Social media in mobilizing extremism and disseminating false information
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed, Executive Editor, The New York Times, Bangladesh National Section :
Social media brings people together. The user groups of social media often forge imagined communities where otherwise isolated users can become connected and share information. In isolation, these groups become ideological echo chambers that amplify extreme ideas with no dissenting opinions. Furthermore, the group, often hidden from other users, provides a “safe space” for extreme ideas to be shared without consequence.
Social media serves for the extreme right is its ability to act as a power tool to disseminate information. Ultimately the rise of fake news, its proliferation on a technology that is ever-present in our current world, and the polarized extremist groups fed by these stories, have redrawn the boundaries of society and knowledge.
The boundary of fact and fiction is no longer confined to established methods of journalism or science. In fact, there are established groups with thousands of members on Facebook that believe the earth is flat and there is a giant ice wall holding all the water in at the edges (Roose 2017).
In addition to these obscure groups there are also several extreme political groups of Facebook as well. Typical group interaction consists of a member sharing an article or link and the users comment on it. Some of these groups like Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children are also an aggregated news source. This means that these groups have a staff that collect news from elsewhere and can rewrite the articles with a heavy political bias. This diminishes the original facts and promotes an emotionally driven narrative. Groups like these are the ultimate echo chambers – akin to intellectual silos – as they promote an extreme and narrow viewpoint with no outside opinion contradicting the ideas of the group.
In United States of America, in the Pizzagate and Birther cases, conservative alternative media was manufacturing conspiracy theories that were eventually discredited. These cases had no basis in reality but became true when the evidence was fabricated to validate them. According to Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist; society lost its ability to determine images from the reality they originated from.
Particularly Twitter has proven useful as a means to anonymously share and receive information. Since 2012 the following of American white nationalist groups on Twitter has increased six-fold (O’Brien 2017). This is particularly dangerous as there is a great deal of anonymity and ease in indoctrinating people though social media (O’Brien 2017). Twitter has been extensively used by the US extremists and alt-right as well as other extremist groups such as ISIS to recruit followers and disseminate messages. In addition to Twitter there are several blog sites and chat rooms used to recruit followers that can be found in complete anonymity. Therefore, public condemnation is no longer a problem to potential white supremacists or neo-Nazis and they can actively seek out information and hate friendly internet spaces with relative ease (O’Brien 2017).
The Social media also serves for extremists is to organize events. Before it was abruptly removed from Facebook the Unite the Right rally was using a Facebook event page to mobilize the various factions of the extreme-right (Heath 2017). Furthermore, many of the lead figures in these groups have massive social media followings that they used without cost or any real effort to spread information about the event to thousands of people. The same method was also used for the counter-mobilization to the event. Ultimately social media provide the means for fringe movements once deemed as deviant to push themselves into the mainstream with little effort. As a result, the public must figure out how to deal with extremists while they are present at hand since they can mobilize easily anywhere with devastating effects.