Another way social media changed the world

Proud Boys, ANITFA, QAnon, ISIS, Incel. The list of extremist communities is endless and continues to grow. These groups actively leverage social media for the purpose of radicalizing, recruiting and organizing believers. It has never been easier to make an extremist.

How does this happen? After all, social media is just a series of neutral communications platforms, lauded for the good it does.  I looked to answer the question and found that not surprisingly the answer is complicated.

Photo from Pixabay, by G. Altman

Structure to keep us clicking

While there are many paths to radicalization, social media shoulders blame for many of these roads, partly because of it’s structure.

The first issue in social media’s structure is flow. Flow is built into how these applications work. For example, YouTube’s associative linking has been designed to promote addictive behavior, to keep us clicking and watching. The repetition of clicking, viewing, clicking is perfect for indoctrination and the spread of misinformation.

Then there are the algorithms. On platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Amazon, algorithms influence what we see or what we don’t. Through algorithms, people’s biases are amplified and spread by what algorithms choose to deliver to our screen.

Additionally, algorithms are enabled by the recommendation engines which use collaborative filtering. Recommendation engines compare the profiles of others like us with our own and fill in the gaps. Because of this process, the biases we already have and the biases of similar people influence which content algorithms show us on the screen.

If algorithmic recommendation brings us content that reflects how we already think, we are not only more likely to engage with that view, we are more likely to spread it. Kris Shaffer best explains it in a TPM article:

This sharing optimization compounds the filter bubble effect. Because it is easier to find information that reflects my existing biases and easier to share it, my contributions to others’ social feeds will reflect my biases even more than if I only shared content that I found elsewhere on the internet. And, of course, the same is true for their contributions to my feed. This creates a feedback loop of bias amplification:

Left unchecked, this feedback loop will continue to amplify the biases already present among users, and the process will accelerate the more people find their news via social media feeds and the more targeted the algorithm becomes. And given the way that phenomena like clickbait can dominate our attention, not only will the things that reflect our own bias propagate faster in an algorithmically driven content stream, but so will content engineered to manipulate our attention. Put together, clickbait that confirms our preexisting biases should propagate at disproportionally high speeds. (Shaffer, 2019, para. 9)

Added to this mix is the knowledge that discussion among like-minded people radicalizes their average opinion.  While it has always been so, social media intensifies the process because groups are larger, with more sources of information and more chances of encountering extremists. It is easier for the discontented to seek out the like-minded and for radical recruiters to find them.

We also know that content which arouses any emotion increases the engagement of the viewer. Anger is especially powerful. In the unlikely event that the algorithms even show the viewer opposing content, anger makes it harder to listen to another side.

There has always been a myriad of elements to the making of a radical. However, social media has accelerated the process and can now reach larger numbers than ever before. Even after discussing only a few contributing factors, it is easy to see that through the use of social media, it has never been easier to produce extremism.

Image from Pixabay, by Open Clip Art Vectors

What next?

So, what do we do? Facebook, Twitter and many other social media platforms are now monitoring content and shutting down accounts. They have added advisories to questionable content. Is this effective?  Not yet.

There is no single answer to the question of extremism.  Social media can police the issue, but we also need to educate participants in analytical viewing. Where did this information come from?  What are the facts backing it?  Is it an opinion piece? Particularly we need to educate the young in how to be critical consumers of social media.  

Unfortunately, I believe that neither of these actions are enough to mitigate the problem of radicalization. Are there other solutions I haven’t considered, or is extremism just a human condition?

