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Changing The Rules of the Game: What to Expect When Social Media Dictates the News

Manak Suri

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Fake news social media

Till about five years ago when I was still in high school and without a smartphone, a single faint thud against the front door every morning at roughly 7 AM would signal the arrival of the daily news digest for everyone in my house including myself. Even though I rarely read beyond the sports section and was more or less updated on every development with my favourite leagues, devouring those few pages was a daily ritual. Today, the newspaper arrives every morning in the same fashion and while the ritual has remained unchanged for most of my family, the need, as well as the want for it, does not exist for me.

My story is a phenomenon that resonates with millions of families across the world. The sources from where we get our news and the way we read it has been rapidly changing, in more ways for some than the others. When Pew Research Center conducted a study on ‘The Modern News Consumer‘ across the United States, it was found that 50% of adults from the ages of 18-29 get their news online, followed by television, radio and lastly with only 5% from print newspapers. Television was still reported to be the most dominant source of news among all age groups taken together. However, since it was mostly the choice of the older population, further changes over the next few years should be substantial and rapid. In another survey conducted by Pew this year, it was noted that about 67% of adults in the United States were getting at least some of their news from social media. While the numbers projected above are for the United States, there is no denying that an increasing population of young adults worldwide is getting more and more of its news from social media, and the same is intuitive given the average time a teen spends on social media is up to roughly two hours per day. The important questions however are:

1) whether social media is capable enough to take the baton as the foremost source of news and also
2) whether we as consumers of news are equipped enough to differentiate between what is news and what’s not.

Facebook, fake news, furore!

“Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has”, wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his 6,000-word manifesto in February this year on how Facebook plans to make the world better. There is little reason to doubt what he says. However, there are two sides to this coin as well since “the two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)”, he also mentioned in the same address citing that alternate perspectives do not necessarily contribute to news and there is a need for a complete picture. Still, the greater evil here perhaps is the inaccuracy in information or what Zuckerberg calls it – ‘fake news’.

Zuckerberg’s address came soon after Facebook received heavy backlash for its role in the spread of fake news meant to divide the Americans ahead of the presidential elections. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pressure was sure to mount on the most popular social media site when it was caught in the midst of another incident relating to the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s safety check feature kicked in for citizens in Bangkok in December 2016 when an erroneous article about a bombing in a nearby shrine went viral. For users in the region, such a mistake can cause a pandemonium. With Facebook falling victim to the fake news again, the world was left evaluating their sources of consumption of news.

Trump’s tussles over Twitter

Let’s take a turn back to the United States yet again but away from Facebook. According to the same study conducted by Pew, about 74% of Twitter users have said that they receive their news from the social media site itself. Twitter allows you to keep a close tab on people you follow, and the problems associated with Facebook are largely avoidable. However, what happens when you are barred from following the president of your country on Twitter? Midway through the year, Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group when he blocked a number of accounts on the grounds of criticism and dissent. With the White House spokesperson stating that tweets from Trump’s personal account were to be considered “official statements by the president of the United States”, the move was called unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The question then arises, will Donald Trump’s twitter account be treated as an official one, or despite the remarks from the White House will it be considered a personal one, in which case he may be allowed to block anyone from his account, just like any other person.

Just like Mark Zuckerberg had to shoulder responsibility for the unprecedented burden that social media all of a sudden now carries in disseminating the news, so did Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, although his role was different and just limited to admission of self-perceived guilt. Recognising that Twitter may have played an important role in having Trump elected as president, Williams publicly apologised when he said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Sharing the burden is your choice to make

Zuckerberg and Williams, among others, have been at the centre of a phenomenon where social media has taken over reporting and while Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep working on filters, resolutions, and artificial intelligence to help overcome the set of issues that this wave has brought with it, it does not mean there is no role for us to play. We are not all fed the same information as we were until a few years ago in the form of newspapers. Today we have fountains of news, information and opinions at the distance of a click, a tap or a scroll. Unfortunately, that also means that not everything that comes across our way is genuine, or to our liking, or even what we may be looking for. To that end, developing habits of open-mindedness, fact-checking and impartiality is imperative on our part.

