INK158: The politics of and in social networks

Original Italian version by Ilaria Marciano. Cover by Alberto Fusco.

Our everyday life is adapting more and more to the standards of a continuous digital evolution. This new reality, tangible and undeniable, is not only to be found in instant messaging, but it is penetrating through our day to day life, even in the most intimate parts.
With respect to this, let’s think about how being political, live and perceive the politics have changed, and probably politics itself, with the introduction of social networks. First of all, we have to observe that every party has a Facebook page, to share updates, ideas and new suggestions with millions of users. Still, it doesn’t seem to be anything worrying: everything is normal, they’re comforming to new trends.
At this point, the problems are on two different levels: one is about who is the person who uploads news and material of a certain party (or its members), the other one has to do with who is using the socials. This two issues are deeply connected. On the one hand, we have the immission of web material that counts millions of views and shares, material that can be used from a political opponent against the party that actually uploaded it, as a mean of propaganda. And, concerning this, during these last years in particular, the phenomenon of fake news has kicked in, and these are news that are created ad hoc in order to denigrate certain political characters, or their party.
That’s not all: the aim of fake news is also to grow the likeability of a party by creating news to encourage, for example, the hatred for some social cathegories.
This first problem is connected to the second one, that rises on the users’ side. In fact, it is very common for news on socials to be considered without an actual counter-testing, in a way that is frankly uncritical.
This dogmatism is what actually reveals to be dangerous, since its dissemination on the internet reaches inconceiveable speed, with respect to the times in which news were only printed, or broadcasted on radio or television.
To share a concrete example of fake news, let’s remember the press case of the muslim woman in front of Westminster, after the attack of 22nd March 2017, photographed while walking past the victim’s corpse with the phone to her ear. This picture has been used on socials by agitators and political opponents to symbolize the indifference of muslims in front of this attacks. But, even if the truth was another one, the version that got spread and commented was the false one.

With respect to this, it is interesting to meditate about Eli Pariser’s essay, called “The filter bubble. What the internet is hiding from you”.
The american intellectual, that has been studying the relationship between personal freedom and technology for a long time, generating this way many debates, explains in an effective way, in his essay, how behind Internet colossuses are data collection companies, ready to sell our data to advertisers, creating a web marketing world that gets more and more constrictive. For instance, if on Google we look for a pair of shoes, there it goes: magically, on every website we browse, will pop out ads related to the product we have looked for before. But this can be extended to every research we make on the Internet, even the ones related to politics. And so a concatenation of fake news articles appears, and these are specifically created in order to give us the image of a tailored world, made up of news that contain those contents that we strongly desired to read.
The one told by Eli Pariser is just one of the ways with which the web tries to create a reality tailored on its users. That’s why the entrace of politics in the internet world is a double-edged weapon: we actually have the possibility of getting updates and immediate confrontation with other users, but, often, because of dogmatism, the risk is to fall back for believing into news that influence our beliefs and, consequently, election results. And we’re not talking about a minor inconvenience.

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