Attack on CMO shows how far we have fallen thanks to social media
“You’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok…”
This quote from Malcolm X easily applies to some of what has been happening during the response to the global pandemic. This especially owing to the ravages of social media and its outsized influence here in the 21st century.
Of course, this technology is a two-edged sword which has positive potential, but which also possesses the capacity to be hyper-negative — as has been highlighted by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook analyst who testified at the United States Senate last week.
Who has been hoodwinked?
We witnessed more than a hint of the potential duplicity of social media during a local Covid press conference last week. On that occasion a report was made citing social-media claims, questioning the credentials of a senior health official. To their credit, officials present refused to take the bait. However, the reality is that these same platforms provide access for verifiable facts on that matter, which can confirm appropriate credentials and experience relatively easily.
How are people bamboozled?
Haugen testified to the Senate that Facebook primes the pump and gears the system via the algorithms so as to promote conflict and discord, which the company’s research team has verified through the sustained engagement by users — maximising profits for the giant monopoly. In other words: “Bad news sells more than the good.”
This would not be the first time something such as this has happened.
During the period of the Great Depression, the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler was effective in hoodwinking the people of Germany. Hitler’s closest confidant was Joseph Goebbels, who is credited with masterminding propaganda and using disinformation to sow confusion and chaos. It happened during another breakthrough technology — household radio — which Goebbels leveraged to, in the words of Albert Speer, deprive 80 million people of independent thought.
The planet faces an unprecedented pandemic, with indicators suggesting there is more to come. Peter Hotez, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Co-Director for Infectious Disease at Texas Children’s Hospital, is raising the alarm about the anti-science movement.
Dr Hotez has spent three decades championing proactive approaches to foster public health. He was Barack Obama’s science envoy in the Middle East and North Africa between 2014 and 2015 when he noticed rebooted campaigns undermining tried and tested health options such as vaccines. These campaigns were launched by political players the Tea Party and other profiteers.
Francis Haugen testified that she found substantial evidence while working at Facebook that the social-media giant “put profits before people”.
Hotez, and MD and PhD, reports that, while his personal research into social media is not yet conclusive, he has found credible indications that the algorithms are biased to lead users away from the facts and towards options ensuring longer-term maintenance regimes. So, with the massive intel that social media has on individuals, they are able to target those who have any concerns, amplify their anxiety and specifically lead the “target” to a drawn-out medical response. A question of profits.
The crisis that we face as a global community has these two aspects. First is the challenge of the Covid variants and the other is the viruses impacting our collective minds. Any crisis offers danger as well as opportunity.
Our medical communities are evidently open to drawing the lessons for the biological side of things. However, our whole community would be served by taking the opportunity and promoting a mindful and fulsome conversation regarding the pandemic’s impact on our collective awareness.
We have the opportunity to exercise our potential — as Malcolm was suggesting — to take our fates into our own hands.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda