Voice heard in the network

Internet news: just something to think about or a warning to act?
In recent years, there has been much talk of the social network phenomenon. While theorists debate its role and significance, practical users generate real profit and benefits — which vary from the commercial to the criminal or political. It’s now a question of whether social networks create a positive or destructive impact on society. Politologist Piotr Petrovsky shares his views:

Youngsters communicate more and more in virtual reality

What is the role of modern social networks: are they a communicator or a manipulator of public consciousness?

Social networks are a more complex mechanism than just a means of communication. Previously, we had telephone, radio and TV, keeping important records and favourite photos at home. At present, social networks are gradually taking on these functions. They are the repository of information about us, a communication medium and a way to receive audio and visual materials. If we compare the danger of social networking, they are like a knife with which it is possible both to cook and to commit a crime. It’s the same with social media.

However, all these actions can be used to manipulate the information space. Various interest groups, especially those where a large number of subscribers are active participants of social networks, can potentially act as tools for information manipulation and often they do behave in this way.

Recent history shows that the Internet has played a decisive role in politics on many occasions. In Egypt, for example, it guided ‘revolution via social networks’ and, in Turkey, allowed an elected President to stay in power and not become a victim of a revolution. Does this mean that those who more delicately and skillfully utilise the latest technology are more likely to win?

The Egyptian ‘revolution via social networks’ is an example of very subtle psycho-emotional information manipulation by users of social networks. You may not even notice how the most popular pages and groups suddenly start broadcasting the information which inspires users to do certain things. News is ‘picked up’ by active users and distributed by a ‘domino effect’. It is very hard to maintain one’s own position when everyone around tells you to move to a certain direction and remain ‘on trend’. The effect of the crowd is applied here: this can easily migrate from the virtual space into real life. Using these technologies, it is possible to change the values, ideas and political orientation of people. If this tool lacks control, it can bring threat to the security of society.

At the same time, networks can also become a tool for the distribution of positive values. There are many public projects on social networks. In this respect, they can aid the instant solidarity of citizens — for example, regarding self-government, area development or raising funds for the needy.

What is the future of our social networks, in your opinion? What should be done to make them safe for society and constructive for the country in general? 

So far, controlled access to the servers of social networks is the major unsolved problem. Those having access receive the information of all registered users, their personal correspondence and activity. At present, the leading social networks used by our citizens are not Belarusian. Control over them comes from abroad, making the security of our citizens and their personal information vulnerable. It is clear that, in our globalising world, it’s impossible to isolate ourselves from other countries. Accordingly, the present problems can only be solved at the international level. We need common rules of access to servers and Internet programmes which would protect the security of states and individuals. In this respect, the Eurasian integration space could become a mechanism for solving the problem at least at regional level in the medium term.

By Maxim Osipov

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