What memorable events will stand historically as 2016’s top tech takeaways?
It’s fair to say 2016 has been a memorable year, though not necessarily for the right reasons. While political events hogged the headlines, this year has also seen plenty of tech stories, from the rise of fake news to the fall of short-lived social media sites.
Join us for a review of the year’s biggest tech stories, with our rose-tinted glasses firmly locked away in a cupboard…
Fake It Til You Make It
The US Presidential election was unsavory in many ways, particularly since it caused a spike in fake news. In the days before November’s vote, Facebook carried more false ‘news’ stories than genuine ones. Some were created by bloggers or private individuals pretending to be fictitious newspapers, while others were generated by bots. Every story was intended to discredit one candidate or exalt the other, often without a grain of truth in its hysterical coverage. Yet because these articles reinforce existing opinions and prejudices, people are hardwired to accept even malicious falsehoods as gospel – and enthusiastically repost them…This is causing tremendous problems for bodies that need to communicate objectively. It can be hard to compete against populism with potentially damaging results.
The Rise and Fall of Social Media
We live in a social media dominated age, and Facebook remains the most popular platform by almost any measure. Facebook also owns Instagram, whose soaring market share in 2016 has seen it become one of the social media big-hitters. However, it could be argued that social media as a whole is declining. Twitter closed its micro-vlogging service Vine in October, Google+ continues its prolonged death rattle and the much-heralded Peach service found the market impossible to crack. Consumers are increasingly adopting one-to-one chat platforms like WhatsApp and Snapchat over advertising-saturated social media timelines,. Who wants full of poorly executed marketing campaigns, fake news and pictures of dogs wearing jumpers. Consumers have power and they are wielding it.
Hacking isn’t new. Even Julius Caesar used rudimentary end-to-end encryption when contacting his generals in case his messages fell into enemy hands. So we are not facing a new problem just a different method of delivery. However, 2016 has seen a tidal wave of data thefts and security breaches, from compromised servers through to remotely-operated webcams being used for blackmail. High-profile data thefts this year have involved Tesco, Yahoo (twice), the US Olympic Committee and even Hillary Clinton. If Presidential candidates aren’t safe – and the Clinton email leaks prove they’re not – hacking is clearly out of control. Huge botnets including Mirai have also powered colossal DDoS attacks this year, which managed to force much of the internet offline at once.
According to We Are Social, 2016 was the year in which the number of active mobile social media users in the UK and US finally rose above 50%. While much of this was powered by communications channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp, it reflects the fact that there are now more phones than people in many first-world countries. Mobile devices are responsible for most of the world’s web traffic, and it’s projected that they will soon be used for the majority of online purchases – from contactless retail shopping to major purchases via secure checkout functionality. If this relatively bleak year has left any positive legacy, it’s surely that we are all more confident using mobile internet than we were last Christmas…
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