Authoritarianism was and will always be one of the preferred and most efficient kind of political regimes for controlling a population and getting things done. And even though it is indeed not the most ethical kind of governance, it does do wonders in keeping people in check and getting them to do what they are supposed to do without arguing.
The Single Most Important Feature of Authoritarianism
But one of the most critical features of such a regime always was communication and influencing the population through information to keep them on the track. Once, this was called propaganda. And although having only one official media made it rather easy to influence one country’s opinion and, therefore, minds, It is in no way the most efficient and neither the most effective. Since when people only get one source of ‘official information,’ they tend to start asking questions about it and ask themselves if this information is indeed deserving of their trust.
Especially since the new era of social media and interconnectedness where people have access to worldwide information, people can almost freely communicate with each other, and are no longer dependent and only relating to the media provided by the government. As can be seen with the last decade phenomenon of the Arab Spring, the use of social media has spread a social movement through most of the traditional Arab authoritarianism system and cost numerous tyrant their position and even, in some cases, their head.
Is Social Media Really the Doom of Authoritarianism?
But is this statement especially true? Indeed, in the light of recent events and the growing concerns by the leaders of the tech world, the social media technology is being corrupted by its business model into a tool of global influence, convincing millions of people about different ideas and concerns. Following the decisions of algorithms, no-one has a real understanding of. To cite only one example, the Pizzagate phenomenon back in 2016, going viral due to the decision of the Facebook Feed algorithm to spread it amongst people that were believed to be inclined to be influenced by conspiracy theories.
Knowing this, what if someone, especially an authoritarian, decides to use this tool as a mean of propaganda? Would it at all be possible that a regime could manage to influence its all population by only feeding them information through social media? And if so, how would something like this be inherently made possible by social platforms?
To understand it, it is crucial to comprehend the way social media works. And especially how they monetize, or in other words, make money.
How the Internet Really Works and Who’s Paying for It?
Indeed, the way it works, and since users are not paying for the applications and programs, the advertisers are. They are making it a way to make money by using the opinions of people and their psyche against them. Advertisers are the ones that are influencing the customers and people’s attention, and the focus is just selling their product. In more structured and technical language, the real product is the gradual, slight, and imperceptible change in one’s behavior and perception of the world.
But when taken over time, by slightly tilting the view of an entire country’s population over the years by focused and targeted ads and feeds, a regime could manipulate its population by only paying these platforms, and without anyone knowingly be aware of it. And why wouldn’t it? Since it has already proven to be so efficient and is continuously being upgraded and improved as a method. And is being made continually better and has already influenced an entire generation of humans.
Indeed, it has been proven that technology is inherently neutral. Neither bad nor good. And it is only defined by the hands and the will of the people using it. But what would happen then if such a neutral tool of global influence is to be used by a government to forward its interest in putting people against each other? Using the divide and conquer tactic to better manipulate its population.
Would you say it’s a real far fetched scenario? That it would never happen because good people would be there to stop it? Most global platforms are indeed the products of the Western democratic world, aren’t they? So why would they let something like that happen?
Authoritarianism and Social Media: The Perfect Duo?
The easy answer is that if you think that way, then maybe you should think twice and look at the situation of what is happening in Myanmar. Over there, social platforms and especially Facebook, are used to influence the majority against the Muslim minority of the country. And are creating chaos on behalf of the authoritarian regime and helping it achieve its goal of manipulating the population into what they want them to do.
In this case, social media gave it the perfect tool for manipulation over its population. One is, by far, more effective than any of the traditional means of propaganda it previously had. And why wouldn’t it be? Indeed, these tools have been created to influence people into thinking what the advertisers wanted them to think. And it’s proven to make a profound change in people’s perception of reality every day and all over the world. So what if, in this case, the advertiser is none else than the Authoritarian regime itself. Paying good money to the platform’s algorithm to feed their population with what they want them to see and think. The same way Russia tried to influence the U.S election back in 2016 by using Facebook as a tool of propaganda and pitting the U.S society against each other.
A Tool to Control Power
When thinking about it that way, wouldn’t the social media be the perfect tool of the smart regime based on authoritarianism? Far more efficient when used with tact and the right sets of skills than any kind of political violence or obvious propaganda traditionally available to them. Wouldn’t it make the social media the Holy Grail of every skillful regime? Authoritarian or not, as long as played in an efficient and dedicated manner to not be discovered by the general public?
Indeed, how do you know the truth when everyone lives in their specific world where an algorithm is feeding you information to make you feel part of everything? Do you really have your own set of ideas that make you unique? Or is it only part of a greater play used by the system skillfully using the tools at its disposition and influencing you to think like it wants you to think?
The Relation Between Social Media And Authoritarianism: Conclusion
As such, without clear fact-checking, which 99% of the Human society fails in doing, Social Media presents the perfect tool of influence and manipulation by ill-willed actors. And without a clear waking up of the human community, we might as well have played into the hands of the tyrants and willingly gave up on our rights and liberties a decade ago, against a 12$ monthly fee.
One indeed should always remember something about technology. If you do not pay for it, it makes you the product that is being sold here. Be it your privacy, opinions, unbiased access to real information, and even your own personality.
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