Election interference online is dangerously easy

This article is not a guide, and we do not condone meddling with any election. Here we show how easy it is, still, for anyone to interfere with a vote from outside of the country.

Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online
Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online

Social media has changed our world view; algorithms within social media like Facebook designed to follow what content we are interested in consuming. With the monetization of social media, a kind of Pandora's box opened, you can now effectively hijack these algorithms and show people with the relevant interest your content above others. Before we can show you how it works, let us explain how a social media company like Facebook gathers information and track your online movement.

Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online
Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online

Facebook Pixels

When you log in to Facebook and keep your account logged in on your browser, Facebook is still able to track some of the websites you currently visit. Many sites embedded with Facebook Pixels in which are lines of codes meant to assist Facebook in gathering data and behaviour. Embedding Facebook Pixels on a website is optional, and most websites do it because Facebook offers analytic figures showing how much of a website's traffic is coming from Facebook. Facebook is not able to force any website from installing their Facebook Pixel code, but we repeat, sites prefer to have them installed for marketing reasons and their ad campaigns.

When a user like yourself logs in to Facebook, many of us leave ourselves as logged in, for convenience. Within the terms and conditions of Facebook, as long as you log in, you have permitted them to track your online movement with any website that has Facebook pixels embedded within them. Facebook uses this information to analyze the pattern of your online behaviour. It is from these figures that they can derive fascinating expression, say you were browsing online for a phone charger, the moment you get back into Facebook, it feels like they bombard you with content which relates to phone chargers. Facebook owns Whatsapp and Instagram, from which they collect a lot more data which allows them to improve their ad targeting.

Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online
Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online

Facebook Political Ads

Facebook advertisement is not about selling a product; geared towards promoting content. We could also make the argument that Facebook design is for political ad rather than products. Say you have a product listed on your website or a popular e-commerce platform, Facebook does not like it when you are trying to force their audience away from their platform. You can pay a lot of money to drive Facebook users to your website, and they would happily do that for you. However, what they would love more is if you would promote a video of your product which you have uploaded on Facebook. It's a win-win situation for Facebook, they get ad revenue from you, and they get to keep their audience on their platform too.

Political ads and videos are not interested in driving you towards any site; it is about information and education. Sometimes, it can be not easy to discern a political ad from a non-political one. Facebook has updated its policies, disallowing any foreign advertisements designed to hurt or manipulate elections. The caveat is how this only applies to openly political ads targeting candidates directly.

Say you want people in the US to vote for a particular candidate, research the candidate on a policy he stands for which the opponent does not. Say a candidate is against abortion, so you could create a short video about how emotionally damaging abortions are to doctors. Upload that video to your Facebook page and target it to every person within said candidate's jurisdiction. The video will connect to voters emotionally, galvanizing those who are against abortions, to begin with, who will share that video to more people in their network. Individuals on the fence on the matter can see the point of the video, and it is also possible a person who was pro-abortion, to begin with, is now convinced to be against it. Voters will look for the candidate that supports their belief and vote accordingly. While not directly, you have interfered with that election from a foreign country.

Facebook is not the only platform where anyone can manipulate a foreign election from, Twitter itself can be creatively used to sway voters. Google ads are much stricter, but it is possible to attract visitors to a website where you share political views. The internet and social media have changed the world of politics; we are all susceptible to it. Trying to control it is becoming next to impossible, and even as we write this article, we do not see a practical way around stopping foreign political ad without impacting online advertisements. What is most scary to us, is not a foreign country interfering with another country's election, but a sole individual with a lot of money to spend could have the same amount of power. Simply frightening.

Thank you for reading 'Easy way to interfere with a foreign election online' by IT Block. IT Block is an IT support and services provider based in Singapore and a registered Google News source. #elections #vote #voting #interference #meddling #foreign #IT #support #services #Singapore

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