Facebook:  The making of a radical. Another way social media changed the world. Check out my blog:

Twitter:  How does social media make a radical? Check out my blog:


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Bolter, J.D. (2019, May 19). Social Media Are Ruining Political Discourse, The Atlantic,

Cohen, S. (2020, July 3). QAnon Is Disrupting America — Why Every Business Leader Should Be Concerned, Forbes,

Luckert, S. (2018, January 26). Extremists Are Thriving On Social Media. How Should We Respond? Huffpost,

Moskalenko Ph.D., S. (2018, July 6). Why Social Media Makes Us Angrier—and More Extreme, Psychology Today,

Moskalenko Ph.D., S. (2018, December 5). Mass Radicalization in the USA, Psychology Today,

Open Clip Art Vectors. Anti-fascism-Fight-Hate [Image]. Pixabay,  

Shaffer, K. (2019, August 26). How Algorithms Amplify Our Own Biases And Shape What We See Online, TPM,

QAnon verses Facebook

Questions of censorship and free speech

Who decides what is acceptable speech and what is not? How do we protect free speech and keep people safe?

Having recently blogged about censorship, free speech and social media, I was interested to see how after three years of public pressure, Facebook has now classified QAnon as dangerous. They are treating QAnon as they do other extremist groups and have begun removing their content from Facebook and Instagram.

Photo from Pixabay, by A. Fotos

Who on earth is QAnon?

QAnon is not a “who”, but a “what”. To elaborate, Keven Roose in his article “What is QAnon, tells us that:

QAnon is the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.

QAnon followers believe that this clique includes top Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros, as well as a number of entertainers and Hollywood celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres and religious figures including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Many of them also believe that, in addition to molesting children, members of this group kill and eat their victims in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood. (Roose, 2020, para. 2, 3)

QAnon’s basic beliefs also include the premise that the Democrats have evil intentions.  Furthermore, they believe that Donald Trump is a hero. He has been recruited for the presidency by the top military, so that he can break up the Satanic cult which runs the world. QAnon followers emphasize that Trump will end the cult’s control of politics and the media, as well as bring their participants to account.

Many accept these assertions.

Since QAnon began about three years ago, it has grown exponentially through their dedicated use of social media. QAnon is now followed by hundreds of thousands of right-wing supporters in the US and across the world. As QAnon develops, it adds new allegations, including claims about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the existence of U.F.O.s.

Photo from Pixabay, by G. Altman

Why does it matter?

Followers of QAnon are deeply engaged. They congregate on social media, bonding with the like-minded. For many, it becomes a source of entertainment, almost an online game. The source of concern is that:

QAnon believers have used social media to harass, intimidate and threaten their perceived enemies, and to seed other types of misinformation that wind up influencing public debate. Several of the most popular conspiracy theories on the internet this year — such as “Plandemic,” a documentary containing false and dangerous claims about Covid-19, and a viral conspiracy theory that falsely claimed that Wayfair, the online furniture company, was trafficking children — have been amplified and popularized by QAnon followers. (Roose, 2020, “What role have social networks played in QAnon’s popularity” para. 2)

The FBI has labelled QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism. QAnon believers have been accused of serious crimes against those they disagree with.

Consequently, Facebook’s move to shut down their forum to QAnon supporters is welcomed by those who believe them to be dangerous disruptors. They will point out the recent arrest of those who were planning an attack on the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer and paint all right-wing proponents with the same brush.

But the hundreds of thousands who follow QAnon will call the shut down partisan censorship of a grassroots movement which is quickly becoming mainstream. They will point out that Trump has called the group patriots and that multiple Republican candidates for Congress have expressed support.

QAnon’s political support and connections with social media raise the question of who polices free speech. Who decides if QAnon is a grassroots movement or dangerous?  Who decides what is acceptable speech and what is not? Facebook? The FBI? Isn’t free speech a right? How do we protect free speech and keep people safe?

I still have so many questions and very few answers. What are your thoughts?

