Social media is a dominant global force today. It not only connects people but also connects the dots to analyze public behaviour on the basis of their personnel data in a bid to manipulate popular opinion, say experts.
Recently Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data analysis company that was involved in the campaign for Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential elections and the Brexit Campaign resulting in Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, was accused of stealing personal data of Indian citizens from their social media accounts especially Facebook.
It was reported that India’s Congress party had approached the firm to analyze social media data of citizens to win the upcoming general elections in 2019. There were also claims that the ruling party BJP had used similar social media analysis to triumph in the 2014 general elections. These are but some of the examples to show how political parties are using the all-pervading social media in influencing and manipulating public opinion and decision-making.
Social Media Can Impact Public Opinion
In an interview session during the summer school at Pune’s Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Dr. David Shim, renowned scholar and Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen in Germany, talked in some detail as to how political entities manipulate the Media to control public opinion. He also mentioned how analyzing a visual can specify the reality behind the scenes.
He said, “If we are referring to ruling political parties who own media platforms like newspapers and news channels, then the concerned political party can significantly impact public opinion. For instance, it can decide what is being shown or communicated to the public. It can specify how and what will the public see. It is a problematic situation though certainly leading to dictatorships when there is no differentiation between what a certain government is doing and what is being shown by the media. In such a scenario, there is no watchdog function being carried out by the media and it just plays the role of a mediator to communicate what is being asked by the controlling political entity.”
He added, “The first thing needed to analyze a visual or an idea is that one must have a research problem. To begin with, it is important to select the appropriate tool for analysis, which then leads to having a certain kind of insight about a visual. Whether or not it is right will be decided by the readers and viewers.”
“In reality, there is always a difference between what has actually happened and what is being portrayed, known as the gap of representation. The presenter always knows where the different exists and hence it depends on the presenter to decide what kind of reality he/ she intends to portray through a visual. When you do a critical analysis of a visual, it’s not always about questioning what has taken place or how the visual is represented. What is actually needed to be seen is how we, as viewers, are made to see a particular visual through the person, who decided to present the visuals knowing the actual purpose,” said Shim.
Social Media Has Both Desirable and Undesirable Sides
Digital divide is still a stark reality in India. Despite tall claims by the privately-owned Reliance JIO and the government-mediated Digital India Campaign, there are areas in the country that have not been connected by the three W’s. Digital illiteracy continues to be a factor in India and a significant section of the internet users still don’t use it regularly. In accordance with a survey conducted by Fortis, 74 percent of students think that social media is the best platform for getting all information, facts and data. Social media has far reaching impact on the minds of people. A few dangerous side effects of social media are games like the Blue Whale Challenge, net addiction, social isolation, mental diseases like nomophobia and cyber bullying.
Dr. Anabel Quan-Haase, scholar and Professor of Information and Media Studies and Sociology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, during her workshop on the topic ‘How to Analyze Social media Data’, said, “One of the mistakes we make is to define the effects of social media into positive and negative categories. On one hand, technology has lead to social construction whereas on the other, it has also lead to isolation. Here, we cannot define the effects of social media as black or white. It’s how we use the technology and apply it for our benefits that decide its impact. Social media is changing so rapidly that even the companies that develop the technologies themselves have a very hard time managing the complexion of manipulation and managing the ethics.”
She added, “The technology and social media will evolve with time but the ethical components will be missing. We need to take care of the data and analyze it well – also how the data is being used to make policies or decisions. These points are not to be considered in only its technological dimension, the ethical components also need to be considered. Till now, we haven’t really analyzed the social implications of the technologies that we create. There are many ethical dimensions. When we discuss about ethics today, we tend to focus on short term ethics. Hence, a lot of work is needed not just on the computational side but also on the ethical side.”
“Certainly, predicting social media is very difficult. None of the prediction models that we have used in the past have helped us so far. Social media users move very quickly and social media platforms that were very popular 10 years ago are no longer popular now. As scholars and academicians, we need to realize who the users are and how they are changing. On the international front, information spreads very quickly and on the social media platforms there are no boundaries. The trends or key facts that spread very fast do not have a track to determine their sources. Hence, we need to understand manipulation first,” said Dr. Quan-Haase.
She added, “I think social media has the potential for being both good and bad. It is certainly distracting when students access social media apps and platforms even during the school hours, lecturing or studying. For any educational system it’s very hard to keep these technologies aside, because they can equally be used for the purpose of education. The need of being socially updated has made the students so addicted to social media that they hardly keep away from social media even for an hour.”
Research Quality in India Needs to Improve
The quality of research in our country remains under the scanner. A team of researchers lead by Prof. Bhushan Patwardhan from Savitribai Phule Pune University found that 88 percent of the 1,009 journals recommended by universities and included in the white list are dubious journals. Only 112 among them could meet the criteria set by the UGC. Almost 345 of the journals were not even included in the list because they could not meet the basic criteria. From the remaining 660 journals, 528 were removed owing to false claims about their impact. In an interview with edInbox, the Vice Chancellor of ADYPU in Pune had said, “Indian researchers haven’t managed enough patents despite huge talents. The reason is the lack of quality research studies and an infrastructure that declines to provide support for good research.”
In the same context, Dr. Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches in Texas, during his workshop on the topic ‘Introduction to Qualitative Traditional and Methods’, said, “Quantitative research can give facts and figures whereas qualitative research can allow you to deeply know the subject and idea. It allows you to understand how’s and why’s. Both qualitative research and quantitative research are interrelated variables; but a qualitative research can define the opinion and provide broad outlook for a subject.”
He added, “I don’t think there is anything wrong with the content and ideas delivered. The only problem can be weak presentation or lack of confidence. Most of the time, researchers do attempt to follow the successful research models of other countries believing it can help them get international identity. It will be better if Indian researchers can come up with their own raw ideas and work on those. Indian researchers should be concerned with their own standards and not with international standards. This may take a little time to click, but sooner or later it will surely succeed.”
“I feel research should be encouraged in every institute – be it government or private. It also depends on situations and places, like where private universities perform better than government universities and vice versa. Research is the need of the hour and should be encouraged in every course or curriculum providing better context of understanding to the students”, said Dr. Onwuegbuzie.
Reporting by Preeti Singh Special Correspondent, Pune
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