Sunday, February 04, 2018

No Time To Sleep

Robin Sears writes that social media have pioneered four new techniques --  disappearing ads, fake senders, massive targeted volumes and anonymous sponsors. Each represents  a clear and present danger to democracies.

He illustrates how they work and what their implications are:

You ride the streetcar home one spring morning next year, flipping through missed messages after a frantic work day. A tweet pops up with an embedded video that immediately plays a nasty attack on Justin Trudeau, making claims about corruption. It is sent by someone you have never heard of, on behalf of an obviously fictitious organization. Irritated, you scroll back to replay it, to try to figure who sent it.
It is gone.
A few seats back on the streetcar, another Twitter target discovers something strange about a good friend’s account. Not only have her followers grown from 1,700 to 700,000, she is saying things about Jagmeet Singh that are repulsive. She texts her pal, who is appalled at this online impersonation and immediately deletes her account. She is unaware that her digital doppelganger lives on and can be cloned thousands of times with almost imperceptible tweaks to her photo or her bio.
The New York Times last week reported that the going rate to buy stolen or fabricated IDs and retweets on the dark web is little more than one dollar for 1,000 fake Twitter accounts. A dollar.
If you have thought it improbable that some tech writers have estimated that somewhere between a third and half of Trump’s 47 million claimed followers are fake, do the math. That would have cost helpful supporters not more than $25,000, less than a dinner event at Mar a Lago.

The problem is not with the technology. It's with the corruption and subversion of the technology. It's taken Facebook and Twitter awhile to catch on to what nasty users have done to their platforms. But the damage done is now quite clear:

We are naked and vulnerable, however, where two earlier stage threats to a level playing field are concerned: pre-election social media advertising by unknown third parties, and massive campaign period overspending, paid for offshore undetectably. This is not a future problem or fantasy. The U.S. campaign was a victim of these techniques, and probably others yet to be revealed by Robert Mueller.

Some countries -- like Britain and Germany -- are wrestling with antidotes to these viruses:

The Germans and the Brits are forcing the social media companies to be responsible for content on their networks, the real identity of those sponsoring it, and provably tracing the source of the payments. But these are enforcement techniques mostly useful after the fact.

In Canada, we are just waking up to the problem. And, in the United States -- where the current president benefited mightily from the subversion of a new technology -- they're still sleeping.

This is no time to sleep.

Image: Education News


Toby said...

"The problem is not with the technology."

I disagree. Facebook and Twitter make their money with technology which is incredibly easy to abuse. A choice was made that profits are more important than privacy and security. Fixing the technology would severely cut into the profits so don't expect more than cosmetic fixes.

Trailblazer said...

I hate to sound defeatist but it is increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
We live in very dangerous times where truth is concerned.
We have , in Canada, a very consolidated media which is , generally, Conservative and a corrupted internet service the providers of which are as consolidated as the printed press and TV/Radio.
The USA and the UK have succumbed to conspiracy news and their Governments make policy upon those "facts".
The; is Elvis still alive and the 911 conspiracy theorists have nothing to today's daily spewing of false news, innuendo and scare mongering for advertising dollars$$$.
The world has become so screwed up it relies upon celebrity entertainers for guidance.
When Oprah is looked upon with more reverence than Stephen Hawking , we are in bad shape.


Rural said...

Facebook, Twitter and other 'social media' are IMHO insidious manipulations of their users and I have, and will continue to, avoid them like the plague. If that makes me an old fuddy duddy thats ok for I dont need or want 100s of 'friends' or 'followers' and prefer to think for myself and not be fed a barrage of useless information.
Gess my age is showing, Owen......

Owen Gray said...

It's about the ends to which that technology are harnessed, Toby. Seventy years ago, Edward R. Murrow said in an oft quoted speech that television opened up kinds of possibilities. But if its purpose was to sell soap, it was, he said, "just lights in a box."

Owen Gray said...

I agree with you about the corrosive effects of celebrity, TB. It's worth remembering that Donald Trump sowed his political oats by telling people on a televion show that they were fired.

Owen Gray said...

So is mine, Rural. Having said that, I should note that my wife has a Facebook page. She got on it to keep an eye on what our kids are doing. She has a few friends -- mostly relatives. But she is horrified by the amount of personal -- and useless -- information that she sees.

Trailblazer said...

O'h my, what becomes us as neighbours of these idiots?


Owen Gray said...

What do you do when your next door neeighbour is clearly nuts, TB?