(Photo: flickr.com/Chris Potter)
#Politics_is_best_left_untouched. Putin, Xi Jinping and CIA 'like' this post.
There’s nothing more entertaining than a good ol’ Facebook-faceoff, with users, protected by the wall of internet anonymity, trading blows that question the opponent’s sexual orientation, parent’s health and whether or not they’re high on narcotics. Such exchanges culminate into a rich tapestry of modern public discourse. It’s all very millennial. Now these “debates” that are often triggered by even the most benign of posts, can turn next-level ugly when belligerents are split between political matters. Enter loudmouth bullies, know-it-all blowhards and grammar-SS to beckon a new plane of hell on derp.
A SNS fight between smug left-wing douchebags and raging right-wing maniacs usually ends with no apparent victor, and those of us that intently watch these comment-brawls with a detached mindset in one hand and microwave popcorn in the other, are left with the piece of wisdom that politics is simply not to be meddled with by the faint of heart. Now here’s the scary thing. According to a study by Harvard researcher Gary King, large big-brother governments may be responsible for injecting such passive thinking into our minds by not only monitoring, but actually delegating the political opinions shared in the theoretically “free-for-all” realms of social media.
China's grasp on SNS chatter/Image: arstechnica
Based on leaked emails from the Chinese Internet Propaganda Office (all things accounted, ‘propaganda’ seems too Hydra? A re-branding should be in order), China’s government deliberately fabricates 488 million social media comments a year through some 43,000 members (i.e. moles, trolls) of its “50 Cent Party”(no, not the rapper), a derogatory term that refers to online supporters of the Chinese Communist Party that supposedly sell their services for a measly price.
These government operatives work full time, receiving directives each morning from the government, and create eloquently written arguments and discussions designed to influence a rather easily-swayable SNS viewership. These online trolls are aware of all potentially derisive political events before they are even publicized by the media. So when a problematic topic surfaces, they proceed to divert the attention of netizens away from such controversial issues. According to King, the goal of the 50-Cent Party's massive covert operation is to “regularly distract the public and change the subject, as most of these posts involve cheerleading for China” by touting “the revolutionary history of the Communist Party or other symbols of the regime.”
The cooler '50-Cent Party'/Image: Donbleek.com
The government’s 500 million posts are surreptitiously injected into the SNS stream, along with the rest of the 80 billion social media posts of the country. This means that one of every 178 social media posts on China’s SNS is created by the government. Given that a vast share of internet chatter is composed of cat memes and vulgar references to male and female body parts, the actual penetration level of governmental messages on “essential” topics, is alarmingly monstrous. Might I remind you, China also separately practices censorship on all anti-governmental content. It’s all very 1984 really, to think you have fingermen at the corner of every timeline and fan page.
Now, is this dark authoritarian hand on social media, our last vestige of liberated discourse, an issue isolated to the most populous internet nation in the world? Definitely not. All super-powers, pre-Cold War and otherwise, are in on the action. Russia apparently has a thriving industry of hired keyboard mercenaries that reinforce political messages and monitor potentially threatening dissident comments. Anyone steps too much out of their lines, Mother Russia will ship you off to a Siberian Gulag (well, not quite, but a prison nonetheless), as was the case for Bubeyeva, who was among 233 convicted in Russia last year for “unlawful” SNS activity. Bubeyeva shared a picture of a toothpaste tube with the words “Squeeze Russia out of yourself!” and was sentenced to two years in prison. Putin seems to take SNS censorship almost as serious as his vodka. Almost.
Does he see all posts written in Russian soil?/Image: tumblr
The US is in on online propaganda as well. Apart from well known pseudo-conspiracy theories on the extents of the now inactive Patriot Act, more recently, a pro-Hillary Super Pac curiously announced last April that it would spend $1 million to keep SNS attackers of the Clinton cause at bay using tactics that the aforementioned Chinese and Russian governments used. The Bernie Sanders campaign had specifically countered the “Bernie Bros” narrative by saying that orchestrated SNS trolls have falsely created the image that the Sanders cause is a sexist one.
It’s really hard to get egotistical and self-obsessed men to agree on a single thing. However, controlling the potentially adhesive yet pugnacious nature of SNS platforms seems to be on the agenda for jumpy government leaders worldwide. We will never know the extent to which government “sanctioned” trolls pollute the SNS informational sphere. Everyone will simply deny it. If we dwell on it too long, they'll throw us a bone about a UFO citing or a disastrous celebrity divorce. But it’s a very scary thought to imagine finding black suits knocking at your door for sharing your cents on a political issue mentioned on Facebook. Not seeing why it's scary? I would like to see you using League of Legends language knowing that armed agents were lurking around at every corner of your bedroom.