The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

Social media has become a battlefield

Alice Taylor Sunday, 3 December 2017, 10:59 Last update: about 13 days ago

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. On the one hand I love it because I can stay in touch with friends and family when I am travelling, I love the way it acts as a sort of diary of my life and the places I have visited, and I love the opportunities for business that it presents. I hate it because it has become a mass free for all of vitriol, hatred, and ignorance. A breeding ground for misinformation and a place where people feel brave hiding behind their keyboards and spouting things that they would never dream of saying in real life. I see social media as the digital equivalent of a particularly nasty playground with insults, slurs, and bullying tactics being doled out left, right, and centre with no consideration for the consequences. While this is a problem that is global in its nature, with the recent events in Malta, I see it becoming a local issue that is spiralling out of control.

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Facebook is awash with state-sponsored trolls that regurgitate propaganda, make threats against people who disagree, and seek to get individuals banned through coordinated attacks on posts and pages. Since the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, we have had Tony Zarb calling female protestors prostitutes, an elderly man saying a female MEP should be burnt alive, and various other characters calling for violence against members of the public and those that disagree with the Labour rhetoric. This is just the tip of the iceberg – the amount of morally and legally wrong comments I see on a daily basis is increasing along with the number of threats of violence made freely between members of the public. It is quite shocking and it is a phenomenon that was unheard of until recent times.

It is a widely reported fact, based on a report of the US-based Freedom House, that governments of at least 30 countries use armies of online opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas, and repress their citizens. This frightening and widespread use of social media comes as absolutely no surprise to me, and the ever-increasing use of troll farms that pump out abuse and propaganda in equal measures is changing the face of conflict and our society forever.

These social media manipulators come in many forms –commentators, trolls, and individuals paid to spread news reports or news stories designed to propagate an agenda or to silence those that disagree. This is so clearly prevalent in Malta now as all one has to do is log onto Facebook or Twitter, or the comments section of any major media house, and you will find them there in full force, trolling away to their hearts content.

The use of these paid commentators to spread political propaganda was first pioneered by China and Russia, but has now gone global and by all accounts, found its way into this small, Mediterranean country. There is no doubt in my mind, as I have not only seen evidence of it, but have been subjected to it myself, that members of the public, or those in government-appointed roles are being paid, influenced, and made to comment in this manner in order to influence and manipulate the public view.

I mean, there could not be any other reason for it. I fail to believe that people are so, so, incredibly stupid that they believe some of the things they write. That they believe in the threats they make and that our “Great Leader” is the best thing to ever happen to the country and that Malta is the envy of Europe. This country is a laughing stock, now known as a tax-dodging haven with a penchant for blowing up journalists, refusing to cooperate with the EU, and sending death threats to MEPs. I refuse to accept that these people, who talk as if every day is the best day of their life and that they are truly happy with the fact that country is run by a bunch of self-serving crooks, believe what they say. But maybe my hopes for humanity are a little too high; perhaps these people are so ingrained with political tribalism that they genuinely believe that JM and his band of thieves have their best interests at heart; or perhaps the hand that is feeding them is just too enticing to refuse.

The result of these rapidly spreading techniques is of course, devastating to democracy and civic activism and results in a population that is blinded by lies and mistruths and is too stupid, or scared to see the wood for the trees. It results in a country becoming more lawless and corrupt by the day, and the people who want to stand up and make a change becoming too scared to speak their minds and the truth. We are reaching a breaking point, where the state-controlled masses are infiltrating every area of society, from politics, murder cases, women’s reproductive rights, tenancy and rental issues, ARMS and utilities disputes, and simple conversations between friends. The situation is desperate, there are crooks everywhere.

We do not need riots and violence on the streets, as social media is our battlefield now, and if you are not sure what I am referring to just wait for the comments on this article.

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