When we are biased in favour of or against a particular idea or entity, we are often willing to skip checking of facts from sources we may feel are dubious or biased themselves if the news suits our allegiance on the matter. That is where impartiality jumps in. For example, as a young Indian adult when seeking an update on the situation in Kashmir I am aware that the dailies of the two different countries (India and Pakistan) may be under the political influence to portray the news as per the wishes of their respective countries’ governments. Keeping that in mind I may opt to read news from sources from both the countries individually, or maybe just not get carried away with the political undertones in the report from either of them to paint the opposition in a bad light and focus just on the facts. Similarly, while reading an article on the border dispute between India and China on the Chinese daily Global Times, I have to keep in mind the controversial journalism and the pro-government stance that the daily is often known to take, or perhaps get my news from some other source.

Social media has opened the doors to information and connectivity like never before for people all over the world. In the strife to make different platforms for dissemination of news better equipped to make us even better informed, we would do well to strive to also keep ourselves toe to toe with it.

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A student of economics with a keen eye for developments in the geopolitical sphere, Manak is a curious individual with a penchant for writing about anything that makes him ponder long enough.

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Opinion

Yes, You Should Start Caring About Politics!

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One of the most common things that you hear from people a lot of the time is something along the lines of “I just don’t really care about politics.” In fact, you might have even said something along those lines yourself. And it can be tempting to fall into this line of thinking. After all, politics are hardly the most exciting or exotic things in the world. However, the truth is that they impact your life in different ways every single day and if you choose to ignore politics, then that just meant that you’re going to end up falling victim to policies that harm you and the people around you. With that in mind, here are some ways that you can start being more politically minded right now.

Know the issues

Do you know where you stand on many of the most important issues of the modern day? Do you know what most of those issues are? The truth is that many people would rather ignore a lot of the problems that society and the world at large face simply because it can feel as though they’re too big to deal with. Things like the economy, climate change, and social justice aren’t just abstract concepts; they’re things that impact the lives of real people every single day. Being more informed about the issues will allow you to have a much better understanding of your own political views.

Know who to speak to

Do you know who your senator is? Your representative? Most people tend to only know major politicians who have held office at one point or another. Sure, you probably know the president or a senator like John Mccain. But what about all of the other senators like Doug Jones or Mike Crapo? These are the people you can actually contact if you want to start making some changes in the world. Getting to know who you can contact can help you feel much more involved in the modern political process.

Forget about personalities and focus on policies

Modern politics has become as much of a game of personalities as anything else. But the truth is that the personalities of individual politicians are far less important than the policies that they and their party want to enact. After all, the policies are the things that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. You should never vote just because you like or dislike the way that a particular politician talks or what their personality seems to be like. Always vote on policies, not personalities.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should suddenly let politics take over every conversation that you have or that you need to be constantly thinking about it. But trying to bury your head in the sand and ignore the things that are going on around you isn’t going to do you any good. The only way that you can start to make some genuine changes in the world is if you face up to the realities of the modern world and try to do something about it.

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How Mafia-States Get Away with Criminality

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In theory, all 195 states adhere to the Charter of the United Nations and therefore pledge “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”. In other words, to play the game and adhere to basic governmental principles. That’s in theory: in practice, a handful of states in the world behave like mafias, and get away with it.

President George W. Bush first used the terms “failed states” or “rogue states”, during his office. Rogue states seem more adapted because, if they are failed states in the sense that they do not carry out their mission, they are not failed for everyone. Afghanistan is, still today, one of the most prominent examples of how to get personally rich by pretending to represent people. In the wake of the NATO intervention in Afghanistan, billions of dollars were poured into the country in reconstruction efforts, based on the belief that if the population was schooled and busy at work, they would be less likely to join rebel ranks. The idea was good, but most of the massive funds were sidetracked to line officials’ pockets and Afghanistan is pretty much in the same shape as it was before the program, if not worse. Business Insider covered the subject (1): “All districts receive central government budget to cover salaries of front-line forces,” reporter Jessica Purkiss wrote for the Bureau. “In many areas in Afghanistan, some of this budget disappears and the actual number of officers tasked with holding back the Taliban is much lower than the number actually allotted.”

