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Social Media: Threat to or Tool of Authoritarianism?

HBR – “…Given the growing weight of social media’s influence on society, the key question is whether social media will become a sentinel against systematic oppression and injustice, effectively posing a serious challenge to authoritarian regimes. In the case of China, while social media may not have the power to cause a regime change, it will, in coming years, challenge the government’s ironclad authority and lack of accountability to its people. This clearly manifests in times of crisis, most recently, with the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak…Automated censorship driven by cutting edge research in machine learning and artificial intelligence can be just as counterproductive. Contrary to popular opinion, Chinese surveillance is not the black-and-white image of evil, oppression, and ruthless efficiency suggested by George Orwell’s dystopian totalitarian state in his book, 1984. Human ingenuity in using allusions, abbreviations, and other linguistic devices has allowed criticisms of the government to get past censors: a simple example is “Wuhan,” a censored word on some platforms which replaced with an abbreviated form,“wh,” can no longer be detected. Just as veiled critiques of the government have filtered through censoring software,  articles and videos spreading misinformation about the virus have utilized similar techniques in getting past censors. Thus the wreckage left behind by censorship procedures is a combination of frustration and mistrust…”

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