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Social Media Weaponized by Power-Crazed Politicians

Today the rise of the Internet has spurred the development of a new dimension for social and political participation.

by Zulkifli Nazim

When you distort truth it is harder for people to figure out what is real and what is spin.

“The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.” G.C. Lichtenberg.

Unfortunately the current political world we live in today is full of what this quote describes.

No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade.

Politics is an essential human activity – essential in building societies and communities based on rules, laws and a balance of conflicting interests. Politics is complex and difficult. It requires a high level of responsibility and commitment from citizens, political parties, parliamentarians, government executives, the judiciary, the media, businesses, non-governmental organisations as well as religious and educational institutions.

Good government depends on an ability to exercise power, and to make good decisions over time, across a spectrum of economic, social, environmental and other areas. This is linked with the government’s capacity for knowledge, mediation, resource allocation, implementation and maintenance of key relationships.

However, a study on the confidence of people in institutions, show that people do not place much trust in politics and politicians. Politicians are often seen as selfish and corrupt, power-hungry and unethical.

Today the rise of the Internet has spurred the development of a new dimension for social and political participation.

In today’s age of timeliness and demand for information, social media has continued to play a crucial role in informing the public about politics, campaigns and elections. But while the public demands information from the media, there is also an underlying cynicism in the world culture against the media and politicians for negative campaign coverage and a perceived media bias.

There is no doubt that social media has brought change to politics.

Facebook and twitter played a vital role in influencing different political ideologies. This trend of using social media to share information, mobilize and even have an impact to the society is not just for Sri Lanka alone, but the impact is felt worldwide.

Ordinary insignificant and contemptible situations have been ignited and catalysed by social media among all people, arousing inflammatory debates using the social media as their main tool of political mobilization for destabilizing an otherwise normal peaceful country. This shows that anyone with any opinion can highlight it on this platform, whether right or wrong.

Social media now provides the structure for political conversation. And the problem is that these technologies permit and allow too many fake news stories from untrustworthy sources to spread like wildfire over networks of family and friends.

Apart from being used for good causes, social media have also been exploited for ethnic hatred; a usage that has heightened ethnic tensions, and sometimes has threatened to create ethnic tension and plunge the country into ethnic unrest.

What they post online, could include inappropriate postings such as discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct and political bots to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing political content, disinformation, hate speech, and junk news.

An ideal fertile ground for politicians who shamelessly, wantonly and openly use both the main stream media as well as the social media, as a weapon to serve their agenda, as they seek to consolidate the nation against an imaginary enemy.

The impact of Social Media in our lives is all pervasive, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles and fall prey to fake news that further reinforce their views.

It is very unfortunate that there is no clear laws in our legal system to regulate misinformation and disinformation on what can be done to offenders who misuse these avenues that promote hate speech and violence.

Hate speech covers many forms of expressions which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons.

It poses grave dangers for the cohesion of a democratic society, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. If left unaddressed, it can lead to acts of violence and conflict on a wider scale. In this sense hate speech is an extreme form of intolerance which contributes to hate crime and civil disorder resulting in lashing out in a violent public disturbance against authority, property and people; where theft, vandalism, and destruction of property, public or private are rampant, unrestrained and unchecked.

Our government should be cognizant and alert of the dangerous link between hate speech and violence. Proper and effective legislation must be enacted and implemented and those in power must understand that criminal prohibition is necessary when hate speech publicly incites violence against individuals or groups of people. At the same time ensure criminal sanctions are used as a measure to eradicate such destructive behaviour all along.

It is also important that a balance must be kept between fighting hate speech on the one hand, and safeguarding freedom of speech on the other. Any restrictions on hate speech should not be misused to silence minorities and to suppress criticism of official policies, political opposition or religious beliefs.

Underreporting of hate speech and hate-motivated violence is another unfortunate feature. Victims rarely report incidents to the authorities for fear of retaliation or of not being taken seriously, or because they have no confidence in the justice system. This contributes to lack of data which makes it difficult to quantify the extent of the problem and take effective measures to address it.

The states has a duty to provide practical support to those targeted by hate speech and violence and enforce proper law and order, to prevent any recurrence.

The influence of Social media cannot be just dismissed. If the social media and technology platforms were not both valuable and powerful, there would not be an issue to address. There is social good and commercial value that we should recognise and celebrate. Connecting people, providing an open exchange of information, these are worthy goals, and our world would be diminished without people working to meet them.

As Thomas Ambrose puts it, “While social media is not as essential for survival as traditional public utilities such as electricity, water, and natural gas, many people believe it has become vital for living in an interconnected world and without it, living a successful life would be difficult”.

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