And such rogue states also exist close to the Western sphere of Europe and the US. Almost every single State in Central and South America is at the warning level on the Fragile State Index (2) (the term was brushed up to sound less definitively damning than President Bush’s wording). Hungary was bashed this year, along with the rest of EU low-performers, for dropping sharply in the EU’s good governance ranking, as reported by Nicolaj Nielsen, for the EU observer (3): “Bulgaria scored the worst among EU states with 41, followed by Greece (44), Italy (47), Romania (48), Hungary (48), and Croatia (49). Dolan faulted the crackdown on civil society and other independent institutions in Croatia and Hungary for their worsening performance. Both governments were also embroiled in scandals last year. In one case, Hungary’s government allegedly funneled money from the Central Bank to friends and family.” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán learned from the report (4) that “Hungary loses 200 billion forints every year due to the corruption that exists in public procurement cases.”

Not to forget that States are not all mutually recognized and accepted, some of them are self-proclaimed. While some do indeed strive to carry out their stated mission and serve the people they claim to represent, some other are merely mafia groups with a political cover, which deal in various traffics and racketeering. Bordering Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, lies Western Sahara, where a group named the Polisario Front announced to the world that it was the shield of the Sahrawi people, who originate from the arid strip of land, with the stated intent of creating a sovereign state. But that must be put into perspective with the endless list of allegations and accusations carried against it, regarding the Polisario’s management of refugee camps in Algeria for example. The self-proclaimed government of the Sahrawi – namely the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) – is known for keeping the refugees captive in the camps, or keeping family members as hostage to guarantee men’s returns, maintaining a general state of violence and lawlessness within the compound. In addition, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has serious doubts (5) as to what becomes of the humanitarian aid it sends. It suspects not only the food to be sidetracked and sold on the black market, but also to be requested in excessive numbers – the Polisario front claims it holds up to 200 000 refugees but has systematically refused census, leading humanitarian donors to believe the figures are doubtful.

Can this be avoided? Hardly, at the general level. Pablo Escobar coined the phrase which underlies the entire system : Plata o plomo (silver or lead). Officials could be paid off to keep silent and play along, or be shot. Therefore, it is in the nature of corruption systems to maintain themselves because, should a “pure” official arise, he will be removed and replaced by a more complacent one.

Mafia states use the cover of darkness or, better still, a politically activist stance. The Colombian FARCs – Polisario’s allies, incidentally… – and the Medellin Cartel, run by Pablo Escobar, had an intense PR activity with many “social and humanitarian” poses, to help improve their public image and stymie political push-backs. The Polisario Front has moved much of its assaults to the judicial level, in a new form of “civilized” piracy, including with the surprise attempt to seize a Moroccan shipload earlier this year in South Africa. “The conclusion of this case will actually tell us whether it is now conceivable, on the judiciary level, that international shipping industry – which carries 90% of global trade – become hostage to some form of unprecedented and increasingly vicious political piracy,” wrote Philippe Delebecque (6), a French judge specializing in maritime affairs.

Mafia states are here to stay, because the mafia creates the state, and not the other way around. Once the mafia has developed its tentacles and political power enough, it will make kings and topple uncooperative administrators. Other states in the world are fully aware of this fact, and that if they bust a mafia-state, another will replace it within weeks. So, in the best cases, neighboring countries let it be; in the worst cases, they get involved in the graft.

1) http://uk.businessinsider.com/afghan-national-security-forces-us-assistance-70-billion-2017-9
2) http://fundforpeace.org/fsi/
3) https://euobserver.com/political/136664
4) http://hungarianspectrum.org/2017/01/26/hungary-has-been-steadily-becoming-more-corrupt/
5) http://www.eubulletin.com/4018-exclusive-olaf-report-reveals-diversions-of-eu-aids-to-western-sahara.html
6)https://seapiracy.einnews.com/article/406654813/_j2VsuC3itgcmo3C?lcf=YCp5Ip9ztVBQmLVnDO55vXzEICMe6RFJuBE3DVQzur8%3D

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Should You Support Universal Basic Income? Who else is in favour?

