Tag: Facebook

Data Used In Politicized Topics

In his talk about Big Data, Aaron Hanlon most interesting points centered around using Google Trends and another Google function that analyzed how many times electronic books mentioned certain words. Hanlon noted that the word “data” has been used much more often in books published in recent years while words like “truth” and “fact” have been used less often on a downward trend. Now, these are only  words in books that have been electronically transferred to Google Books, but it brings up an interesting point. He discussed how truths were known on a theoretical basis in the early literary years (1600’s and before). Truths and facts were primarily used interchangeably with the word “evidence”, but in recent years it seems that “data” is becoming the new word to interchangeably use with evidence. To paraphrase Hanlon, “When data become the main form of evidence, that’s revolutionary”. However it may be problematic with using data as the main phrase associated with evidence. Depending on the subject matter, almost all data taken can be taken with a certain bias to create and back up an argument. For example, most surveys have an inherent bias depending on whether it’s an online survey or whether it’s taken in person, who answers the survey and where the survey is taken amongst other biases. While all data is not based on human response, where data is taken can be biased to “prove” an argument.

I cannot help but think about the 2016 Elections when I think about this talk about Big Data and how data is used to argue so many issues that presidential, senatorial, and congressional candidates stand for and against. Not only on arguing issues, but the reliance on “Big Data” can be and was disillusioning for predicting the president-elect in 2016. Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States and almost no political analysts or pollsters saw it coming. Hillary Clinton was expected to win (some said by a landslide) in almost every “legitimate” poll released and many millions of Americans were disillusioned when the result of the election went the opposite way. While it is hard to think of a different method of trying to figure out who will win elections, the over reliance on data and its inherent bias can be extremely misleading in some cases.

During this election season I have noticed that on social media, most prominently Facebook, users bicker back and forth about politics using data to argue points about race, violence, the environment, and many other prominent issues. There is an overabundance of information sources in this day and age online, which allows people to pick and choose which sources to follow on their Facebook “feeds”, instilling certain ideas and values depending on what side of the political spectrum the user falls on. Most sources I see shared about politics come from biased sources whether that be on the right or left. While I definitely fall on the left side of the political spectrum, it can be annoying and concerning to see fellow “liberals” share posts about some of these issues that are blatantly wrong with biased data to further their argument. However, it can be more frustrating to me when people on the other side of the “aisle” share very biased sources talking about things like “black-on-black violence in inner cities” to argue that police officers are not abusing their power in certain parts of the country. Either way, data needs to be looked at carefully when making arguments.

The Power and Scope of Social Media Is Not Always a Uniting, Positive Force

During Khalid Albaih’s talk/interview regarding the power of social media, he regularly discussed how social media is turning into the new form of how people get news and spread work like his (political cartoons). He also discussed how the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt in 2011 was organized and implemented through Facebook and how dictatorial, corrupt governments are struggling to figure out how to censor it. Countries like Sudan lets paper publications publish articles speaking out against them, but immediately confiscates the papers and shuts down the publication for a few days causing them to lose money. Social media is becoming this new realm that is not easily censored  or able to be shut down quickly and revolutionaries are taking advantage of it.

After he brought up that he believed Facebook was this positive media where people could express opinions and organize revolutionary ideas, I could not help but think of a story I heard last year about a man named Alagie Jammeh from The Gambia. Alagie was funded by his uncle, the president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to study at the University of California at Santa Barbara on a full scholarship. Alagie was greatly appreciative of this opportunity and was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. One day, he was invited by friends to go to a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Alagie could not make it, but in solidarity with his friends he wrote a simple post on Facebook, merely stating “No one should be denied their fundamental human rights because of their sexuality.” As a result of this post, his deeply homophobic uncle and president of The Gambia completely cut off his funding and ordered him to return to The Gambia. It is punishable by death or life in prison to be gay or support gay people in The Gambia where President Jammeh has gone on record saying “Any gay person that comes to The Gambia, we will slit your throat, we will kill you. You will go to jail for the rest of your life. We will not allow gay men or gay women in our society”. Alagie was kicked out of his off-campus housing and had no money for food, he continued to go to class knowing he would not be able to pay at the end of the semester. He lived out of his car and showered in the school’s rec center. He even contemplated suicide at one point, but knew he had to keep going. He finally reached out to his school for help and was paired with lawyers who were determined to get him his education back by granting him political asylum. He ultimately was granted asylum by the United States and graduated from UCSB in the spring (although I’m not sure where his alternative funding came from) .

Alagie’s story ultimately had a happy ending, but it also shows that some of these corrupt governments are in fact cracking down in ways that may not first appear on the surface. Alagie was in no way wrong in posting that status, but Facebook became this entity that led him to his eventual homelessness.

Below is the youtube video where I first heard of this situation and the article talking about his asylum grant:

Gambian UCSB Student Granted Political Asylum in the United States