Social Media Has Been Weaponised

Many people now rely on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram to find and connect with each other. Our growing love of social media is not just changing the way we communicate, it’s changing the way we do business, the way we are governed, and the way we live in society all at breakneck speed. The recent mob attack on the US Capitol shares a familiar pattern with the use of social media to recruit and organise extremists and has been used by ISIS and other terrorist groups.

 As social media is a relatively new technology, there's little research to establish the long-term consequences, good or bad, of its use.  However, multiple studies have also found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

While there are benefits, it’s important to remember that social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connection. It requires in-person contact with others to trigger the hormones that alleviate stress and make you feel happier, healthier, and more positive. The latest figures show that there are 3.78 billion social media users worldwide in 2021, a five percent increase from a year ago. It is also 920 million more than the number of social users in 2017, which represents a whopping 32.2 percent jump in just five years. The average annual growth rate over this period is 7.2 percent. 

Social media has become a major part of numerous lives through countless websites and apps and people have been able to connect with others and share their thoughts, emotions and experiences. It’s been able to provide a source of entertainment and shopping, and many businesses have even found it useful for promotion and marketing.

At this point, social media has had such a huge impact on society that it seems like many people couldn’t live without it. 

Social media has also had a number of disadvantages that have affected our lives. This includes the result of major problems having to do with mental health issues, insecurities about one’s self, and addiction. Through the weaponisation of social media, the Internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, “Twitter wars” produce real world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. 

The result is that armed conflict, technology and and politics have blurred together and turned into a new kind of battle space that plays out on our smartphones.

The first wars in human history were fought with sticks and stones, but modern warfare is a high-tech battlefield where social media has emerged as a surprising effective weapon. From Russian hacking to influence the American election to online recruitment for terror groups such as ISIS, an array of players are using false news and bogus accounts to stoke fear, incite violence and manipulate outcomes.

During the Arab Spring, the power of social media to drive major political change burst onto the world stage. The promise of Twitter and Facebook to help democratically minded protesters share information, organise protests and ultimately free themselves from dictatorships looked almost unstoppable.  However, hoped for democratic gains across the Arab world have proved unsustainable and another aspect of the technology became prominent emerged. Within a few years, Isis was using the Internet to mobilise recruits, spread propaganda, and encourage attacks in the United States and elsewhere. 

Then there came an actual attack on the US conducted via social media itself, the spread of Russian disinformation as part of an effort to sway the 2016 American presidential electionMore recently been used to create and encourage the storming of the US Government buildings in Washington DC.

The important 2018 book LikeWar by Peter W. Singer and Emerson Brooking tackles the mind bending questions that arise when war goes online and the online world goes to war.  Probing into the darker and hidden aspects of the internet, the book outlines a new way of understanding and defending against the unprecedented threats of our networked world, in which  ISIS copies the Instagram tactics of Taylor Swift, Internet trolls shape elections in other countries and the governmnet of China uses a smartphone app to police the thoughts of 1.4 billion citizens. 

For a technology that’s designed to bring people closer together, spending too much time engaging with social media can actually make you feel more lonely and isolated.

World Economic Forum:   Wharton:      DefenseOne:      The Atlantic:    Oberlo:    HelpGuide:      Summit News

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