The manipulation of news as filtered through the Twitter lens is becoming increasingly worrying. The story that broke over the weekend of a Chinese official tweeting a fake image of an Australian soldier with a bloody knife to the throat of an Afgan child is bad. And gross.
What is worse is that the tweet was then manipulated again and amplified by thousands of accounts that were discovered to be fake.
What was debatably worse still was that Twitter declined a request to take down the tweet. Just to be clear – a fake image aimed at demonising a country, using fake accounts to amplify it.
Filters are only as good as the information they are given to work with, in the same way that AI is only as good and as biased or otherwise, as the data they learn with.
Some filters can be so bad that they are amusing. An arts and antique shop in Scotland (that ships anywhere) has had items banned from Facebook recently. One was a gun, a tiny (smaller than nail clippers) replica gun that is actually a tie pin, the other, also a brooch or tie pin, in the shape of an arrow. Both contravened Facebook’s policy on weapons.
Social media manipulation is becoming a big challenge, adding to the already huge challenges that companies like Twitter and Facebook are grappling with. The fact that social media is now open to manipulation by global superpowers is, frankly, frightening. This is particularly worrying as it means that Twitter does not have to do what a country wants it to do. It is, in this case, more powerful than Australia.
Where this manipulation ends is anyone’s guess, but it will get worse. Just as in the world of security, 2021 looks like being the Year of Extortion, it is also likely to be the year of manipulation.
The means of manipulation will also become more sophisticated, as this example shows. Interestingly, this one was amplified using a variation of the Streisand Effect. This was identified decades ago when Barbara Streisand’s house in Malibu was photographed for a harmless book on houses by the sea. Three people had looked at the image of her house until she asked her lawyer to stop it being used. At that point, that became the story, and the image went viral and global instead of being seen by a handful of people who would not have known if the house was Streisand’s or Uncle Tom’s.
Propaganda is not new, nor is the manipulation of the media, but one thing is for sure. It is becoming a veritable digital minefield and needs to be defused, with care.