There’s a lot of talk about Social Media revolutions. The Twitter revolution. The Facebook revolution. While most of it is simplifying hype, Social Networks allow people to synchronize much more efficiently than ever before. And there’s lot of talk how Social Media can be used for good causes. Donations to help Japan, the environment – you name it. Brands run initiatives under the authenticity and transparency mantle, one of the keys to Obama’s success was the Social Media savvy of his staff.
This is good and legitimate.
What happens when evil regimes/people start to understand Social Media?
Brands have tried to game the social web. They posted fake blogs, fake videos, continue to buy endorsements from bloggers. I don’t think it’s ethical or beneficial for the brand in the long run. But brands are not evil. Sometimes they act pretty bad but it’s not rooted in an evil core or an evil mission/vision.
But once the military and/or government gets involved to game the social web, I’m getting really concerned. It’s happening already. According to this Guardian article, the “US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.”
The article continues:
“The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.
While I agree with Jeff Jarvis’ overall assessment (”It’s appallingly stupid, for there’s little doubt that the fakes will be unmasked. The net result of that will be the diminution, not the enhancement, of American credibility.”), I still wonder: What happens if a government starts to really comprehend the power of Social Media and doesn’t stoop to the tactics of the Nigerians spammers? What if they find ways to connect with people in the early stages of an uprising, get them to congregate and kill the revolution in its early stages?
Hitler was an early adopter of mass communication
He used radio to spread his propaganda. He owned the newspapers. Jewish men and women were depicted as greedy, hook-nosed bastards wholly responsible for the desecration of society. And he used the power of mass media to share this sickening message: comic-strips, cartoons, editorials, movies. Over time, we developed a decent nose to detect manipulation fairly quickly. Have we developed that nose for manipulation in the social space yet? Or, do we need to be more cautious?