Social networks are web applications that allow users to post content and interact with other content and content creators. Since the launch of myspace in 2003, social networks have been an integral part of internet, and their existence affected both the online and offline experience of billions of people (whether they use social networks or not). When Time magazine dedicated the 2006 person of the year issue to user generated content, Facebook was one year old and had 12 million followers. Today, that number is around 2.3 billion.
While the popularization of social networks and user generated content has changed almost every aspect of our lives, my main focus is on political content, online communities that surround this content, and us, the individuals who interact with the content, willingly or otherwise.
The platform and the content
I want to start by looking at the way social media, its users and it's content evolved since the early 2000s. One thing I noticed is that over the years, the lifespan of internet memes continually got shorter, and the jokes became more absurdist. We can understand the dynamics of online communities better if we study the history of this ecosystem.
This chapter is dedicated to content that is created with the intention of going viral, through exploiting recommendation alghoritms or human psychology, or both. While not the first instance of social networks being weaponized in a political campaign, the 2016 US presidential election was significant for emboldening right wing content creators. I want to explore the online landscape of the US, and various other places where social networks played part in political movements. What are the similarities and what are the differences? Who are the people who are creating propaganda for specific politicans and what are their motivations? And lastly, what are the consequences of this type of propaganda?
Disinformation versus facts in terms of outreach
Recommendation alghoritms and radicalization
Outrage, toxicity and conspiracy theories
The Silver Lining
While a lot of conversations around online politics can feel disempowering, at the end of everything, I want to focus on people who use their online presence as a force of good and elevate them over the toxicity. My aim in studying the online presence of fringe right wing ideologies isn't to depress, but to learn from past mistakes. While it's not possible for any one person to completely dismantle the systems that enabled hate crimes and aided oppressive governments, there are ways to curate our online experience in a way that create communities focused on solidarity and mutual aid.