What the people know, is just the tip of an iceberg. It is huge, it is devastating and we certainly need to get rid of it.
When Facebook started in the early 2000s, nobody knew that seemingly harmless social media platforms would become the biggest threat of the 21st century. That was a time when people were celebrating an online medium that allowed them to share their life with people they loved, no matter where they were. However, everyone’s then favorite Facebook, is now used to perpetrate civil riots, orchestrate genocides, intensify communal divide and manipulate elections. Not to mention the unethical channeling of users’ personal data to generate advertisement revenues, apart from how Facebook affects elections.
Currently, 70 percent of America’s adult population is actively using Facebook. This is the population that goes and casts vote. Not just in America, but everywhere around the world, people are increasingly accessing Facebook everyday or rather, Facebook is accessing each aspect of people’s lives. In order to gauge the power of Facebook, consider this:
- 22 percent of the global population is currently on Facebook with 2.7 billion monthly active users.
- There are 1.4 billion active users everyday with addition of 500,000 new users everyday, 6 new profiles every second and 400 new profiles every minute.
- And these numbers are without including the entire region of China.
Find more statistics at Statista
Facebook is the third most visited website in the world, fourth most downloaded free app on the Google Play store, fourth most valuable brand in the world.
Nothing would have been wrong if Facebook would only be connecting these billions of people. However, the tech giant has become an arbitrator of law, truth and people’s life. If you steal the data of millions of people, you will be legally charged. When Facebook sells the data of 81 million people to Cambridge Analytica that leads to the win of Presidential candidate in 2016, it just says sorry and brings a few insignificant changes.
Watch: Mark Zuckerberg says sorry about the Cambridge Analytica scandal
The mechanism of Fakebook’s working is pervasive, personalized and huge, perfect to affect election results. Everything that you do on Facebook is either being tracked publicly by your friends, family members or others, or by the Facebook employees. And political parties know how significant a tool this can be to mobilize support, manipulate voters and win elections.
A Political Playground
Till a decade or two ago, the campaigning budgets of political parties were devised in a completely different fashion than they are now. According to a survey by eMarketer in 2019-20, the UK’s Conservative party spent nothing on social media campaigns till 2010. By 2015, it was spending £1 million on the same and £18 million by 2017.
Political parties know how significant a tool Facebook can be to mobilize support, manipulate voters and win elections.
And these figures are nothing when we talk about how much the Democrats and the Republicans are spending on social media to win the campaign. 59% of the total social media budget of American political parties was spent on Facebook which amounts to a whopping $797 million. $343.7 million on Google and $300.4 million dollars on others. This is not enough, according to a survey by NCBI, 61 million Facebook users were fed with heavy, politically mobilizing messages during the 2010 Congressional elections in the US.
Facebook Affects Elections, By Manipulating Users’ Mind
Every reaction that you make on Facebook posts (whether knowingly or otherwise) asserts your choices by default. When a friend or a person you know likes a Facebook post by a certain politician, it self-endorses the support in that party’s favor. Every like, share, comment and react by the users is tracked, mapped and used to curate the right mechanism by the political parties. Your digital Facebook behavior determines the advertisements by the parties that are slipped in your feed.
The most stark feature of the social media giant that makes it so addictive is its personalized feed for every user based on his likes. Within no time, these personalized feeds turn into echo chambers and that’s where the problem begins- a single sided narrative throughout.
Breach Of Transparency And Truth
Volunteers of political parties, even the independent supporters of their ideology, indulge in one on one conversation with the voters and that’s where breach of transparency comes in action. Nobody knows what promises are being fed to the voters in the private messages, what means are being used to change the voter’s mind. And this further perpetuates lies and a series of misleading facts. In 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a speech at Georgetown University in mid-October, ‘We don’t fact-check political ads’. And that pretty much explains everything.
Watch: Facebook CEO Mark says ‘We don’t fact-check political ads’
The best example for the same is Russian fake-information cell. To quote Guardian:
The Russian agency that interfered in the 2016 US election created a fake leftwing news publication, staffed it with fake editors with AI-generated photos and hired real freelance reporters as part of a fresh influence operation detected and removed by Facebook, the company said on Tuesday.
Cut To 2020
All this and more happened, and Facebook was oblivious. Oblivious to the fact that it is changing the way people’s brains work, changing the way how political parties win elections.
However, Facebook claims and is making feeble, but still, efforts to step back on the track of credibility. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal that led to Donald Trump’s win, Facebook took a step towards change by hiring fact checkers. While this sounds like a good step but not actually. These fact checkers are third parties individuals and organizations.
The tech giant is not a part of its own fact-checker policy; instead it has outsourced it to independent organizations who have brains, ideology and biases of their own.
While Facebook fact checkers claim to battle the fake news online, who fact checks the fact checkers? In worst cases, what happens when these fact checkers become the arbitrator of truth, suppress discomforting facts and promote endorsed narratives?
In another attempt to curb the reach of political ads, the tech giant made a section for political ad archives that separately hold all the endorsed ads related to parties. Nevertheless, they are still accessible to the users at a click and Facebook definitely need to do better to convince the people that it does not affect the elections.
Facebook operates in 191 countries, available in 111 languages and a tech superpower that is controlling the minds of people worldwide, can certainly do much better with rectifying the things that are wrong. How long before we regulate the tech giant and curb Facebook’s power to affect elections?