Sunday, November 12, 2017

The influence of social media

Canvassing at elections used to be done by party workers knocking on doors. Along with adverts in newspapers and television and rallies, that was the only means to get messages across to voters.

Campaigners though have got wise to the power of the Internet and increasingly use it to try and influence voters.

Unfortunately, this gives rise to powers, outside the country where the vote is taking place, to try and meddle. The chief culprit is undoubtedly Russia, a country that is desperate to destabilise Europe and more importantly to have a US President on its side.

Facebook has been told to hand over evidence of Russian meddling in British politics to MPs.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee has demanded that the US internet giant release adverts and pages linked to Russia in the build up to last year’s EU referendum and June’s general election.

It comes after Facebook admitted that fake accounts tied to the Kremlin had bought more than $100,000 (£76,000) worth of politically-charged adverts in an apparent attempt to influence last year’s US election.

Under investigation from Congress it has handed over 3,000 adverts purchased over two years by the Internet Research Agency, a group linked to the Russian Government.

The US adverts, which also appeared on Instagram and were seen by 10 million people, focused on divisive topics such as race, immigration and gun rights, and were allegedly used to help propel Donald Trump to the White House. Mr Trump has attempted to play down the impact of the adverts, saying the amounts spent were “tiny” and claiming that Facebook was on Hillary Clinton’s side.

Mr Zuckerberg has said it “just wouldn’t be realistic” to stop all interference in election campaigns on Facebook, although the company has since vowed to manually review every advert targeting people by political affiliation or race.

Twitter has also been under fire after thousands of automated “bot” accounts were created to attack Ms Clinton and her supporters during the election. Bots were also allegedly used during the Brexit referendum in an attempt to influence the vote, tweeting multiple times a day before deleting their own messages to cover their tracks. One in eight political tweets was written by a bot during the general election.

Google has also found that Russian-linked organisations bought adverts on its search engine and YouTube.

In May, the Information Commissioner’s Office launched an investigation into whether political parties broke data protection rules by bombarding users with highly-personalised adverts during both the EU referendum and ahead of the general election.

It came after pro-Remain MPs said that the Brexit-backing group Leave.EU had employed an analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica to target individual voters with extreme accuracy. Cambridge Analytica was funded with Russian money.

It must come as something as a shock to those that were influenced to vote for Brexit in this way, that they were being led by the Kremlin. On the other hand, the Remain campaign had no chance to compete with the might of Russia.

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