Authenticity, Fighting Back and the Fall of Social Media False Idols

By Antonio P. Contreras* – The Manila Times, Philippines

Too much of anything can be harmful, and something good that happens too soon may be short-lived.

There is a term for this. It is called hubris.

Some people thought that they could turn social media into a platform for their political maneuvers and ambitions. They thought this new platform for political participation could be gamed forever, and that they could command their purchased, paid or programmed minions to do anything at their bidding.

They forgot one important feature that characterizes this new technology. It cannot be monopolized and controlled. And it cannot be gamed forever.

Authenticity is surely fighting back to engage the plasticity of manufactured fame, and the pains and aspirations of real people, many of whom do not live their lives solely in social media, are what will eventually drive the logic of politics. Technology such as Facebook and Twitter are only as good as the political context within which they are appropriated. Some can manufacture lies and spread fakery, but it is also the dynamics of these social media tools that will unmask the lies and reveal the fakery.

The power of social media blogging has been reduced to numbers, particularly shown in the number of followers one can have, as well as the number of likes and shares a post can accumulate. These are numbers that have been turned into indicators of influence, and they fed into the ego of some bloggers who thought they could change the world and become kings and queens of politics, or if not, then bask in the role of being makers of queens and kings. They are hoping that these numbers can become their leverage to sell themselves, if not as political candidates, then as operators and enablers for political candidates.

But unlike traditional routes of political PR using the old techniques of political merchandising where clandestine tricks can be effectively hidden from the prying eyes of ordinary citizens, and only investigative journalists or government investigators can look into, political machinations done through social media can publicly reveal incontrovertible numerical footprints.

Someone said that numbers do not lie. They can be manufactured, but certainly this will leave footprints of the fakery embedded in the numbers themselves.

For example, the anomalous straight line associated with the progression of the votes of Leni Robredo in the vice-presidential race, coupled with the disproportionate number of undervotes even in places that had high voter turn-outs, all provide compelling numerical indicators for possible electoral fraud.

In the case of social media, we have bloggers with over hundreds of thousands of followers, yet the number of likes of their posts is not correlated with the number of shares, and the percentage of these likers who share their posts are relatively low.

Under normal situations, and considering authentic human behavior, the more people like a post the more people will likely share it. An analysis of the likes and shares of posts of selected bloggers reveals a positive relationship between likes and shares.

It is therefore odd that some bloggers with over 500,000 followers have posts whose likes are not strongly correlated to the shares. Worse, is when these bloggers also exhibit low share-to-like ratios, indicating that only very few of those who like their posts make an effort to share these.

Sharing a post is an indication of a high level of social engagement for the reader of a post. Mere liking is a more individualistic way for a reader to express an opinion, and would only require a one-touch operation of hitting the like button. On the other hand, sharing a post is a social act of actively promoting a message to others, and entails an additional effort of hitting a couple of buttons.

Thus, a high share-to-like ratio certainly indicates authentic engagement.

However, it is also possible that political operators can procure the services of paid netizens to operate several social media accounts to produce organic, because they are coming not from bots generated by algorithms but from real people, yet inauthentic likes and shares.

It is precisely why there is a need to also consider the correlation between likes and shares to cross-check for this possibility. The expected pattern of behavior among organic and authentic readers of posts is that the number of shares will be associated with the number of likes. It is normal human behavior to expect that as the number of likes of a post increases, the number of shares will also

increase. Any weak relationship suggests that the urge to share is not in any way associated with the urge to like, which is so unnatural.

Thus, one should watch out for social media bloggers who, despite being followed by half a million readers, or even more, and who register low share-to-like ratios, also have posts that have a weak correlation between likes and shares. This is an indication not only of significant presence of inauthentic and unnatural human behavior. This reveals the possibility of having paid trolls who like and share, or having procured the services of applications that generate automatic and inorganic likes.

The source of power and political influence of social media blogging has been expressed in numbers of follows, likes and shares. It is therefore ironic, if not a beautiful work of karmic justice, that faking them can leave footprints that are embedded in these numbers. These very same numbers are now the things that can expose and reveal those bloggers nurturing counterfeit social media engagements and manipulating their imagined power and influence.

These people are as fraudulent as one who wins an election through cheating.

They flaunted their numbers. Now, this will certainly haunt them and will reveal the fraud that they have inflicted on us.

Indeed, hubris, karma and the fall of social media false idols may just be what 2018 will bring. Manila, Jan 4,  2018


* Full Professor, Political Science, De La Salle University Manila. Iconoclast. Political analyst. Columnist in  The Manila Times


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