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Social media, shock value and the elections

Plenary session of OCEAN (Open Collaboration with East Asia New Champions) 16 in Panglao, Bohol. Philstar.com
PANGLAO, Philippines - Social media has made it easier to spread information online but it has also made it easier for misinformation and incomplete information to go viral.
 
Data scientist Reina Reyes, speaking at a round table at the OCEAN 16 Summit on social media's effects on recent elections, said that the personalization of news feeds on social media means that content on a person's news feed will be very different from the feed of another.
 
She said that since social media is now the primary source of news, this personalization has also led to a "very extreme polarization," with people on either side of a political issue only seeing views and news that validate their positions.
 
Stephanie Sy, founder of Thinking Machines Data Science, said that the modern information system is easier for voices on the fringe to influence.
 
For fringe voices like the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTs) and other marginalized groups, this is a good thing. Social media has become a means to amplify a message and to gather support and gain allies from relative safety.
 
Part of that, Jayakant Srinivasan of the Organizational Studies Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said, is that social media is a large platform that is easy and cheap to use. 
 
For many, including social media influencer Mocha Uson, Facebook is a tool against what is perceived to be biased media.
 
"I use my blog to spread the good achievements of the president and his administration, and to express my opinion on recent events since social media has now evolved – it is now a platform that we can use to express our beliefs and to enjoy our freedom of speech," she said earlier this month in a column in The Philippine STAR.
 
But this has also made it easier for extreme groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and racists to find others with similar beliefs.
 

Fake news, shock value and the elections

The rise of "fake news" - both content created as propaganda and posts created by content farms - has not helped matters.
 
She said that in the recent US presidential campaign, it was found that people who were supporters of neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton - indeed, people who were not American at all - created content farms to cash in through page views and clicks.
 
"It's easy to come out with fake news because it's easy to strategize," Srinivasan said, but a lot harder to counteract, especially with news articles. "How many people read long form now?"
 
He said that media fact-checked statements and claims throughout the US election campaign, "but people didn't care."
 
He added that media tended to take Trump literally while his supporters tended to interpret the eventual winner of the elections' disjointed statements how they liked. 
 
"A frustrated population does not want to be educated, they want action," he said. That presents a problem to governments, he said, because policy takes time. He said that a new policy can take an average of five years to take effect.
 
Too long for America's four-year terms of office and even for the Philippines, which has single six-year terms for presidents.
 
Thinking Machines' Sy said that although a lot of data is now available, that doesn't mean that people will appreciate that data. Most people will still respond information that shocks or angers them.
 
Google and Facebook have already recognized the problems posed by "fake" news and this, she said, could help curb the spread of misinformation.
 

A better story

Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion at Brown University in Rhode Island, said, though that social media may have helped Trump win, but was brought by a segment of people who "felt totally removed from participating in US democracy."
 
She said that "what happened in the US with Trump was fundamentally about people who had fear about where society was going."
 
Asian Institute of Management professor Maoi Arroyo, who moderated the discussion, said that despite the reception that populist rhetoric has received in the US and in the Philippines, that does not mean that that rhetoric represents the needs of the masses.
 
"Global populism does not reflect the aspirations of the oppressed but the frustrations of the empowered," she said, citing data that around half of voters who supported President Rodrigo Duterte in May are from the A, B and C+ segments.
 
Voters were frustrated and felt that Trump and his platform were "the only bus out of crazy town" and even if it wasn't the best bus, it seemed a good option.
 
Pepe Torres, head of strategic marketing at BDO, had a simpler explanation: The winning side had a better story.
 
"Nobody was reading the 100 reasons that Hillary was a better candidate," he said, "but a lot of people were telling better stories based on lies."
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