Facebook:  Free speech or censorship? Making it harder for QAnon. Head over and read my blog:

Twitter:  Worried about QAnon vs social media? Check out my blog:


Altman, G. Eye Facebook Detail [Photograph]. Pixabay,

Cohen, S. (2020, July 3). QAnon Is Disrupting America — Why Every Business Leader Should Be Concerned, Forbes,

Facebook bans all QAnon groups as dangerous amid surging misinformation (2020, October 7), CNBC,  

Fotos, A. Social Media Internet Security [Photograph]. Pixabay,

Martineau, P. (2017, December 19). The Storm is the New Pizzagate Only Worse, Intelligencer,

O’Sullivan, D. (2020, October 8). Facebook says it will ban QAnon, three years later, CNN Business,

Roose, K. (2020, September 28). What is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory, The New York Times,  

Weaver, A. (2020), What Is Qanon? Here Are 5 Core Beliefs of the Shocking Conspiracy Theory, CNN

Questions of Censorship and Free Speech

The use of social media for foreign meddling in elections, hate crimes and public protest made me think about the tension between free speech and the public good. How did the strain on our basic value of free speech get to this point?

Photo from Pixabay, by G. Altman

The beginning: Utopia the free

It’s 1992 and the early days of the internet and its available to everyone. The internet is going to change the world. Everyone can access and share information in a great universal force for good.  It is uncensored and open to all. The world’s oppressed can speak freely, and all information and all news is available at the click of a mouse.

Moving into the 21st century, social media launches into our lives. Internet communication is now a two-way street on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. Without anyone monitoring, social media is being used to share information, ideas and content across nations. Powerful stuff. Because of social media, the Arab Spring, protests in Hong Kong and engagement in Black Lives Matter have taken the world by storm.

Reality: It gets complicated

We now know sadly that an uncensored internet opened the door to rumours and invective. Conspiracy is king and truth has become subjective. Criminal intent is rampant and hate groups further their own agenda. Reaching audiences far broader than in the past, they feed off free speech and easy access to information.

Terrorism, increasing attacks on immigrants, and minorities have raised concerns worldwide about the link between social media and violence. Zachary Laub in his article Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons tells us that:

In Myanmar, military leaders and Buddhist nationalists used social media to slur and demonize the Rohingya Muslim minority ahead of and during a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was a participant in the social media network Gab, whose lax rules have attracted extremists banned by larger platforms.

The perpetrator of the 2019 New Zealand mosque shootings, killed forty-nine Muslims at prayer and sought to broadcast the attack on YouTube.”

Zachary Laub, “Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons”, Counsel on Foreign Relations

These connections with social media raise the question of policing free speech. Something should be done, right? So, who sets the rules? Is it fair to call it censorship? Policy makers have to reconcile competing values in their approach to new questions. We like to think that new laws restricting type of speech can defuse discrimination and head off violence against the powerless. But here and across the world, such laws are also used to suppress unwelcome ideas in the interest of public order and morality. For example, The Human Rights Watch tells us that:

Since April 2000 Egyptian authorities are targeting female social media influencers …They have arrested at least 15 people…in the majority of the videos and photos, the women appear fully dressed, at times singing or dancing. Those prosecuted have large followings on social media in the hundreds of thousands or millions.

“Egypt: Spate of ‘Morality’ Prosecutions of Women”, Human Rights Watch

So where do we stand today? The response to policing internet speech has been uneven and the task has mostly fallen to social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. While these companies have made steps towards monitoring content, their rules are inconsistently applied. Additionally, their resources are not evenly spread across all markets and are subject to pressure from the state. They rely on artificial intelligence, users’ reports and staff, who are overwhelmed by the volume of content and the stress of filtering through worrisome posts.

Photo from Pixabay, by G. Altman

Questions, questions, more questions

If the logistics of policing social media is daunting, a consistent philosophy of what is appropriate is almost impossible. Who decides what is acceptable speech and what is not? How do we protect free speech and keep people safe? Should it depend on our culture? The illusions of utopia are long gone. Are our expectations of a free and energized social media realistic? 

These are questions I don’t have the answer to but believe worthy of asking. What do you think?

Facebook:  Free speech or censorship? Making it harder for the bad guys. Head over and read my blog:

Twitter:  Worried about free speech and social media? Check out my blog:


Altman, G., Woman Face Thoughts [Photograph]. Pixabay,

Altman, G., Question Mark [Photograph]. Pixabay,

Jones, M., “The Complete History of Social Media: A Timeline of the Invention of Online Networking”, History Cooperative, June 16, 2015, Accessed September 26, 2020

Laub, Z., “Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons”, Counsel on Foreign Relations, June 7, 2019, Accessed September 26, 2020

Lowe, M., “Social Media Fueling Worldwide Increase in Hate Crimes: Report”, WGNTV, May 26, 2019.,of%20acceptance%20and%2C%20in%20turn%2C%20fuels%20real-life%20action. Accessed September 25, 2020

“Censorship and Free Expression”, Internet Freedom Foundation, 2020, Accessed September 25, 2020

“Egypt: Spate of ‘Morality’ Prosecutions of Women”, Human Rights Watch, August 17, 2020, Accessed September 25, 2020

“Role of Social Media and Freedom of Speech and Expression”, Legal Desire. August 7, 2020, Accessed September 25, 2020


Tales of a small business owner

I’m a small business owner who is very concerned with my bottom line. Until now, to grow my business I’ve relied on word of mouth, as well as an occasional ad in the local paper.  But I know I can do better and it’s time to review my options.

I’ve concluded that TV and radio advertising would be an overreach at this point. Bulk emailing is problematic with new regulations. Everyone is pointing to social media as the best means to promote my service. But I would like to know why. Should print still have a role in my next marketing campaign? I have to make pennies count.

With a little research, I’ve discovered that print and digital advertising have different advantages. In general terms, print can be better for speaking to the home town market, but social media has a broader reach and can be tailored to the type of person who would be interested in my service, if local doesn’t matter.

Digging deeper into Digital Media

When using digital advertising, it is easier to measure the results or Return on Investment (ROI). Additionally, digital advertising can be cheaper than traditional media because many online publishers charge based on how well the ad performs. Digital ads also offer the benefit of interactivity. I can increase the engagement of my reader through a video clip or a game to make the viewer’s visit more interesting. As I’ve already alluded to, these ads also offer more control over who can see it. This can mean that less money is spent on those who have no interest in my service.

The banner ads we see on websites will allow my ads to run on a site which targets my desired demographic. However, click-throughs on banner ads are low.

A huge new industry has developed around search engine marketing as searching online is now the first choice for shoppers making buying decisions. Unlike banner advertising, I would pay only when a prospective buyer types in the appropriate keywords for their search and then clicks on the link to my website.

The Internet also offers the chance to conduct no-cost marketing through blogs and other social media like Twitter or Facebook. But the ROI is lower than that you get from banners, or search engine marketing. It’s not the first choice for those of us expecting an immediate return.

Print advertising

In print media, circulation is king. If the paper or magazine has no readers, no one will see my ad regardless of how well designed and well placed it is. Furthermore, many readers will not be interested in what I offer. (Do note that it is easier to ignore a small ad than a big one.)

While print readership is plummeting, the people still reading print are the most engaged and attentive readers. If this is your target demographic, remember that baby boomers place more trust in specialty magazines and newspapers than in internet advertising.

Outdoor advertising

Until now, an avenue I hadn’t considered is outdoor advertising. Examples of these are billboards, bus benches and subway advertising. This is the cheapest way to reach the captive audience of commuters and travellers.


The best strategy for my own marketing is to integrate a social media and print campaign. All my print media would direct readers to my online presence, by listing our website, twitter accounts, etc. Social media would promote our successes in print. Press releases and great news coverage are examples of these successes. Outdoor advertising will be a great consideration for future campaigns. As in all marketing regardless of choices, maintaining consistency in the brand is paramount.

Hammond, Julia. (Accessed 21 September, 2020.) Social Media Versus Print Advertising: Is Print Really Dead?,effective%20at%20driving%20business%20at%20a%20local%20level.
Mueller, Daniel. (Accessed 21 September, 2020.) Digital Advertising vs. Print Advertising.
Resnick, Rosalind. (14 August, 2009.) Which Ad Strategy Works for You?

Microsoft,,, Accessed 21 September 2020.

Newsworks, Accessed 21 September, 2020.