Badlands: Manipulation abounds on the Internet

April, 2018 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

carl-sampsonI’m not ready for a tinfoil hat just yet, but I’m getting there.

According to special prosecutor Robert Mueller, the Russians have invaded U.S. social media and bought online ads that are messing with Americans’ minds.

According to a federal indictment, Russians used social media to interfere with the presidential election. Oh, and while they were at it, they also posted false “stories” about food poisoning, trying to mess with consumers. And that’s just what we know about.

I have previously written that the Internet is destroying civilization as we know it. Nowhere else can your find more vile, stupid and downright evil stuff than the Internet. It is also a fountainhead for inaccurate information about anyone
and anything.

And a very few people are making billions of dollars trading on this open sewer. 

Take Facebook – please. I have a Facebook page. On it I have “friended” a handful of people I know. But a weird thing has been happening. On occasion, I’ll see a post that looks like it came from a friend. It’ll say something like this: “Joe Smith likes The Wall Street Journal.” I know for a fact that is wrong, primarily because Joe Smith publishes his own newspaper. If he was going to promote a publication, he would promote his, not someone else’s.

That’s not all. Have you ever looked closely at the posts? I believe many are not written by native English speakers. For example, some of those purportedly coming from witnesses to the most recent shooting tragedy in Florida have syntax and word choices that make me wonder if a foreigner (Russian?) might have written them.

I say this having been an editor for 40-plus years. I think I know how Americans write, and these posts appear to be fake. Oh, and I minored in Russian language in college, so I know a little about that, too.

One dead give-away is that these posts are grammatically correct. Americans by and large cannot write that well. Flannery O’Connor – my hero – is the only American who ever wrote perfect English. Everyone else is a distant second.

But beyond the fact that many Facebook posts appear to be fake, or just lame ads, I believe the folks at Facebook, or wherever, are monitoring us and our interests.

Here’s an example. Over the recent holidays, my oldest son was home, and he and I were talking about Bruce Springsteen. I mentioned that in the 1970s he played several times at the Main Point, a small coffee house in Bryn Mawr, outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, I lived near there.

After the holidays, my son returned home to New Jersey and his computer popped up an ad for a 1970s poster advertising Springsteen playing at the Main Point.

That, dear reader, is no coincidence. Someone, or something, was paying attention to a random conversation in our dining room in Oregon and then figured out that one of the participants lived 3,000 miles away in Highland Park, New Jersey, and posted that ad. 

I always try to follow the money. I looked up Facebook’s financials. Last year, the company made $39.9 billion in advertising revenue. About half of that came from the U.S. The rest came from outside the U.S. 

Think about that.

Suffice it to say, I think everyone would be better off without the Russians messing around with social media. Everyone, that is, except the profiteers at Facebook and those other open sewers.

Here’s a quote from Flannery O’Connor that I found: “Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”

Carl Sampson is a freelance editor and writer.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.