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Facebook and its dangerous proposition towards partisan politics

From Facebook, Twitter to Whatsapp, Social media giants have become one of the largest propaganda machinery in the world.

Facebook’s ulterior motives

You must have heard about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook meddling with American elections by harvesting private data without users’ consent and using it for political advertising.

With over 87 million users private data collected, it was the largest Facebook leak ever which provided customised ads based on people’s online behaviour. Hillary Clinton was deliberately shown in a negative light to ambivalent voters which helped swing votes to Trump’s victorious 2016 election campaign.

But even before 2016, Facebook had meddled in 2014 Indian elections. We all know that anti-incumbency was high and Congress’s fall was inevitable. Yet, the way Modi and his party coming to power was influenced by malicious propaganda. 2014 election was the 1st largest social media-fuelled election campaign in history.

You might have seen how Nehru, Gandhi and Congress leaders were defamed with pictures out of context, morphed to portray the opposition in a bad light and gave a twist to well developed foreign locations showing them as ‘Gujarat model’.

Enter Ankhi Das, Facebook India’s Public Policy Head

Yes, the ruling party’s IT cell pioneered in deliberately spreading fake news and misinformation before 2014. They were not alone but were helped by Facebook. In a superb investigation by the Wall Street Journal, they lay bare the links between Ankhi Das at Facebook India and the ruling party. Facebook India’s public policy head Ankhi Das has acted as an agent of the ruling party and has also openly admitted to her bias towards Modi.

“We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history”

said Ankhi Das in an internal note a day before the BJP swept to power in 2014. She had endorsed an article by reposting which called Indian Muslims a ‘degenerate community’.

She also received and shared internal election predictions from “senior leader and close friend in BJP” and went on to say that the downfall of the Congress party meant victory over “state socialism.” Facebook employees say these attitudes translated into partisan actions.

She even decided to oppose a ban on one of the ruling party leaders Raja Singh, who posted threats to raze mosques and called Muslims are traitors, because it ‘would ruin the company’s relationship with the ruling party’.

Facebook’s Ankhi Das’ collusion with fascists highlights how authoritarian retards can come to power and hold sway over social media feeding people with conspiracies, hatred & lies. An investigation is on and she may go scot-free because of lawlessness already prevailing, but how many of us will reject such prejudiced gutter politics leading to more divisions? If not, are we ready to bear the debilitating socio-economic costs of all this mess?

The way ahead

We need to think what actor-director Sacha Baron Cohen (the General Aladin in The Dictator movie) puts forth. He says freedom of speech is not freedom of reach which hits the nail on the head. Imagine a party running an ad of ‘Jewish solution to the Germans in danger’ to gain votes or posting lies in the name of ‘historical facts’. Social media simply can’t afford to give free access to some of the most reprehensible people on the Earth to spread hatred and call it a free speech!

We are dangerously poised for long term autocratic regimes & pogroms with no signs abatement of demagoguery in the long run. We need to hold Social media companies like Facebook accountable for all the chaos caused. They only focus on user engagement and ads, throwing business ethics to the wind.

Nothing creates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage. Don’t believe it? Just compare a fake news and fact check post; see which creates more user engagement. It is time we ask the right questions to social media companies who have indulged in greed.

They have taken our freedom for granted and helped in promoting conspiracies, fake news and lies far too long. The ultimate aim of social media companies including Facebook should be prioritising truth over user engagement and ad revenue, to make safe space for objective and healthy online interactions.

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