EDIC Sligo is hosting a free webinar on Thursday the 15th April at 1pm-1.45pm on the topic “Can using social media influence your views on politics and how you vote?”. 

Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky will be one of the speakers. He is one of the authors of a report “Technology and Democracy: Understanding the influence of online technologies on political behaviour and decision making” which is available to download here: https://bit.ly/3sdlzim . The second speaker is Prof Jane Suitor of Dublin City University She is Professor in the School of Communications; her research focus is on the information environment in the public sphere and in particular on scaling up deliberation and tackling disinformation.

Many of us are using online technologies, including social media platforms, for news and information without truly understanding how they work and how they provide us with information tailored to our interests. There is widespread concern that these technologies can be used to influence us without us being aware it is happening. Many of us have heard the phrase “if the service is free, you are the product”.

Most online platforms make our data available to advertisers and the greater our engagement with content the more they know about us.  Curated newsfeeds and automated recommender systems are designed to maximize our attention by satisfying our, presumed, preferences which can mean highlighting polarising, misleading extremist content to maximise our engagement. The algorithms that are used are not made available for public scrutiny and most of us have little idea of the kinds of information that we are unwittingly sharing. Knowledge of 300 Facebook likes is sufficient for an algorithm to predict a user’s personality with greater accuracy than their own spouse. Our time on platforms and the data we share drives the targeted advertising that ensues.

The use of micro-targeting to identify a defined group for advertising  ‘political’ content has the potential to undermine political discourse and such micro-targeting can be tailored to our political, religious or other attributes. Surveys have shown the public to be opposed to micro-targeting about certain content (including political advertising) or sensitive attributes (including political affiliation).

People have a strong predisposition to orient towards negative news and “fake new” strokes that engagement by evoking negative emotions such as fear, anger and outrage. There is scientific evidence that social media changes people’s behaviour offline; this includes the incitement of dangerous behaviours such as hate crimes.