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Weaponization of Social Media Spreads Divisive Rhetoric

Photograph by Leo Gordon

It is no secret that social media has become increasingly widespread in the last decade or so. Whether it be Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else, this relatively new type of media reaches most people nowadays. Just look at any high school, such as Berkeley High School (BHS), and marvel at how absorbed today’s youth are with their mobile devices. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted during 2014 and 2015, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily, and 71 percent of teens say they use more than one social media site.

While this type of media can be beneficial in helping people connect and share their lives with others, it has become weaponized in recent years in order to influence opinions.

A prime example of the weaponization of social media is the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it must be acknowledged that Russia was involved in the election to a certain extent.

According to the podcast Fresh Air, at least 60,000 Russian bots were created to wreak havoc on social media during the past election. Moreover, the podcast states that over 140 million Americans, about half the population, saw some aspect of Russian propaganda online. Some of these bots were created on Twitter and work together to push forth a political agenda. Then, real people see and spread these opinions, aiding in the process.

Donald Trump was not elected president because of these online bots, but the notion that these Russian bots played no role whatsoever is false.

Another instance of social media being turned into something malicious is ISIS, an Islamic extremist group based mostly out of Iraq and Syria. When ISIS marched on Mosul, Iraq, Emerson Brooking says that the key difference between ISIS and other militant groups was that the group broadcasted its offensive over social media under the hashtag #AllEyesOnISIS.

Social media can be a wonderful way for people to connect and share pictures and ideas, but it has become increasingly weaponized and dangerously influential.

This doesn’t have to be about left and right, and doesn’t have to be political at all for that matter. The indisputable influence of bots on the opinions of real people should worry everyone because of the propaganda that can be spread. No matter who you are, the political destiny of the U.S. being in potential jeopardy should be a source of concern for you.