Written by Staff Writer
23 May, 2019 | 3:40 pm
Internet growth in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has achieved phenomenal growth when considering the online connectivity of Sri Lankans mostly thanks to a booming Telecommunication sector that has brought cutting edge technology (E.g. 4G/5G) to the local market. As of January 2019 there are 7.13 Mn Internet users in Sri Lanka (Internet penetration stands at 34%) , of those 5.7Mn (almost 80%) connect to the internet using their smartphones. Almost 87% of Sri Lankans who are online have social media accounts, with 85% of them having Facebook Accounts.
The statistics clearly points to a trend that has been already observed in other South Asian countries ( Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand) which is for most users the internet and Facebook have become interchangeable and they identify being on Facebook as to being online. Partially this trend can be attributed to Facebook’s success in its goal of convincing people that when they connect to Facebook, they are not using the internet but only its app, furthering its own commercial gains they becomes the internet to the unsuspecting user. refencing a research carried out in Thailand, people were questioned if they are online, they answered in the negative, but asked if they have a Facebook account and access it daily, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ leading researchers to conclude that Facebook had become its own entity outside the internet in the users mind, although being dependent on an internet connection.
Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers corroding Democracy
If online Sri Lankans are convinced that their social media poison of choice, is by default the internet, then the information and news they consume within that social media network becomes their world view. 75% of Sri Lankan watch 2 hours or less television a day (source: research by sevens media agency) benchmarking global indicators of 6 to 7 hours a day of screen time, it can be prudent to assume that majority of Sri Lankans that time is spent on Facebook, making it their primary news source and information steam.
Once Facebook becomes your main source of information you allow Facebook’s proprietary algorithms to index, classify and curate the information that you consume on their platform. This leads to users being trapped into an online mechanism known as “Filter Bubbles” which refers to the results of the algorithms that dictate what we encounter online, or in simper terms showing content you already agree with. This curated world view starts to warp reality and feed into confirmation biases naturally predominant in people, and very soon you start to firmly believe that your view of the world, i.e. way you see things, is the correct way. This leads to the another phenomena known as “echo chambers” in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. By visiting an “echo chamber”, people are able to seek out information which reinforces their existing world view.
Fortunately for companies like Facebook this allows them to easily show you content that would be customized to your interests and therefore allow advertisers to give precise targeted advertisements. However the more Dangerous side effect of such content is that people view of the world/ beliefs are reinforced. Which acts as a catalyst to polarize communities along any quantifiable fault lines such as Race, Religion. The exchange of different, and sometimes conflicting ideas is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, however Filter Bubbles and Echo chambers slowly start to chip away at the very foundation of democracy at times with their corrosive and disruptive practices.
Terrorism 3.0 and Social Media Radicalization
Terrorism 3.0 is radicalization, recruitment, and operation of terror networks purely based on social media and virtual decentralized groups. Recruitment is done via social media while communications and operations facilitated via highly encrypted messaging apps (E.g. Messaging Apps like “Threema”)
Terror networks like ISIS have developed World War Two style propaganda campaigns that now play out in News (AMAQ agency and global coverage), Video (YouTube, News and Terror updates), Audio (sound clips, podcasts and audio tweets), Social (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Weibo, etc.), Video Game mods (ARMA 3) as well as in social campaigns tied to #hashtags.
ISIS terror group’s primary recruitment methodology leverages online social media tools and messaging that are structured similar to run like marketing campaigns similar to the best fortune 500 companies’ Facebook’s own Filter Bubbles and Echo chambers make this process seamless for terror recruiters as the radicalization of their world view has already been indoctrinated by Facebook algorithms.
There are estimates that ISIS operates a network of about 1,000 social and digital media operatives globally, making their staff more numerous than many large public relations agencies.
Their recruitment process starts with glossy English-language publications like Dabiq, and social seeds and hashtags across the social web. Dedicated websites on the Darkweb and readily available ISIS propaganda online are coupled with a recruitment process that is socially geared towards the disenfranchised millennial audiences.
Once a prospect starts communicating with an ISIS recruiter, they are quickly further radicalized by incentivizing a “bill of goods” that include, opportunities to lead or to find a “meaningful life and place”. The recruitment process involves an initial pledge, as well as the standard cult tactics of cutting off friends and family for a new “peer and social group”. Once this occurs, they are led to excommunicate their family, all religious elements in their life, and take an oath of allegiance to ISIS. This entire process is led by social media platforms and secure messaging apps.
Sri Lanka has valuable experience in dealing with traditional terrorism, however Terrorism 3.0 demands long term goals to be developed and integrated with enhanced social media sentiment analysis with protocols on how to spot and manage radicalization both online and offline worlds. The fight should be taken on the ideological front led by moderate leaders and online sentiments should also be countered with offline actions and discussions.
For the General public, the best fight back to is to break the cycle of Filter bubbles and echo chambers created by corporations like Facebook, as this is a stepping stone to radicalization. Do not make social media your main stream of news, and always take steps to verify and authenticate information via established and trusted information networks such as newspapers, traditional media outlets or government sources. Always take meaningful steps to understand complex social issues by listening to voices and opinions that perhaps that do not agree to your worldview and maybe.. just maybe put down that smartphone and have a conversation with your fellow Sri Lankan.
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