Lest you think political turmoil caused by social media is purely a US-based phenomenon, the world’s biggest election starts next week in India as over 800 million people prepare to vote. And as it goes in any modern country with a relatively internet-savvy voting population, propaganda, fake news and misinformation campaigns from every political party are making it difficult for voters to make objective, well-informed choices. Guess who’s at the heart of the problem? Yup, that would be everyone’s favorite: Facebook. I’d almost feel sorry for them if I didn’t know that they were at the heart of the problem from the very start, having been a major online impetus for the current ruling party’s rise to power in 2014. And now they are having to lie in what’s proving to be a very uncomfortable bed.
Why do you think it’s called “Pandora’s Box”?
Sadly, the problems that Facebook and other social media platforms faced with the Christchurch nightmare will be the same ones they face in India’s upcoming election, which will be the same problems we will face in our elections next year: regardless of the number of human moderators and fact-checkers they point at this problem, the lid will never be shut as long as Facebook and its kin continues to commit to upholding free speech. How could they do otherwise? India’s scenario is particularly difficult for a number a reasons, chief among them is India’s 340 million users (compared to the US’s 214M) and more than a dozen languages. When you consider that Facebook’s moderation algorithms and staffing were primarily developed in English, this presents a problem that they are ill-equipped to deal with, despite being pointedly directed by India’s Election Commission to police election-related postings from all parties and candidates. In an attempt to combat fake news and hate speech, Facebook has hired several fact-checking organizations to bolster their moderation efforts, but critics point out that some of the very same organizations hired to police Indian Facebook have themselves been accused of posting their own fake news. Thus far, Facebook’s efforts in India, just like here and other countries abroad, have the appearance of moving in the right direction to “put a lid on things”, but they probably already know that this particular box can’t be closed, even if they really wanted to do so. Unfortunately, fake news continues to be profitable, and until we as a civilization make it otherwise, some other company will just step into the gap if Facebook ever decides to throw in the towel.