Mishi Choudhary wrote an article for the Deccan Chronicle on misinformation and fake news floating on platforms such as Facebook.
It is typical silicon speak that the world’s complicated problems can be solved by making an app or making the world more open and connected. I think Facebook is well-intentioned but is either naive about the reach of its own product or about how complicated the world is.
They have a variety of other products like Whatsapp or Instagram that are better tailored for today’s social media requirements that demand transparency and privacy.
The only business model currently the internet knows is that of advertising. They are aware that they can’t push the limits so much so as to drive their users away but they do push the envelope as far as the users will let them. You should also think of platforms differently, a Google is very different from Facebook. Also, the way a small company works is very different from a large one.
Once Facebook went public, two things happened: 1) they had to figure out mobile advertising which they did very successfully. 2) They also wanted to build a media ecology around Facebook.
They started selling profiles of people in batches, information in blocks on people with similar interests for advertisers. You could do a query on the human race and buy the ability to speak directly to them.
Traditional ethics or advertising acceptability assumed that the question was given that you are advertising to a broad swath of people, what should you be allowed to put in your ad: no false claims about health, deceptiveness or scams to gain money- so those were related to the functional content side.
When you are selling information on large batches of people with similar interests, questions as to what constitutes advertising acceptability becomes a very different question. For example, can you market directly to anti-Semites or racist people or people who have a profile of a certain kind of political outrage?
Thus the advertising business that Facebook thought they had been very successful at by slicing and dicing the population turned out to have some inherent problems. Advertising acceptability problem and propaganda problem, hate speech, national security grew out of their success of being successful targeted advertisers.
The desire to become a media company had same difficulties associated with this- the unintended social consequences in different forms of publications. The process of choosing newsfeeds in order to generate clicks to support the advertising turned out to risk a kind of editorial involvement which the protection that the law gave them as intermediaries were not going to hold up. If you want to be a media company then you can’t be a “mere” platform.
There is also the question as what amount of filters do these companies use to let in only genuine news, are they enough and are their protestations about Net addiction and efforts to curb it convincing? We as users should stop relying on the companies thereby according them more power to become arbiters of genuine and truth. We don’t rely on one newspaper or TV channel, why should one media platform decide. Why should they be the ones curating our content and feed that we consume?
Having said that, large companies do have a variety of tools and are working on others but as they are dealing with a barrage of user-generated and other material, the tools aren’t enough and human judgement at least for now seems irreplaceable.
India is no different whether it is fake news or propaganda. We need to be careful and not rely on our echo chambers or newsfeed for all the information we consume. We must be conscious of the business model of any service that we use thinking it is free. Law and authorities cannot solve every problem.
(The author is a technology lawyer and the Managing Director of Mishi Choudhary Associates)