The world over, politics has a negative undertone. And given the universality of the Internet, it doesn’t take too long before you find yourself impacted and eventually part of an agitated debate. With the rise of social media including Facebook and Twitter, tech and politics are intertwined.
The rise of social media
Some of my close friends stay away from social media. If you meet them, you could have hours of political discourse. But they’d rather stay away from mediums such as Twitter or Facebook. They have a firm grasp of political realities, but they stay from interacting on social media because they prefer debating with like-minded individuals with a deep sense of understanding in politics, rather than swaying from blind-sighted idolising to caustic crosstalk.
India witnessed a very confrontational form of discussion on most social networks. The run up to the 2014 general elections caused a surge in this behaviour. Irrespective of which side of the political spectrum you’re on, you’d find an incessant chatter that gets even the undemanding highly stimulated.
Impact on ‘law and order’
There have been instances across India, where social media and the Internet at large have been accused of being a threat to ‘law and order’. From Kashmir to the Patidar reservationagitation, social media access has been clamped down for a brief period. Such is the influence social media wields.
Since emotions run high on social media discourses, banning access to the Internet is the first remedy to prevent escalation of passions. The hope is lesser conversations would result in lesser dissipation of information. And eventually curb mobs.
Image Credits: Reuters
Image Credits: Reuters
The age of digital herds
For that matter, India and the US are no different. In India, the debate is between supporters of political parties. In the US, it’s between supporters of two presidential candidates. In both cases, the attacks get increasingly personal. In both cases, there are cases of photoshopped images going viral. There are creation of memes and the comic play of satire. Sometimes to touch sarcasm. Sometimes to lighten up the otherwise hostile online environment. As the US heads to its national elections in a month, there’s a similar outburst of emotions on social media in the United States.
Image: Reuters
Image: Reuters
Supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dig out records from the past to express their leaning and portray why their favourite candidate is
the best thing that America needs.
The choice between humans and bots
So if you’re political in thought, where do you draw your inspiration? Facts? Or social media? Without the intent to imply anything, social media is largely driven by popularity. And it’s eventually the exaggerated that gets viral. Facts, on the other hand, are usually dull and boring.
facebook trending
Not long ago, Facebook decided to hire a team of humans to watch over news so that the most popular news pieces could be picked to identify what was trending. That ended in a controversy, only to be replaced by bots.
Well, turns out that didn’t work very well either. In a unique recognition of satire, Facebook identified a news piece on our very own Faking News as trending – a day after the launch of the iPhone 7. The news? iPhone 8 will have Siri physically coming out of the phone and doing all the household chores. Attributed to CEO Tim Cook. Clearly, that was satire. But it showed up on Facebook’s trending news section. We were flattered, but it made us question how news updates show up in trending.
And that’s exactly where a distinction needs to be made between humans and bots. Humans can distinguish between qualitative aspects. Bots go by numbers.
Google News vs Facebook Trending News
Google News has been around for several years now. It’s a mix of trends, interest and variation in topics to give a perfect summary of the world of news at any given geography or vertical. Google News India for instance would draw inputs from the local Indian media across politics, sports, business and technology. Similarly, Google News in the United States would cover the same categories, but draw its sources from websites such as USA Today, CNN, and other local sites.
In the run up to the US elections next month, Google just announced a Fact Check feature that helps users believe what they see as listings in the news sections to be genuine sources of information.
Facebook tried hiring a human team, while Google took a route similar to Wikipedia where users could flag off deviation from facts. When there’s a deviation from facts, users would increasingly raise a flag that is detected by the fact check system. In the Internet world, this has been a tried and tested means to regulate content online.
Recently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey outlined the path ahead for Twitter by calling it thepeople’s news network. Gathering news from social media is still very similar to doing research based on Wikipedia. There’s no way to immediately confirm the veracity of stories we hear and comment online. To sum it up, it makes sense for online services to ditch the use of bots and algorithms in certain key areas.