Social media can influence election results: Expert

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Can automated messages generated by “faceless” individuals on social media influence the result of an election? According to Internet Disinformation Analyst Ben Nimmo, it is possible, if the 2016 American election is anything to go by.

Nimmo says social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have to date learnt from the interference of Russian bots and their influence in the American election results. The companies have since beefed up their resources in trying to get rid of these elements. “In early 2018 Facebook announced that they were going to increase to 20 000 the number of people they would have working on troublesome content online so that the trolling and fake content can be dealt with.”

He says it cannot be an easy task as the company deals with 2 billion people on a monthly basis.

He also stresses the importance of vigilance on the part of the citizens on interrogating information coming out during an election period.

Nimmo says there are a few checks a news consumer can do to verify the authenticity of a suspicious story. “If you see a story that makes you think, that doesn’t look right, (then) check what the other (news) sources are writing. If it is a really big story then everybody in the country is going to be covering it and if it is only on one website then you have to start wondering why it isn’t anywhere else.”

In our 2016 Local Government Elections, there was the war room saga which allegedly involved the ANC formulating social media campaigns that aimed to tarnish the image of opposition parties.

Nimmo warned that, as South Africa enters this election season, news consumers need to have their guards up to avoid being misled by these rouge elements.

For more on this story watch video interview below: