The Advent of Social Media Politics

1x01 The Advent of Social Media Politics

This isn't a political email. In fact, I actually hesitated to write this one at all, so bear with me. The TL;DR is that technology (and social media, in particular) has consistently changed the landscape of politics and political engagement. If you're not interested, the next two sections deal with deep fakes and imaginary people.

My apologies to our friends outside of the US. This first part is obviously US-centric, which is unfair to our large readership in India, and other places. We'll try not to be so geo-specific in the future, unless it's warranted.

We often laugh that the government is eternally behind the curve when it comes to software and IT infrastructure upgrades, but one thing is certain: Technology has consistently and fundamentally shaped our political theater over the decades. Radio allowed "messaging" to get from coast-to-coast, and television gave us the theatrics of appearance and gestural play, but more importantly technology has enabled communication, and this communication revolution allowed for the consolidation of viewpoints between politicians into a platform agenda for entire parties. It is, unfortunately, one of the reasons many of us feel stuck with a binary choice, and why both politicians and supporters are painted in very stereotypical ways.

Although each successful politician has been able to use technology to better their standing, it might have been Nixon (after failing miserably at the technological innovation that was television interviews) who keyed on using a communication platform as a way to consolidate a message across supporters, using the deep South to rally support around issues.

This was all pre-Internet. What did the Internet bring us?

With the Internet, everyone gained a platform, and communication became instantaneous. As we closed in on the financial crisis, three groups showed the savvy necessary to utilize the organizational power of the Internet to its fullest: Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and Barrack Obama's campaign. Without the instant communication of the Internet, grassroots organization would be difficult. Clinton would have likely beat Obama in the Democratic primary in 2008, and neither of the aforementioned anti-establishment groups would have established momentum. Today, there would be no Anonymous, no Antifa, and likely no resurgence of white supremacy.

A major part of this is the emergence of social media and social networks as viable tools for organizing people, and disseminating information. Twitter was essential to the disruption caused by the Arab Spring.

You know who else likes Twitter? President Trump.

Trump's use of the social media platform is a significant part of his daily life and character. He's the first President to have been completely engrossed in a platform to reach his supporters and fans. This has fundamentally changed how Presidential communications are viewed, and there are still conflicting statements on whether or not Trump's tweets constitute official policy statements. Some pundits are even concerned that Trump could start a war or insult other leaders through his feverish--and unfiltered--use of the platform.

Trump understands that with Twitter, he has a direct link to millions of people without the layers of bureaucracy often placed on a high-ranking political figure, and he uses that to his advantage like no President before him.

On the other side of the aisle, it's been fascinating to watch how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has handled both media pressure and attacks from opponents on Capitol Hill. Her extensive use of Instagram to document how life as a politician is distinctly different from that of an average person has made many politicians on both the left and the right nervous, and she's used her platform to amplify policies she believes in, even if it takes other Democrats to task. In addition, on Twitter, she responds authentically and forcefully to attacks, and quickly puts down media commentary on any missteps. She understands how words and memes travel online.

With Ocasio-Cortez you have someone who has grown up with the Internet. Social networks were coming into their own when she was in high school. I severely dislike the term "digital native," but if there is such a thing, it's people from her generation. Those becoming politically active today (and the generation to follow) have had their daily lives augmented by social media, smartphones, and instant communication nearly all of their lives.

The 115th American Congress was among the oldest in history. With Ocasio-Cortez and the 116th Congress, the average age dropped by 10 years, but there is still an overwhelming number of baby boomers writing policy. Those outside of the establishment, meanwhile, have consistently utilized technology to gain in-roads in the political game of thrones, and it'll be interesting to see how things continue to evolve with technology like augmented reality and virtual reality right around the corner. -- Michael Szul & Bill Ahern

Deep Fakes in Politics and Blackmail

"Deep Fakes" is this concept of media--usually video--that has been so expertly manipulated as to make it appear like someone is saying or doing something that they never said or did. Last year, the media made a huge fuss about a viral video of former US President Barrack Obama warning about deep fakes. The only problem? The video itself was a fake.

I'm sure you've gotten spam email recently from someone pulling a Black Mirror, and claiming that they have you on video viewing explicit Internet web sites. What happens when these same people use deep fakes to weaponize artificial intelligence-doctored videos of you in precarious positions?

The bottom line is that by the 2024 US Presidential election (or maybe sooner), in addition to foreign interference, social media data collection, and targeted, manipulated news posts, we'll also have fake viral videos to content with. Things are--unfortunately--just heating up. --MS

Natural Language Processing

For those interested in natural language processing and understanding, we've started a new YouTube tutorial series looking at Microsoft's LUIS from several different angles. --MS

AI is Making People

If you're a fan of Tron and Tron Legacy, you understand the concept of digital (or artificial) people as isomorphic algorithms. This idea of digitally created entities was a fascinating philosophical exercise in the film.

In recent news, I'm sure you've read plenty of articles about how an artificial intelligence algorithm has been creating photo-realistic images of people who have never existed. These images were made even more realistic by the fact that they were inserted into backgrounds. These images were created by what is known as a generative adversarial network (GAN), and is the same type of algorithm used to create Norman--the world's first artificial intelligence-powered psychopath developed by MIT. --MS

Lickinghole Creek Blueberry Obsession

Lickinghole Creek Blueberry Obsession

I'm a huge fan of blueberries, but I find that--generally--most beverage companies stay away from it. There are a few wheat beers that seem to mix in the blueberry aroma quite well, but I hadn't found a good beer that captured the taste without leaning closer to a malted beverage like the six-pack ciders prevalent in most stores.

This beer by Lickinghole Creek (a Virginia brewery) is quite the opposite. It's an imperial stout infused with blueberries, and its "obsession" is clearly evident. It pours dark with a tinge of purple, smells distinctly of blueberries, and has a great blueberry flavor profile, while still giving you that thick, roasted stout flavor.

Highly recommended. --MS