17jan17-Staying up nights with a columnist

POSTSCRIPT / January 17, 2017 / Tuesday
Staying up nights with a columnist
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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IMPRESSED by the credentials (4.7 million Likes on Facebook ) of a famous blogger who has diversified into mainstream print media as a columnist, we decided to examine the bulging statistics.

Twice this month, we monitored the column’s numerical following based on its hits on Twitter (T), FB Share (S), Googleplus (G), Email (E), and FB Like (L). We started the marathon watch at midnight, the time when online content, including opinion pieces and their feedback, are updated.

Under the author’s byline and the column’s date, the feedback scores start at midnight at Zero: T=0; S=0; G=0; E=0; and L=0 – meaning no reactions or feedback yet.

No activity was noted from midnight to 2 a.m. with the T, S, G, E, still at zero. Then at 2 a.m., we nearly fell off our chair when, wow!, a block of 487 L (Likes) suddenly appeared together with 1 T, 3 S, 0 G, and 0 E.

Zero activity followed for 15 minutes. Then at 2:15 a.m., the Likes score went up to 751, with 1 T, 13 S, 0 G, and 0 E.

Zero activity again in the next 15 minutes. At 2:30 a.m., the 751 Likes score was updated in one fell swoop to 1,100!

Zero activity for more than an hour. At 3:50 a.m., the 1,100 Likes doubled in one solid block to 2,200!

By that time, the FB Shares (S) had crept up slowly (more credibly, we thought) from the initial count of 3 at 2 a.m. to 13, to 16, and to 26 at 3:50 a.m.

In contrast, from midnight to 1:35 p.m. (afternoon) the column’s Twitter retweets did not move from the initial score of 1. This despite the fact that this columnist is supposed to have 104,000 Followers on Twitter.

And so forth and so on… with the column’s FB Likes jumping by big blocks (every 10 to 20 minutes) from 2,200, to 2,800; to 2,900; to 3,100; to 3,500; to 3,600; to 3,700; to 3,800 at 6:25 a.m. when we decided to sleep.

We woke up at 1:35 p.m. (afternoon) and found the column’s FB Likes had soared to 9,200. It went up to 11,000 at 9:20 p.m. (that evening).

The following week, we repeated the monitoring and noted the same pattern. We invite readers to do it themselves – and help find out what is going on.

Imagine 500 or so readers simultaneously clicking Like. Are there people who stay up the whole night (as in a BPO graveyard shift) just to load 500 Likes together on schedule? Or are computers and apps doing it for a paying client?

Social media war rages around us

WE SHARE below relevant excerpts from a recent article by Sean Williams in the New Republic on how authoritarian regimes are winning the social media wars with their armies of online trolls. See: bit.ly/2jc2sp7

He mentioned a Philippine official employing trolls at great expense. As politicians on both sides of the fence use social media, we covered the official’s name with asterisks to be fair. Excerpts:

“Madelyn… is part of a vast and effective ‘keyboard army’… mobilized to silence dissenters and create the illusion that ******* enjoys widespread public support. Each day, hundreds of thousands of supporters—both paid and unpaid—take to social media to proselytize (his) deadly gospel. They rotate through topics like corruption, drug abuse, and US interference, and post links to hastily cobbled-together, hyper-partisan web sites at all hours of the day and night.

“Though social media is designed to make each user appear to be a unique individual whose views are her own, Madelyn and her cohorts stick exclusively to the talking points.

“When Facebook and Twitter were founded a decade ago, they heralded a new era in which the voices of ordinary citizens could be heard alongside—or even above—those of establishment insiders. From the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and recent demonstrations against Vladimir Putin, activists have used social media to attract followers and broadcast their messages free from official oversight.

“But increasingly, authoritarian regimes… are deploying social media to disseminate official propaganda, crack down on dissent, and maintain their grip on power. What began as a tool of freedom and democracy is being turned into a weapon of repression.

“The Philippines seem tailor-made for this kind of propaganda machine. The median age in the country is only 23 years old, and almost half of its 103 million citizens are active social media users. Millions of citizens rely on social media for virtually all of their news and information, consuming a daily diet of partisan opinion that masquerades as fact.

“Online trolls can earn up to $2,000 a month creating fake accounts on social media, and then using those ‘bots’ to flood the digital airwaves with propaganda. According to Affinio, a social media analytics firm, 20 percent of all Twitter accounts that mention ******* are actually ‘bots’.

“Such tactics are being employed by authoritarian regimes around the world. China’s Communist Party has mobilized a network of bureaucrats known as the ‘50 cent’ army to post 450 million fake comments a year on social media. In Russia, the Kremlin finances a huge army of trolls who post disinformation all over the web. In Egypt, where Twitter and Facebook helped topple Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the military-led government has tracked, silenced, and in some cases killed its opponents.

“Back in 2012, as Facebook prepared for its IPO, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a letter to investors touting the company’s role in helping ordinary citizens hold their leaders accountable. ‘By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible,’ he wrote.

“Unfortunately, Zuckerberg was only half right. Social media has undeniably helped activist movements draw attention to their causes. But regimes around the world have figured out how to use social media to build even bigger megaphones, effectively drowning out dissent. In the Philippines, the massive online army has chilled public opposition to the crackdown on drug users.”

(First published in The Philippine STAR of January 17, 2017)

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