Social Media: Platform for Large-Scale Manipulation?


With all those e-mails, messages, Whatsapps, and notifications that we get all the time, it feels as if we are surrounded 24/7 by our friends and family. It might give us the sense of being up-to-date of our friends’ thoughts, ideas, life events and gives us the feeling that we “know” them well. But how well do we actually know our Facebook friends, LinkedIn colleagues, and Twitter followers? How easy is it to manipulate the idea one has about us using social media?

Although social media offers us the opportunity to stay “connected” to our friends and families, I doubt that being connected equals being really knowledgeable about our friends and family. In my opinion, it just gives the impression that we know them.

In my opinion, impressions are more important that actual policies in politics. A good example can be found as early as the 1960s (you can find the debate at the end of this post). Some of you may know the story about the first televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

To make the example clearer, I will provide you with some additional background information. Just before the debates, Nixon had spent two weeks in hospital. Thus, when it was time for the first debate, he had lost some weight and looked weak. However, Kennedy had been campaigning in California and had a tan. Additionally, he was taking steroids for his many health problems which bulked up his appearance making him appear strong and healthy.

After the debate, people were asked who they considered the winner of the presidential debate. Those who watched the debate on TV believed that Kennedy was the winner. However, those who only heard the debate on the radio believed that Nixon was the winner.

What caused this difference between the watchers and the listeners? The watchers were able to connect the words of the candidates with their respective names and faces. Where the focus of the listeners was 100 percent on what the candidates actually said, the watchers looked at the total picture: the body language, facial expressions, and the political comments.

Initially, people felt that Kennedy lacked experience and age. Afterwards, Kennedy and his “way with the camera” convinced many people that he should be the next president of the United States. In a way, you could say that Kennedy used the media to manipulate the people by creating a favorable impression.

However, is this really the case? Can we actually know someone for real based on what he or she presents his- or herself to be during a television debate, on his or her Facebook or LinkedIn page for that matter? As a matter a fact, a new question might arise with the upcoming use of social media: Are we able to actually get to know someone in a world where social media can make it very easy to manipulate those around us?

I am very interested in your thoughts about social media being a platform for large-scale manipulation. Do you agree? Do you disagree? And why?


(JFK Library)

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One thought on “Social Media: Platform for Large-Scale Manipulation?

  1. Interesting post. In order to give my opinion, I’ll just answer the questions in your second last paragraph.
    – Can we actually know someone for real based on what he or she presents his- or herself to be during a television debate, on his or her Facebook or LinkedIn page for that matter?
    – As a matter a fact, a new question might arise with the upcoming use of social media: Are we able to actually get to know someone in a world where social media can make it very easy to manipulate those around us?

    No, knowing someone just based on it’s first impressions is ‘not knowing someone’. You can see what kind of person he is during a television debate (charismatic, nervous, agressive), but what he really is in real life, you don’t know for sure. A person on Facebook may seem very happy, but perhaps he isn’t in real life. If you only rely on the information on social media, then you don’t know that person. In my opinion, to really know a person, you need to hang out with them for a (long) time. You can easily hide your real identity, feelings/emotions and intentions. So no, you don’t actually know a person for real by just how he presents him/herself in social media.
    For your final question: Yes, social media can be used for large scale manipulation. But for how long can you manage hide your real identity? People who know you in real life will eventually ‘blow your cover’. So although it can be used for large scale manipulation, I think it’s only for a moment.

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