Obama’s Election and The Syrian Civil War

We’re accelerating faster than we know it. Technology is uncovering the genetic code and just as quickly, someone tries to manipulate it to create a virus. As we get better at using and deploying technology, we’re also getting equally good at misusing and subverting it.

Two diametrically different stories show how the march of technology and its ability to do good and harm in equal measure is being played out. Here’s an in-depth look  at the team that helped Obama correct a misstep in the election race into a sprint that carried him past the finish line ahead of Mitt Romney. From the article – They raised hundreds of millions of dollars online, made unprecedented progress in voter targeting, and built everything atop the most stable technical infrastructure of any presidential campaign. To go a step further, I’d even say that this clash of cultures was a good thing: The nerds shook up an ossifying Democratic tech structure and the politicos taught the nerds a thing or two about stress, small-p politics, and the significance of elections.

The US Elections will never be the same again. The Republicans may have lost this time due to the complete breakdown of a rival system called Orca, but they won’t be caught napping next time. We won’t see this played out in newspapers or on TV, but in shadowy technology that endlessly analyses voter sentiment, action, attitudes and affiliations. From a complex web of social media and voter databases, Obama’s team was able to extract the data that would tell them exactly who was for them and who wasn’t. Romney’s technology campaign had a rival approach that focused on getting Republican supporters to vote on Election day. But the system crashed at the 11th hour since it had not been stress-tested or used in the field.

Now, Syria. What comes on TV is the endless bombing of cities and the fight back from people in the trenches. One wonders how this is being sustained and how the two sides are getting back at each other. In Syria’s case, social media data is being mined to find out who is against the Government and trying to organise groups together. From the article – What made the hacks so effective was their deviousness. Malware was discovered in a fake plan to help protesters besieged in the city of Aleppo; in a purported proposal for the formation of a post-revolution government; and on Web pages that claimed to show women being raped by Syrian soldiers.
Whenever possible, the people behind the attacks would use a compromised account to spread the malware further. In April 2012, the Facebook account of Burhan Ghalioun, then the head of the Syrian opposition, was taken over and used to encourage his more than 6,000 followers to install a trojan mocked up to look like a security patch for Facebook.

The very freedom and the benefits that we prize are being used at two extreme ends of the spectrum. Mining for good, where supporters are identified and encouraged to vote. And mining for bad where opponents are mercilessly tracked, tortured and killed. One supports the dream of sustaining a democracy. The other ensures that freedom doesn’t stand a chance. In every field in the future, technology will prove to be both the tycoon and the tyrant.