Is your ‘opinion’ your own?

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 11 November 2017

During the last few weeks, quite a few stories regarding politicians and social media have emerged. Last week, some very popular right-wing social media figures turned out to be...fictitious. They never existed. Turned out they were created by an alleged Russian troll ‘farm’ near Saint Petersburg. Earlier back home, some of our own politicians allegedly hired bots to swell their social media presence, creating the impression that they are getting popular, and these kinds of allegations have been levelled against leaders of both ruling party and the opposition.

During the last few weeks, quite a few stories regarding politicians and social media have emerged. Last week, some very popular right-wing social media figures turned out to be...fictitious. They never existed. Turned out they were created by an alleged Russian troll ‘farm’ near Saint Petersburg. Earlier back home, some of our own politicians allegedly hired bots to swell their social media presence, creating the impression that they are getting popular, and these kinds of allegations have been levelled against leaders of both ruling party and the opposition.

Hashtag wars are nothing new for regular social media users. Open up Twitter and see trends. Chances are, you will find at least two or three tags are trended by followers of particular political parties, who target their opponents, who either hit back using the same hashtag or trend one of their own. However, what should remain confined to debate or at worse arguments or at the very worse a flame war, is now giving way to something more sinister. It is giving out a false aura of appreciation/dissent, thanks to the troll armies now being employed by everyone.

These attacks leave no stones unturned. At the very worst, such bots or troll armies are used to spread misinformation. With social media fast becoming a critical factor in media, such armies now have serious potential to wreak havoc, as due to the cut-throat competition, not enough time may be given to seriously fact-check everything being thrown at you.

And while we may try to deny it, social media is now fast becoming a tool to manipulate our opinion. With our life fast becoming entwined around social media, such barrage of information or misinformation can have far-reaching effects. Social media played a critical role in events like Arab Spring. This kind of reach is being widely used to try to manipulate our thinking and opinions.

And this kind of behaviour is not limited to politicians alone, corporate entities are also using such tactics. And they are not fully to blame here. For brands, grabbing visibility is highly essential. So, you either have to be very clever or very rude. Even controversy raises the brand visibility. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. And it may draw in more customers, thanks to the manufactured controversy.

Yes, this is a very George Orwell-esque scenario, and it is all too real.

PS: Even as we read this, another manufactured controversy has sprung up regarding a gold medal instituted by a private entity in the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU). It is an award by a private entity, which is not in the ‘forcing anybody to accept their demand...or else’ scenario. It is solely their prerogative to set the eligibility criteria. Yet there is a lot of hot air being generated over a nonexistent ‘discrimination’’. Now, you wouldn’t go into an only-veg eatery and protest because they don’t serve non-veg food, right? Yet this is precisely what is happening, in an effort to skew our opinions.

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