The intersection of media, technology, psychology, and policy has never been as rich as it is now. The ongoing critiques of American democracy with manufactured consent, the problematic indoctrination through personalised filter bubbles and the erosion of personal connection for the profit of a handful of companies are all questions at the fore of the conversation around social media and its impact in contemporary society. Going into the CIS Australia Social Media programme I was excited to learn more about these issues, and hopefully get some answers to them too.
With a wide array of speakers, I was able to deeper and broaden my understanding of social medias effect on us all. One of the most exciting examples of this was Nell Watson, her talk Artificial Intelligence & Ethics: AI and Social Trust expanded on these questions, bringing together the issue of social media filter bubbles and democracy through the idea of information gerrymandering. A tool, created through algorithms and used by large tech platforms, to manipulate voting opinions within populations. Watson explained, by creating separate networks within a social media site and keeping groups of people within those networks exclusively, you could then gently change their opinions on a subject. Of course, this is most often used for political gain.
Another talk, Cybersecurity – Disinformation and Social Media by Pablo Breuer discussed just how much information we all have available on the internet. Breuer explained this through a demonstration. Breuer talked about just how much information we are putting online through a lens of malicious hacking. He explored just how vulnerable we all are, and the dangerous position we’re putting ourselves in by putting so much of our personal information online. He made his point more tangibly through an exercise, we were all given 15 minutes to find out as much information as possible about him using his public social media accounts. One student found his age, university, time spent in the military, his residential region and the age and names of both his kids.
Although the content of the programme was excellent, the online environment did make it more challenging. It was harder to communicate and socialise with the other students when doing group activities. To overcome this, I, and I’m sure other students, had to purposefully put in additional energy into communicating with each other and engaging with the content. This is something that I will take with me beyond the course and employ in future learning and professional environments. This programme was such a privilege to attend. The calibre of speakers they had was incredible. It was the first opportunity I had to discuss these topics with people in the tech industry and I hope it won’t be the last.
The sessions were laid out in a casual enough way for me to feel comfortable engaging with the speakers and other students in the programme, and with such knowledgeable guests I’m very glad I was able to discuss the content with them. I will certainly be looking at future 360 International events and I highly encourage any other students to give it a go. I learned so much, both on the topics I had in mind going into this programme, as well areas I had never been exposed to.