At a time when the mainstream media have been accused of taking one political side or the other, the social media comes as a gift to the common man to express themselves freely and without the fear of being forced to take sides. But unfortunately, after episodes like Cambridge Analytica, the role of the owners of Facebook and Google has also become suspect.
Both Facebook and Google are desperately trying to restore their credibility. Facebook today recognises that Indians are its largest users - almost 300 million – which is way ahead of the users in the United States (204 million). During the US elections, Facebook earned a bad name for helping President Trump’s election (through Cambridge Analytica). Since elections are round the corner in India, Facebook can no longer take any more risks since India has its largest number of users. In a swift move, the Facebook authorities brought India at par with their headquarters in Menlo Park in California. A new six member India Board is formed which will now directly report to the headquarters and not via the Asia Pacific office.
India means big business for the social media leaders like the Facebook and Google. During election time, they cannot afford to risk their credibility. As a part of their new strategy in India, the board will focus on eliminating fake accounts; stop spreading fake news, increase transparency in advertisements and monitor online abuse. The authorities have prepared a Facebook cyber security guide to protect the integrity of the electoral process. The guidebook has been shared with policy makers, parliamentarians, chief ministers and all chief electoral officers.
The proliferation of fake news is a real threat in social media today. In times of turmoil, elections and disasters, rumours and disinformation spread like wildfire. It’s good to see that social media giants like Facebook and Google have woken up to the reality. Google has also announced recently that it will introduce more transparency in political advertisements. Google will seek all political advertisers to produce an authorisation from the Election Commission of India. Google will also provide to the commoners the source of those advertisements and the money spent on them. This is unheard of in the media scene today. None of the mainstream media ever dared to show such guts to reveal details regarding election ads.
Media has always talked about self-regulation when the government threatens with a clamp-down. Today’s media is either too harsh or too pliant. It has lost its objectivity or middle course. The reactions of the social media have come at a time when there are rumours that the government is discussing with TRAI on finding ways to curb the social media. While the mainstream media – the newspapers, the television channels and the radio – are yet to take positive steps to ‘self-regulate’ and eliminate fake news, it’s good to see the social media at least has come forward on its own and has taken the first steps towards self-regulation.
All political parties use the media as a tool of propaganda, especially in times of election. This attempt at self-regulation could be interpreted as a good marketing strategy of the social media to pose as a ‘credible’ platform. Time will tell whether this stand represents genuine commitment or is a just a marketing ploy.