Flash Farce: The Dangers of Social Media Influencing Real World Actions

We're lucky it hasn't happened yet.  Or maybe it has and we don't know it.

We've all heard how "flash mobs", protests such as "Occupy Wall Street", and even revolutions such as Arab Spring can be organized through social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

Viral videos, trending Twitter hash tags, Change.org petitions, Facebook pages...all of these are "tools" used to help bring about social change.

But how many people actually check the origins of a social change campaign or movement? And would it even do them any good?  How would anyone know the true origins, or motivations, behind an online campaign?

On the Internet, anyone can claim to be someone else.  In fact, some people even have multiple identities online.  Sometimes, identities are compromised, and someone you thought was your friend from high school could suddenly be a scammer from Europe or Africa, claiming to need financial assistance after losing all their money overseas.

Now, let's add one more "evil twist" to this plot.  What if the people you are friends with on Twitter or Facebook don't even exist?  What if these are false accounts controlled by a criminal organization, or a government?  What if one of your friends have been replaced by someone with malicious intentions against you? Don't think it can happen? Ask the members of LulzSec, an offshoot of Anonymous.  Their leader, Sabu, was arrested by the authorities, then cooperated to help identify and arrest the members of his own group.

Now, consider Arab Spring.  Specifically, Lybia.  The government of Lybia recognized that social media was being used to organize "flash mob" protests, and in response shut off the internet to the entire country.  While this was one way to handle the protest...consider another more sinister scenario.  What if the government responded by organizing more protests?  What if the government organized these "flash mob" protests in controlled locations with the military standing by to arrest or perhaps even kill the protesters shortly after they arrive?

Propaganda has long been a tool used in war.  Why fight an enemy, when you can make the enemy fight among themselves?  An invading country can take another through brute force, but why bother, if your losses can be significantly reduced by convincing the country's citizens that life would be better under your rule?

If a Communist country would desire to take over a Capitalist one, the best way to do so would not be through soldiers, tanks, planes, and missiles.  The best way to take over a Capitalist country would be to appeal to the lower income earners, who undoubtedly struggle to make ends meet, and envy those who make more money than themselves.  So, why not start an online movement in that country to "distribute wealth" and make everyone's income "equal".  Of course, the only way this would ever happen is if the government regulated and controlled everything.  In a Capitalist country, this will never happen, because the owners of companies and corporations would never allow it.  But once enough civil unrest has been seeded, it would be quite easy to begin invading the country with troops, promising a better life to its citizens, offering to "liberate" the country's citizens from their "oppressive government".  This would have an even higher chance of success if the country is in the middle of an economic crisis, with high unemployment and large amounts of debt.  Promise everyone employment and equal pay under a new government-owned and controlled economy.

Sounds scary, doesn't it?  Think it could ever happen?  It could be happening right now, somewhere in the world, and we might not even know it until the troops begin attacking, and the bombs begin falling from the sky.  But by then, it may be too late.

Social media is a useful tool, much like the hunting spear.

Early man developed the hunting spear as a tool to kill animals for food.  Then he turned around and used the same hunting spear as a weapon against his fellow man...to take his fellow man's food as well.

Consider the hunting spear the next time you see an online campaign or movement supporting a cause.  Is the online campaign a tool, or a weapon?

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