Social media are so entrenched in today's landscape that they drove some of our best and worst impulses and experiences .
Apart from cyberbullying and mistreatment, the consequences are much more serious, as when a community turns these platforms into a weapon to discredit and systematically destroy the lives of others. It is a form of armament that turns a relatively good platform into something more sinister.
But there are concrete implications for the misuse and unethical use of social networks. Some recent examples include James Gunn's retaliation and subsequent reversals for old jokes, the so-called Russian interference in important US elections and the use of false targeted news. by national and foreign actors.
How social media can be militarized
Believe it or not, social media can be used in many ways to sabotage, steal, or misinform others.
A common form is a wave of angry people – not necessarily even the majority – who mobilize and form an indignant community. The resulting noise can be filled with allegations, both true and false, that significantly harm a person's career or health.
Often referred to as "cyberbullying", it is potentially accompanied by a particularly aggressive form of verbal abuse that can have an adverse effect on the mental and physical health of a person even leading to suicide ].
Alarmingly, this also seems to be happening more often these days. To combat this phenomenon – which has cost lives in the United States, India and elsewhere – WhatsApp began to add a specific label to the messages transmitted .
Another sharp use of social media is to promote the rapid spread of misinformation. This can be done on purpose, with the intention of developing a particularly perverse rumor, or can arise from pure ignorance. People sometimes think that what they share is true and important, when it is not. This was done in increasing numbers during the last major election in the United States by various sources.
Finally, there is a more direct form of arming in which networks are used on a large scale to influence action. For example, Israel and Hamas took advantage of social media and public opinion in their war against each other.
Implications in the real world: Russian interference and false information
Such despicable uses of social media can have very real implications for both society at large and at a more personal level. People may be unjustly and deliberately dry, their careers are damaged and sometimes their lives and health may be at risk. In fact, this happens quite often when the mindset of the crowd gets in motion and a community unites to attack a particular target.
In case of foreign influence on social media, harmful forms of propaganda can be launched in the social sphere with the intention of creating dissent. Contrary to popular belief, the goal is not to politically orient more towards the left or the right. It is simply to cause a major disturbance, as much as possible, in any way that will manifest itself.
This goes from the most wacky conspiracy theories to the most credible ones. Calls for the resignation of James Comey or the arrest of George Soros. One of the Russian robots even insisted that the cops had intensified their attacks on civilians, simply because of the protests of Colin Kaepernick.
When they are shared in large numbers and repeatedly, these disparaging views and ideas can spread very quickly, whether they are true or not.
What you can do to protect yourself
It is incumbent upon us, as individuals, to learn to eliminate the true from the false. Although this is certainly not the easiest thing to do, it is almost always possible with good research.
A good rule of thumb is to always look for credible sources when reading information – and to check the sources provided. It's an incredibly simple thing to simulate, at a glance, when you add a fake hyperlink or author. Do not take for granted what you read on social media, especially if it is shared by others or in a community and there is no visible source. Memes, for example, can be a common form of misinformation and recycled.
With regard to your protection from the mob mentality, the best thing to do is to keep your opinions and relationships more sensitive near the chest. If something is, or could potentially be, a source of division, try to avoid talking about it completely, especially publicly (and permanently) online. This includes not only social media, but also all online forums, instant messaging and chat applications, and even SMS, because conversations can be easily captured and saved for later backup.
If you have already published such things, as can be done with tweets and social posts, find out how to delete or delete the resulting data. It is best to use tools for this, especially if you want to delete most of your tweets or messages. Of course, you can sort your profile and delete items one by one, but it would take forever. Better to use a tool such as TweetDelete that allows you to filter and erase up to 3,000 tweets at a time.
If you have a particular attachment to your social data, you can still save the archives. Just make sure to store it in a safe place.
In the end, the best thing to do to protect ourselves in the era of misinformation and crowd mentalities, is to take an active approach to getting our own information. Do not just take what another user or friend says literally. If you are really passionate, take the time to do some research and check the facts.