Tuesday March 26, 2019
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Social Media: An Instrument Of Influencing People

It is a welcome feature of the new age we live in that leaders of the government and those in the opposition take to social media for reaching out to the people to explain their stand on issues of the day.

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Social Media has facilitated a phenomenal rise of businesses in terms of both products and services and created many positive socio-political trend

The Age of Information that set in with the success of IT revolution some three decades ago pushed the world economy and cross-border human interactions up in a transformational manner and established globalisation as a new reality.

It has facilitated a phenomenal rise of businesses in terms of both products and services and created many positive socio-political trends. There is a new level of global competitiveness in business that is good for customers and a new kind of power of communication in the hands of citizens that forced transparency of governance, making it difficult for dictators to politically survive for long.

It is the destructive side of the use of cyber space, however, that is beginning to show up more and more — at the level of individuals, organisations and nations — and clearly converting even the social media into a weapon of perception management, political combat and proxy wars.

In India, the Twitter campaign that was designed to show that the Modi regime had created an atmosphere of intolerance towards the minorities, the orchestrated criticism of the government for creating a ‘surveillance state’ following an order of the MHA authorising the Intelligence agencies to scan any computer resource for reasons connected to national security and the escalation of the Pakistani ISI’s proxy war against India through the clandestine use of social media for radicalising Muslim youth in Kashmir and elsewhere, illustrate this point.

It is a welcome feature of the new age we live in that leaders of the government and those in the opposition take to social media for reaching out to the people to explain their stand on issues of the day.

Social Media
Social media is a means of raising the people’s voice, which is fine, but more often than not, it is now used as a tool for motivated campaigns of vested interests within or outside of the country. Pixabay

US President Donald Trump uses Twitter to an amazing degree for announcing his foreign and domestic policies and issuing rejoinders to his critics. This is also now a part of electoral politics that depends heavily on perception management.

In India, political propaganda is being made on social media even in disregard of the prohibitory provisions of the IT Act — now under adjudication — that punished calls for violence, inflammatory pronouncements having the potential of creating communal disharmony and statements insulting the national flag. Though the dividing line between what is gross and abusive on the one hand and suave and convincing on the other, has thinned out as far as the political discourse is concerned, use of the power of social media has now become a significant factor in India’s electoral battles — resort to ‘fake news’ notwithstanding.

The concept of influencing the will or behaviour of adversaries is not new and is now being practised with full vigour across the world because it is a low-cost option also for targeting masses or voters in an election. Citizens are now increasingly impacted to shape the outcome of elections and to pressure their governments to change policies.

Social media is a means of raising the people’s voice, which is fine, but more often than not, it is now used as a tool for motivated campaigns of vested interests within or outside of the country. The Indian government has been compelled, in recent times, to have close scrutiny of the NGOs suspected of precisely doing this and examine their funding and links to safeguard national security and integrity.

In technical terms, the aggregated data, when processed through advanced algorithms can reveal significant material for perception management. ‘Influence operations’ exploit emotional vulnerabilities. Political parties, and even external forces, use social media platforms for circulation of misinformation and even fake videos to create apprehensions, manipulate perceptions and mould public opinion.

Parties are now going beyond the old practice of ‘bribing’ voters to use technology of data firms and services on hire for targeting communities on social media so as to tilt voting behaviour in their favour. They use analysis to decide what the focal points of their campaign should be.

Cyber-enabled operations are now an integral part of Information Warfare. A planned effort to use technologies and devices is made not only to steal the target’s data for monetisation, which is a part of competitive business today, but also for pursuing hostile missions such as degrading the target’s systems to deny the advantage of information to the latter and planting manipulated information to elicit a particular response on selected issues.

There are increasing incidents of data breaches in India. Some three million records were stolen, lost or exposed in the country in 2017 — a whopping increase over what happened in 2016 while in 2018 millions of records were believed to have been compromised in the Aadhaar breach alone.

