This week, the focus remains on elections and how best to conduct them fairly and securely. The difference is that the subject isn't directly related to passages in the constitution and or any potential alterations to them.
Social media is a modern invention that superficially appears to be mode of communication with boundless advantages. Most implementations of the concept, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer the illusion of unfettered and unfiltered expression. They allow users to engage in the delusion that what they are reading and viewing is a realistic representation of everything from public opinion to the frequency of terrible events in their community, state, and country.
But, underneath it all are algorithms that analyze what you read, how long you viewed a certain video, the content of your comments on those items, the people who are your "friends" in the system, and what you've liked, shared, and posted. Even if Facebook doesn't line edit posts, it still engages in a subtle form of control of expression and content. It knows what will capture your interest and retain it. Soon you are fed advertisements and sponsored posts related to those interests. Posts by "friends" and on pages maintained by groups are given priority. This isn't a process or feature that exists for your convenience. It's a way to monetize your attention. And all major social media platforms engage in the practice in one form another.
Looked at from a technical perspective, this is an intriguing innovation. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, it has a certain genius too it. But examined more broadly, there is an undeniable impact in having your preferences examined, reexamined, and then used to feed you material and information that, by design, is as much to your liking as possible. It has led to the creation of what are often called "echo chambers" or "bubbles." The credibility of the self-reinforcing messages that users are force fed is artificially amplified by the fact that many of them come from "friends."
How does this affect elections? It should go without saying that living in an "bubble" isn't conducive to being a productive participant in civic discussions. The problem is not that the perspective provided in any of one of those environments isn't valuable in a larger discussion, but that it is rare that an occupant of one of those cloistered environments ever leaves it to have one. Facts become a secondary consideration and reality gets defined by the occupants of these digitally created intellectual prisons.
Then, of course, come the people who seek to leverage that result for their own purposes. They create content and manipulate each platform's programming so that it can be deployed in carefully orchestrated misinformation campaigns. The same lack of moderators, editors, or other "filters" that allows for so much freedom of expression is turned against the consumer of social media content. Inaccurate information is more easily distributed and conspiracy theories are given ludicrous credence.
For people worried about election security, particularly in the age of paperless ballots and touch screen voting, the hacking of vote tabulating systems is major concern. But, it should be considered that the greatest "hacking" danger we face isn't with the machines that count ballots, but the deliberate and focused attempts to "hack" the people casting them.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.