoming EU elections, and so forth. Given the current global situation, and the ease in which ignorant hatred is spread, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves on what is fact, and what is false. It is easy to want to push blame during frustrating times, but problems are much more complex (most often) than our perceptions that they are coming from a single source.

This is the time for humans to be conscious and step together, make an effort to understand each other, and not let fear and 'us' versus 'them' continue to fuel humanity to a place of deep regret and shame. We need to learn from our history - the world wars, the genocides - instead of just repeating the same cycles with more advanced technologies.

We can all inform ourselves better on an individual level. Remember, facebook, google, twitter, all take permanent note of what you enjoy reading, like, etc and therefore make sure that the type of news you get will always be perpetuating your world-view. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are more open-minded.

If you want to do something at a more collective level to make change, then support Avaaz's campaign through donating or directly joining them through your skill set and time.

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