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In India, strong laws protect the Right to Privacy in the use of social media.(Wikimedia Commons)

There are large leakages of data from MNCs. Cambridge Analytica was suspected of having harnessed data of millions of Facebook users, of which Indians were a significant segment. The firm reportedly leveraged them for political campaigns. Its parent company reportedly had links with British Intelligence agencies. Similarly, Microsoft is said to have routinely shared the financial details of Indian bank customers with Intelligence agencies in the US – the Reserve Bank of India had reportedly flagged this breach.

Information Warfare has moved towards its combat version — cyber warfare — which, in turn, is fast getting integrated with general warfare. Cyber operations are now set to play a decisive role in a military combat. The US has elevated its Cyber Command to the status of what is called the Unified Combatant Command. China has created a Strategic Support Force to provide necessary support to the Chinese Armed Forces during war and protecting Chinese interests in cyber space during non-war periods. Russia has special forces for information warfare. Artificial Intelligence-based cyber weapons are being developed by major powers with the result that Information Warfare is becoming Intelligence Warfare, adding to its surprise element.

In India, strong laws protect the Right to Privacy in the use of social media. The public does not realise, however, that entering cyber space is like being on a public thoroughfare or in a public park where you are completely visible and have no right to demand that people did not see what you were indulging in.

Also Read: Social Media Giant Facebook Rejects ‘False’ Claim That Half of its Accounts are Fake

On social media, you should not do what you are not supposed to do — there would be a legal deterrent in place. The government is also tightening the law for service providers to deter them from passing on personal data for commercialisation. In the Indian context CERT-IN has reported a very large increase in cyber attacks in recent months – more than half of which originated from China and Pakistan.

India’s security set-up is seized of the threat posed to our national security by Islamic radicals who are being indoctrinated on social media and the sleeper cells of terrorists who are being funded and logistically supported by their master minds from across our borders through layered communications on line.

In short, social media is as much a tool of progress for the law abiding as it is a weapon of proxy war for our adversaries. Preparing for warfare outside of the battlefield is the new challenge for the nation. (IANS)

Next Story

Should Live Broadcast on Social Media Platforms be Banned?

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India

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Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. Pixabay

Would you want your teenager to watch terrorists killing people in the real world or someone committing suicide? No one, in their right mind, would ever want their kids to get exposed to such events, simply for the repercussions that such content can have on young impressionable minds.

But with a smartphone on their hand and Facebook installed in it, chances of them watching such horrific content some day cannot be denied, especially because the social media giant allows all its users to go live.

The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook.

Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast, but it was watched about 4,000 times before being removed from the platform. By that time, copies of the 17-minute video were later shared in millions on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.

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The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook. Pixabay

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. So does that mean that live broadcast on social media platforms should be banned?

“What happened in New Zealand was one-of-a-kind heinous exhibition of brutality and terror. I don’t think the world has become so bad that we should see such things occurring repetitively,” Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at market research firm techARC, told IANS.

“Live streaming is an essential part of social media platforms and as video becomes the default mode of communication over digital platforms, live streaming empowers users to be real time on these platforms,” he added.

Youngsters also find the facility, which is also available on YouTube and Instagram, useful for broadcasting their travelling adventures and tutorials.

“The ‘live’ feature on social networking platforms could be good for people who want to publicise stuff like their travel, fashion or subject tutorials,” said 25-year-old Rijul Rajpal who works with a film production company.

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The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. Pixabay

Many even find it helpful for connecting with their favourite film stars and music icons. But despite the usefulness of the feature, one cannot deny the potential of misuse of the feature, especially because the social media companies have still not developed a technology that can prevent the broadcast of live shooting.

Facebook said that its Artificial Intelligence (AI) system could not automatically detect the New Zealand shooting video as the system was not properly trained. It promised to improve its technology so that broadcast of such videos can be prevented in the future.

ALSO READ: Trump’s Son-in-Law, Jared Kushner’s Whatsapp Habits Worry Cyber Experts

But policy makers are not impressed. In the US, tech firms have already been asked to brief the Congress on March 27 regarding their response to dissemination of the video of the New Zealand terrorists attack on their platforms.

The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. (IANS)