Alter (social) egos and the demise of the world as we know it

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By Senior Consultant Georgi Wicks

What an extraordinarily strange and absurd digital world we’re living in. It’s fascinating, exciting if not a little bit daunting. If you stand back and just take it in, it becomes clear we are at a pivotal moment in our online world, in more ways than one.

The way in which we communicate has been completely revolutionised over the past decade, and it’s showing no signs of slowing anytime soon – so strap yourselves in, and a word to the wise, don’t get too comfortable.

We live in a fast paced society, one which this world has never experienced before, social media has been a key component of this revolution, but one could perhaps argue it is in fact the lynchpin of modern society.

The activity over the couple of months has pointed towards the dawning of a new social era.

We’ve seen social mobilise for change previously through such things as Occupy Wall Street and the Libyan uprising which credited its strategy to being inspired by witnessing the Egyptian revolution via social platforms in 2011.

Now in 2018, this type of mobilisation is nothing new, however, what we have seen over the past few weeks is the children of the digital age – digital natives – use social platforms to mobilise for change in gun control following the Florida school shooting. This tragedy saw Twitter users give real-time advice to the students in lockdown during the shooting.

Another aspect of this situation is the alleged fake Russian based Twitter accounts being shut down due to agitating the gun control debate leading up to the teens marching Washington demanding tighter legislation on guns in the US. Thanks to social, the call to march has been blasted to every corner of the world, which it is anticipated, will see people across the world ‘marching together as students begging for our lives’, on 24 March.

This campaign, while still in its infancy, has had more of an effect on gun control in the States, than any other to date, proving the power of social, that when used well, can bring even the biggest associations to their knees.

Regardless of your social persuasion, recent times have seen some extreme examples of social media events which have the potential to shape the way we communicate and use social platforms into the future.

To help you understand the current social environment, I have complied a list of my ‘big social four’ trending topics which are further proof of the changing social times.

Firstly, we have Trump, the (Twitter-happy) leader of the free world. I dare say, this man is better known for his Twitter rhetoric than he is for his presidential policies – these do however occasionally cross paths – in so far as he has recently attributed his election win to his social media activity.

Trump has recently gone on the record to say, “I use social media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair ‘press’, now often referred to as fake news media. Phony and non-existent ‘sources’ are being used more often than ever. Many stories and reports are pure fiction!”

Sure, the media industry isn’t perfect, and yes, due to social platforms and 24 hour news cycles, the quality of news sources has been diminished over the years, something Trump has capitalised on to launch his attack on perceived ‘fake news’, however, on the whole, in my humble opinion, the reputable media outlets are far more trustworthy and legitimate than what a guy with an unfiltered opinion can convey in 280 characters, regardless of their vested interests.

However one must remember Trump’s target audience isn’t anyone who shares my views, it’s those who believe the ‘big man’ is out to screw them over in any way, shape or form. Unfortunately for them, they are placing their trust in the president of the ‘big man’.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, perhaps not, but Twitter has just last month reported its first quarterly profit. Ever. The social media platform, which has been a public company for four years, has been a major player on the social scene for the past 12 years, one could say it’s a founding partner of the social revolution.

Surprisingly, it has been reported its previous growth stall was due to a clampdown on fake accounts, resulting in a mass loss of users.

I’m sensing a theme here… ‘fake’. I am certainly not implying any behind closed door connection between Trump and Twitter, however anyone can see the publicity Trump attracts on the platform would certainly assist in boosting users, whether it be spectators of the frequent and at times erratic Tweets, supporters, or those opposing him. It’s certainly a mutually beneficial social relationship.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released their doomsday clock report last month, and, as suspected, we have moved 30 seconds closer to midnight from last year – we are now two minutes to midnight. This is the closest to midnight it has been since the Cold War.

For those of you who don’t have as morbid a fascination with this report as I do, this symbolic time represents how far away the planet is to meeting a world-ending disaster, suffice to say, a 30 second jump forward so close to midnight is not a good sign.

There are many attributing factors scientists behind the report point to in order to explain the time move, but essentially, the uptake of social media as well as its erratic and seemingly consequence-free misuse by users, will potentially see the entire world’s population suffer the ultimate consequence. The proof is in the pudding, if you need further convincing after reading this direct lift from the 2018 Doomsday Clock Statement, then I dare say you are on the Trump bandwagon.

“The warning the Science and Security Board now sends is clear, the danger is obvious and imminent. The opportunity to reduce the danger is equally clear. The world has seen the threat posed by the misuse of information technology and witnessed the vulnerability of democracies to disinformation. But there is a flip side to the abuse of social media. Leaders react when citizens insist they do so, and citizens around the world can use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren.”

Maybe someone should suggest Trump cease and desist calling Kim Jong-un ‘Little Rocket Man’ on Twitter. Amusing as it may be, highly, highly counterproductive for diplomacy it appears, and escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S and North Korea like never before (you wouldn’t think you’d need to tell POTUS this though).

“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy,” President of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Rachel Bronson warns.

My final item on the recent ‘big social four’ is the members of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee travelling to the U.S to question senior executives of the major social and digital platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Google) about fake news on their platforms – yes, that term again, and what they plan on doing about it.

This is the first time a House of Commons committee has broadcast a hearing outside of the country, and its objective is essentially to clamp down on fake news, however reading through the scope of questioning, it appears this committee is more interested in Russians meddling in elections, as well as what UK Prime Minister Theresa May has coined ‘weaponising information’.

Benefit of the doubt would say this path is paved with good intentions, however to a cynic like me, it seems more about looking like they’re doing something to meet public approval than really affecting change.

I for one will be waiting with baited breath to read the outcomes presented following this inquiry.

One’s takeaway from all of this could be a cleverly disguised ‘hack’ style PR campaign designed to distract everyone with noise – fake news and its threat to society, when what we should really be concerned about and focused on is impending doom – in whatever form this may take.

While social is at our fingertips, and it’s easy to negate the consequences on these platforms from the comfort of your recliner, understand everything has a cause and effect. The only question to this is to what effect – you may not pedal the same amount of influence as the Commander in Chief, however you do have a responsibility to society to be an upstanding social citizen and lead by example, not only for world peace, but for yourself. Have some social grace, and educate yourself, I beg of you.

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