Manak Suri

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In the previous article “Universal Basic Income: In Action” we explored that Universal Basic Income under different variants is already being put to trial in different provinces of a number of countries around the world. Before that, in “Universal Basic Income: The Idea” we weighed the potential of UBI in creating a monumental change in the way humanity as a society functions as of today. While there’s still quite some time required to ascertain how easily and efficiently the system can be put into effect and whether it should be put into place at all, some of the more apparent advantages, as well as flaws of the system, are repeatedly considered by experts in determining the answers to the aforementioned questions. In addition, many influential figures have also come out both in support of UBI as well as against it. Let’s take a look at the support UBI has garnered as well as the supposed benefits and criticisms of UBI.

Pros of Universal Basic Income

The first argument often cited in favour of UBI is for its potential to alleviate poverty, improve the standard of living and vastly reduce income inequality no matter which country it is implemented in. the Alaska Permanent Fund (AFP), which we’ve already discussed, was instrumental in improving the state’s income equality rank from 30 to 2. UBI trials in Namibia, Kenya, and parts of India have also yielded positive results in this regard. UBI has also resulted in the improvement of health, especially mental health, as reported by people who have been part of UBI trials in Ontario, Canada. UBI also encourages entrepreneurial behaviour since it guarantees basic subsistence thereby providing an incentive for people to take up a line of work of their liking. UBI trials in India and Namibia have also shown that it has helped promote financial decision making by women resulting in their empowerment. A guarantee of a fixed income every month also brings more power to people when it comes to deciding where they should spend money. The Roosevelt Institute research we discussed previously also suggests an overall growth in the US economy with a countrywide implementation of UBI. UBI is also expected to lead to a positive job growth and lower the dropout rates in schools since it provides more security to families.

Cons of Universal Basic Income

The critics of UBI argue that money that is essential for the poor is being redirected towards the wealthy and those citizens who have no need for it. Robert Greenstein, founder and President of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C.  “if you take the dollars targeted on people in the bottom fifth or two-fifths of the population and convert them to universal payments to people all the way up the income scale, you’re redistributing income upward. That would increase poverty and inequality rather than reduce them.” In addition to that, it is often argued that UBI programs are highly ineffective when compared to welfare programs that are implemented on targeted populations. Therefore, unless UBI is implemented without the scrapping off of such welfare schemes, it is likely to find opposition from a huge number of people who currently benefit from these programs. Another argument against UBI one may repeatedly encounter is that UBI reduces the incentive to work, which leads to huge costs for the economy. This may also lead to a dearth of skilled and unskilled labour in the economy. The Swiss government have opposed the implementation of UBI for the very same reason, fearing that the current labour shortages may be exacerbated. Finally, an argument that also holds the door open for many debates is that UBI is too expensive to implement and will cost a lot to the government. As opposed to studies which show a growth in the economies through the implementation of UBI, many economists have also opposed it, claiming that UBI in the more developed nations will be very expensive to guarantee an acceptable standard of living to all the citizens.

Who Supports Universal Basic Income?

Since the idea was first proposed by Sir Thomas More in 1516, UBI has found suitors throughout recent history. Founding father of the United States Thomas Paine was in favour of it, philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell argued in its favour, and even Martin Luther King said: “the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” American economist Milton Friedman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and even former US President Richard Nixon came close to bringing UBI to the United States. As of today, a number of high profile names in the Silicon Valley have expressed their support for UBI. An advocate of entrepreneurship and creativity, Mark Zuckerberg sighted UBI as an worth a look in his statement at his Harvard commencement address: “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.” Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk believes implementation of UBI is inevitable. “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said in an interview in 2016. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay also donated towards a UBI experiment in Kenya. Coursera founder Andrew Ng expressed on Twitter: “More than ever, we need a basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.” The list does not stop here.

UBI has at least gained enough attention to get people, investors, world leaders, and governments to talk about it and more importantly experiment with it. The results are not yet out and will take a considerable amount of time still to be able to present a final verdict on UBI and its effectiveness. However, as robots make humans redundant in recurring waves, is there still enough time to just be experimenting?

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