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Modern Influencers

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One of the biggest inconveniences being experienced by the people of Kashmir these days is the inability to contact their loved ones by phone, and lack of access to the news. But it was not so very long ago that none of these facilities were available and people got on with their lives. This indicates the level of dependence people feel, today, on near instant communication and the need to be informed of developments everywhere.
This has been made possible by the advances in telecommunications technology, turning almost the entire world into a veritable village. There are blank spaces, however, where the flow of news and information are strictly controlled and the temporary experience of the Kashmiris is a permanent feature, such as in places like China, North Korea, etc.
While technology has made all this possible, the input of artificial intelligence is already bringing another major change that needs to be understood and dealt with. There are sections of society that make the choice not to access conventional means of obtaining news, such as newspapers and the TV channels (selection by others) and are dependent almost entirely on feeds from the internet (supposed self-selection), particularly social media. While there is some element of choice in what one looks for, algorithms built into the surfing platforms keeping pushing contentbased on what they understand to be one’s preferences, skewing the flow to the point oftentimes that one gets more than one would normally select. Also, it is possible for people to programme the selection process in a way that, based on one’s preferences, one can be made to believe and think in a certain way. Allegations made about Russian hacking of social media to influence the US elections, or the Brexit vote, are just a few examples of what could be done.
There are already large sections of society in India whose dependence on the social media is somewhat excessive, be it the upwardly mobile youth or migrant workers – generally people who do not have roots in the society they live in. Quite obviously they get caught in a news cocoon that makes it difficult for them to obtain a perspective other than what they are being surrounded with.
It is natural that those who supposedly have the ability to manipulate this new technology are becoming more powerful than the traditional practitioners of power, particularly politicians. The manner in which a ‘professional influencer’ like Prashant Kishor can hop from one political party to another, irrespective of ideology, is an example of this. Those who do not want society to be further divided by such echo chambers must now work on corrective measures so that things do not get any worse.