Social media fuelling dirty politics ahead of General Election

Technology aids spread of propaganda. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Technology aids spread of propaganda. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

With slightly more than 60 days to the General Election, I am shocked but not surprised at the flavour of content that is surfacing on the interwebs, sponsored boldly on ad networks, shared covertly via social media and also going viral on various instant messaging platforms as meme’s and the all too common “sent as received” forward.

Politics is said to be a dirty game and propaganda is the muddy pitch where truths, half-truth and blatant lies can be presented as fact, through pithy well spun prose, smart editing of audiovisual content and dodgy undercover dossiers aimed at crippling the campaign of an opposing camp.

Decades past, save for the diehard tradition of dishing out money and holding rallies, the only other way to polarise the public was through the distribution of printed matter, often in the dark of night in neighbourhoods or townships riding off word of mouth to great effect under the cloak of anonymity.

Today, “word of mouse” makes short work of any content deemed controversial or interesting enough, often reaching population scale in a matter of hours and silently tugging at the emotional heartstrings of an electorate that publicly calls for peace and democracy but quietly harbours prejudices, and biases that even education — formal, informal and via media campaigns has been unable to normalise and rollback.  

That we are now able to hyper target the electorate, it is very easy to entrench biases and by the same measure also plant doubt in a way that is deeply immersive, essentially having everyone exist in their own little bubble — fed just enough to elicit feelings of domain expertise and get them hooked on the source without a care or concern to question the source and or agenda.

This is how the game is played the world over, often with specialist teams, flown in fresh from a victory thousands of miles away to concoct new technology and data driven wizardly and deliver the kingdom.

There is a much talked about crack squad that has been mandated to seek out such propaganda, covered under the big umbrella of hate speech but I posture that they are ill equipped to effectively police these political streets; given that they may even currently be in their own profiled segment and any form of sleuthing outside citizen reporting will probably lead to nothing.

The technology and tools that allow for this to happen can be used for greater, tangible good and it is indeed disheartening to see them deployed in this way in the quest for political power.