Friends & Friction: Our social media is a hot bed for disruption


Facebook is planning to add 1 000 people to its global advert review team to help prevent the abuse that characterised last year’s US election, which was won by the menace-in-chief, Donald Trump. This is after the company admitted that it found more than 5 000 ads from “inauthentic accounts”, most likely from Russia.

It’s a tough endeavour, like trying to clean all the world’s oceans with a single sieve.

Facebook has more than 1.9 billion users and more than 5 million businesses advertising on the site every month.

Now imagine trying to police every advert in every country during municipal, regional and national elections. Impossible.

This problem is not unique to Facebook. Other social-media companies such as Twitter and LinkedIn, probably thought: “Thanks, Facebook, for taking one for the industry.”

Considering how new this technology is, it is safe to assume that many countries still lack the technological sophistication to detect malicious political advertising.

Now the question arises – how safe is democracy in the age of social media? And, by extension, can global institutions such as the UN still fulfil their primary role of keeping the world safe from disease and war?

Judging by the conflicts that are going on today, it is clear they are losing the peace. But why? Could there be a more sinister, invisible force, such as the defence industry, stirring up conflict and marketing war for profit?

“The only security of all is in a free press,” said Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US.

But what happens when the press can be manipulated through content farms in a foreign land and artificial intelligence designed to deceive? Is social media taking us back to the time when sinister corporations could pay a rebel army to capture a state if the elected government posed a threat to its commercial interests?

Rest assured – if social media posed a threat to politicians and their livelihoods, it would have been banned a long time ago.

To illustrate the point, the retirement age for ordinary citizens is 60 for women and 65 for men, but politicians are not governed by the same madness. No wonder parliamentarians treat the legislature like
an old-age home.

Social media is open to the flagrant spreading of panic and malicious rumours. This is where the real threat lies. It is fertile ground for cultists and conspiracy theorists, who prey on the young and the vulnerable.

On September 23, the followers of “contactee” computer professional Nancy Lieder claimed the world would come to an end when it collides with a wayward dwarf planet called Planet X, or Nibiru.

I visited a Facebook page called Nibiru. The last content was posted two days before the expected apocalypse. It is a video of a speeding car with the sun setting in the background.

One of the visitors to the site who is opposed to this wrote: “People like you all should be banned on Facebook! Look like you have a sick pleasure at making peoples scared of death. And to prey on ignorant peoples phobia. I know one person that committed suicide when she see this post You should be ashame of yourself. When you time come, remember you will be judge by my father ... that is GOD! [sic]”

After the La Vegas massacre this week, another cultist, Sherry Shriner, wrote on her Facebook page: “Horrific pyramid massacre in Las Vegas warned is chilling message to Trump [sic].” Earlier this year, one of her followers was shot dead by his girlfriend and fellow cultist. Shriner claimed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation killed him.

This is what social-media companies must look out for.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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