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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.

tech giants
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

Facebook Down Again? Chill as The World Has Not Ended Yet

Joining the outages, Twitter’s dashboard TweetDeck went down on July 2 in Europe and the US before it was restored later

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FILE - The Facebook logo is seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. (VOA)

By Radhika Parashar

Imagine this: All of your favourite social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Twitter have stopped working for an unspecified time period. Are you anxious, nervous or still a relaxed soul?

This year has seen several incidences where everyday apps faced major outages running into several hours in India. To the respite of users, they had Twitter to fall back upon as it was the only app functioning most of the time.

“Outages make us realise how much do we actually depend on Internet and apps. People even have apps that remind them it is time to drink water. And if these apps stop working, one can imagine the plight. Social media outages make me uncomfortable and restless,” Deepansh Jain, a 21-year-old college student from Mumbai, told IANS.

Managing a global user-base of over 2.38 billion people, Facebook and its family of apps, including photo-messaging app Instagram and WhatsApp, have collectively suffered five major outages in the last four months. Out of all the Facebook’s apps, Instagram experiences downtime the most.

On March 14, Facebook apps recorded their longest ever 12-hour outage. While people speculated possibilities of cyber attacks, the social networking giant denied the speculation and blamed “server reconfiguration” for its app blackout.

Following Facebook, in the last four months, Google services like Gmail, Maps and Calendar also broke down three times for users worldwide.

On June 3, Google apps such as YouTube, Gmail and Nest along with Snapchat and other web services stopped working for users in the US and Europe for four hours. As the company promised to probe the issue, a service disruption caused a three-hour long Google Calendar outage globally.

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Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are displayed on an iPhone, March 13, 2019, in New York. VOA

“App outages are scary. Personally, I instantly start fearing worst-case scenarios like if my account has been hacked. I just go blank,” said Sheena Sharma, 25, from Bengaluru.

Not just social networking apps, other Internet-backed services like voice assistants are also vulnerable to outages. On May 16, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa suffered outage in the US for undisclosed reasons.

Throughout the outage period, when users asked Alexa for assistance, it replied: “Sorry. I’m having trouble. Please try in a little while”.

Also Read- Researchers Develop an Algorithm to Predict Storms, Cyclones

Joining the outages, Twitter’s dashboard TweetDeck went down on July 2 in Europe and the US before it was restored later.

The outage report said there were “issues at TweetDeck”, with nearly 400 complaints just within 20 minutes. Down Detector said there were “problems at Twitter”.

“While all apps have faced outages, Twitter still holds the forte and brings people from across the world to vent out their frustration on its platform. As soon as any of the apps stop working, I immediately check Twitter if it is just me or an actual blackout has happened,” said Aayushi Aglawe, a 23-year-old media intern from Pune. (IANS)