Social Media, Vanity and Inconstancy

The Times produced this analysis of the vanity of social media sites and usage:

“Tough questions are being asked in Congress about the role Twitter and Facebook played in last year’s US election, forcing “Big Tech” into an unfamiliarly defensive posture (Boer Deng writes). A growing body of evidence suggests that Russia used social media to sow civil discord.

Broader questions are being asked over whether Silicon Valley has delivered on its promises of benign revolution, or if too-casual oversight has allowed its platforms to be exploited by darker forces.

By the time Barack Obama was elected to the White House in November 2008 he had more than 2.5 million Facebook followers and had banked $639 million from digital fundraising. Washington quickly came to accept social media as an indispensable campaign tool.

In 2011 Facebook was at the centre of the Arab Spring. A site created by Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, helped to begin the Egyptian uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power. As social media fuelled rallies in Cairo, one activist tweeted:

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to co-ordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”

Similar revolts played out elsewhere. Social media networks played a role in anti-government demonstrations in Turkey while in America they helped to open a new chapter of the civil rights struggle in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Simultaneously, however, the same tools were being harnessed by autocratic regimes to quash dissent, and by terrorists to sow chaos. In Moscow, President Putin’s supporters began to seed the internet with propaganda and disinformation. Nashi, a youth group sponsored by the Kremlin, spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in 2012 posting pro-regime messages on popular sites. Russia’s alleged efforts to exploit Twitter and Facebook in the US election are the subject of several investigations.

Islamic State became cruelly efficient in its use of social media to recruit would-be jihadists. On average the terrorist group released 38 new pieces of content a day in 2015, including videos, documentaries, audio clips and photographs. Its output was compared to that of a consumer goods giant such as Pepsi.

The story of Egypt suggests however, that movements built on social media grow quickly but are too fragile to endure. After Mubarak was ousted the Tahir Square protesters were pushed aside. More robustly organised institutions achieved power instead the Muslim Brotherhood, and then the military.”

Taken from The Times, Friday 22 September 2017.

Chaucer, in the Clerk’s Tale, puts it like this

 “O stormy peple! Unsad and evere untrewe!
                “O stormy people! Inconstant and ever untrue!
996        Ay undiscreet and chaungynge as a fane!
                Ever undiscerning and changing like a weather vane!
997        Delitynge evere in rumbul that is newe,
                Delighting ever in rumor that is new,
998        For lyk the moone ay wexe ye and wane!
                For like the moon ever you wax and wane!
999        Ay ful of clappyng, deere ynogh a jane!
                Always full of chattering, not worth a penny!
1000      Youre doom is fals, youre constance yvele preeveth;
                Your judgment is false, your constancy proves evil;
1001      A ful greet fool is he that on yow leeveth.”
                A full great fool is he that believes in you.”