Facebook’s Endgame – Producing Flawed Democracy?

Lately, Facebook has been accused of imparting partisanship. The social media Giant has also been earlier accused of manifesting partiality by the U.S President Donald Trump. On his reply to Trump, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas”.

He further said that Facebook is also a gizmo which allows a voter to understand how polity in a country unfolds. Undeniably, the social media giant’s role in world politics has been paramount. The company actively engages in spreading information about a party’s political agenda and manifesto. This activity has resulted in the development of radical beliefs, outspread of fake facts and rise of fundamentalist groups.

The Company has a team which works closely with individuals relishing power and those striving to be in power. Former Republican and digital strategist Katie Harbath heads this team. World’s biggest democracies including India and United States have become the prime customers. The members of the team have become absolute campaign workers for prominent leaders. The Social Media giant also trains employees to provide technical endorsement at events of National/State interest in these countries.

“It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign”

– Elizabeth Linder, who ran the company’s political unit in Europe and Africa until 2016.

Serious concerns have been raised regarding the company’s propaganda to serve political campaigns. FB’s increased accentuation on winning votes and shaping campaigns has made Linder leave the company. According to her, the company has failed to fulfill its objective of creating a “global citizenry”.

Interestingly, one can find the company’s employees in Donald Trump’s election campaign. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, BJP, is the most followed world leader on Facebook, which is, perhaps, a result of the company shaping his online charisma. The company has helped political parties win seats in elections in Germany. Prime Minister of Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has also used the platform effectively to encourage his policies.

Facebook a podium for Exchange of Ideas!

Facebook has been a platform for engagement of civilians with their chosen leaders. It has played a prime role in helping organize marches and raise awareness on matters important to humankind. These tools, as the company says are available to everyone who joins the platform regardless of his/her diplomatic association or the political opinions and views.

“We’re proud to work with the thousands of elected officials around the world who use Facebook as a way to communicate directly with their constituents, interact with voters, and hear about the issues important in their community,”

Harbath said in one statement.

Facebook has surpassed its rival Twitter and has earned a supreme spot as a stage for “Influencers” of the world, which includes politicians, sports personnel, actors and so on. Posts by these people eventually attract followers resulting in heavy traffic for commercial endorsers.

Facebook’s Extraordinary Bond with Politicians

In the heat of elections, Harbath’s team works closely with political parties. They are accused of helping in setting up campaigns and also establishing ways to help a party share its agenda with the voters. Those who criticize also point out that the team aids in creating advertisements which are intended for specific voters. Allegedly, Facebook’s bond with the government gets amplified when a candidate gets elected.

However, hitches arise when the platform is used in an authoritarian manner. A report by Freedom House of U.S states, that a large number of countries are manipulating social media to undermine democracy”. This involves coercion which is often sponsored by the ruling government.

Are There Any Mechanisms to Tackle Harassment?

The company engages in eliminating the content which it finds violating its community standards often in regard with ferocity and hate speech. However, Facebook is accused of not finding the reported content violating its policies more often than not. Reportedly, the company chose not to take any action on reports on the Kenosha Guard’s page; taking it down only after the unfortunate shooting.

Zuckerberg defends the less action on reports by stating that the company does not want to involve in censorship. However, internally, there is a tussle going on regarding identification of government backed hate speeches and trolling harassment.

There was a swirl in the number of Facebook users around the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East around 2010 and 2011 exemplifying the ability of the platform to affect democracy. Thus, the chain of power and data at Facebook seems unpreventable.

Elections and Facebook

Elections in any country draw massive traffic on social media which in turn gets tons of money. Facebook started associating itself in election campaigns throughout the world. Its outcomes are visible.

The president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri broadcasted campaign rallies live on Facebook and even declared his cabinet on the site. Whereas Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, became one of the first world leaders to livestream his inauguration on the social media platform.

Facebook has its significance even in the most arguable political movements while repelling frankness. Although it has assured to be accountable and open to modulation.

Current Stature of Facebook and Ruling Elites

The bond between the company and several governments remain tangled. Facebook’s relationship with the European Union has been grim. The company has been accused of proliferating Islamic zealotry. Coming to Asia, China and Facebook have not yet reached any consensus that would allow the company to open its market in the country. Though, Zuckerberg has tried enough.

However, 2 weeks back, Mark Zuckerberg stated that Facebook won’t accept any new political ads in the week leading up to the presidential election in November 2020.

“This election is not going to be business as usual, We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”

– Mark Zuckerberg

The Connection with India

Given the Population, India is a principal customer of Facebook’s market. The number of users are increasing drastically. Indians use WhatsApp (one of the messaging services of the Facebook) more than any other country in the world.

Reportedly, Facebook played a significant role in India’s elections. The company supervised several campaigns of Narendra Modi. Several of his messages got transferred through WhatsApp and there has been a substantial increase in Narendra Modi’s Facebook followers.

“We are capable of delivering any message we want to the public, whether sweet or sour, true or fake”

-Amit Shah, Home Minister, Government of India

As Modi’s social media reach grew, it had a direct impact on increasing cases of harassment and fake news. Modi’s political rivals were easy targets on social media platforms. India has become a cradle for fake news. The country has also become a treacherous place for opposition parties and journalists.

Gauri Lankesh, Times of India, allegedly killed in 2017 by Hindutva extremists.

Many journalists have been killed for raising their voices against the ruling party. This includes the death of Gauri Lankesh of Times of India who openly criticized Narendra Modi. While Hindu extremist groups who endorse the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party(BJP),have used social media to harass and to plot attacks against minorities and denigrators of the government.

Notably, India ranks at 142 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Index for Press Freedom while Norway tops the ranks.

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About the Author

K. Shiva Sai
Been a National Level footballer and a quizzer.

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