(TargetLiberty.org) – In times of war and conflict, the ability to exchange critical information in a timely and safe manner becomes monumentally important. We’re seeing this first-hand in Ukraine where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy regularly uses Zoom’s teleconferencing platform to connect with the world. But while social media does make it easier than ever to connect, some worry about how easily it can be misused to control the narrative.
Social Media Communication More Common Than Ever
During World War II, journalists played an integral role in the spread of updates and information about military successes and failures. They were present at virtually every conflict in the world, braving the front lines to ensure newspapers reported the truth.
Many faced the same risk of injury and harm as the soldiers they stood beside. Some of these talented media martyrs even lost their lives along the way.
Sending people into a war zone to document a conflict obviously has its drawbacks; loss of life is really just the beginning. Social media effectively removes many of those risks while providing leaders with a way to contact billions of people at the same time — an opportunity few governments or officials can willingly overlook.
But therein lies the problem: As the use of social media apps becomes more common, questions are growing about the ethics of how and where political leaders use it.
When, exactly, does a message qualify as the truth — and when does it cross important ethical barriers to become a form of viral propaganda?
Biden Hires TikTok Influencers to Boost Ukraine Crisis
The most recent and far-reaching example of social media war messaging actually occurred right here in the US. President Joe Biden’s administration enlisted a veritable army of influencers from the platforms Twitch, YouTube and TikTok to spread viral messages about the conflict in Ukraine.
Some of the influencers chosen were teenagers. Others were older adults who just happened to have a significantly large audience. At least one was a 17-year-old high school student with millions of followers — a significant soapbox even for real-life politicians.
The Biden administration claims its goal is to combat misinformation. Gaining access to such a large audience base in one fell swoop is an effective way to do it. Social media also makes it easier for older officials to connect with younger, more internet-savvy audiences who might otherwise ignore the news.
With Free Speech Must Come Responsibility
These benefits are difficult to ignore — but what about the drawbacks? They absolutely exist, and we already have proof of a handful of highly concerning examples.
Totalitarian and authoritarian countries, including Russia, China, and even North Korea, often heavily censor social media platforms, restricting access to them, or even launching campaigns to push state agendas. The side effects of these efforts can have devastating impacts on targets.
In late February 2022, Facebook banned a misinformation farm operating out of Russia and Ukraine that specifically sought to target public figures. A company called Graphika research also accused China of operating a bot farm last year that was responsible for pumping out millions of fake posts filled with COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories.
The truth about social media in times of war is simple: It’s a double-edged sword. Depending on how leaders use it, it can either help preserve free speech or destroy it. As of right now, there’s no easy way to figure out how to preserve the balance.
How do you feel about the fact that information is now more accessible than ever?
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