by Sanjana Hattotuwa
With documentaries like ‘The Great Hack’ we are deeply fearful – and rightfully so – of how our data can be used, abused and weaponised. Over the past three years, significant political developments on both sides of the Atlantic have fuelled a global debate around the role, reach and relevance of social media in our daily lives including every imaginable aspect of our economic, political, social, media and even cultural interactions.
While this anxiety is generally grounded in mature studies of cause and effects, many extrapolate lessons for Sri Lanka that aren’t entirely valid and even downright dangerous. While documentaries on Netflix serve to highlight critical issues, they are terrible at guiding policymaking that responds to a class of problems academics called ‘wicked’.
A ‘wicked problem’ is one that has no easy resolution and where the very act of intervening or even observing changes the nature of the problem, very often to an even greater level of complexity. So in sum, while there are definitely problems around the use and abuse of social media as it is popularly referred to, could there also be benefits to hold those in power accountable, despite their best efforts at resisting this, and interrogate, for example, the behaviour of candidates and political parties in an election campaign?
If in a country like Sri Lanka, which doesn’t have legal frameworks in place for the sunlight of accountability or scrutiny around campaign finance and spending, can dynamics and data determined on social media, once harvested and analysed, give clear pointers around how online propaganda have impacted voter behaviour and election outcomes?
And in Sri Lanka, what constitutes ‘social media’?
And where is politics online?
Does it lie in domains openly affiliated to or controlled by politicians and political parties?
Or has it migrated to gossip, meme and other online spaces that are more generally defined through religious or nationalist fervour, with no overt connection to a partisan agenda or candidate?
And when we talk of social media, do we embrace new apps like TikTok, or instant messaging? I
f we don’t know, and know not how to even frame key questions, how can we expect policymakers to protect citizens from a degree of electoral manipulation they may not even realise exists?
Continue reading ‘In Sri Lanka, the Same Dominant Narratives in the Media my Generation Grew up with has a Vice Grip on the Framing of Issues over Social Media’ »