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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightThe way democracy gets ...

The way democracy gets into the 'apps' trap

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The way democracy gets into the apps trap
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Although social media including Facebook have played a significant role in bringing about several positive changes in social, political and intellectual spheres, studies have shown that they are mostly used as a way of entertainment.

Many applications that satisfy the consumer's quest for entertainment are available in the social media today. Didn’t you notice such ‘apps’ which seem harmless and innocuous popping up before us while scrolling lazily through Facebook? Most of the users would give a try for apps with titles such as ‘Who will you be in your next life?’, ‘How many persons love you secretly?’, ‘Which celebrity is similar to you?’ and ‘How would you die?’ at least out of curiosity. Though the fact that apps like these leak the Facebook information of the consumers, revelations from the cyber world that they are capable of sabotaging even the agenda of a nation, gives rise to several apprehensions. An application by Cambridge Analytica (CA), a British company through Facebook reportedly collected the information of five crore Americans in secret. It has already been proved that it was these campaigns based on the data that facilitated a favourable ground for Donald Trump in the US presidential elections. The fact that a similar intervention happened in our country as well, increases the depth of this concern.

It was Steve Bannon, one of the conscience keepers of Trump, who launched Cambridge Analytica in 2014. The ‘app’ gauged a person’s ‘digital personality’. Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge developed the technique. It included a few simple questions. But Cambridge Analytica had made the necessary preparations in the backroom of analyzing the answers to these questions and the Facebook information of the consumers to comprehend the details including his political stances. About 2.7 lakh people, fell prey to this ‘app’. Bannon and his team pilfered the information of 5 crore American voters including the Facebook friends of those who had already fallen into this trap. Following this, posts were published at appropriate times to influence their state of mind in favour of Trump. It consisted of fake news and reports that defamed the opponent candidates. The same strategy was reportedly deployed in Britain during the Brexit polls. According to the latest reports, CA interfered in hundred elections in three years. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who resigned from the company exposed the scandal before the world with the help of a journalist Carole Cadwalladr. British Parliament has announced an investigation in the matter. In the US, Democrats are up in arms. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has apologized to the world for the scandal which significantly ruined the credibility of Facebook; it has also ended the dealings with Cambridge Analytica.

The reverberations of this controversy that shook Europe and America, has been heard in our country also over the last two days. The website of CA itself acknowledges that it had helped the BJP and its ally JDU. The BJP on the other hand, alleges that Congress President Rahul Gandhi had approached the Indian affiliate of CA. Although the veracity of these allegations is yet to be confirmed, we have to accept that the matter is grave. It is a fact that at present our government machinery is using social media to invade the privacy of the citizen. The current tendency to extract data is something beyond the mere concern about privacy. It is easier than the conventional political style of evolving strategy by using data like census figures. Those data will suffice for parties to gauge the voter's political leanings and then float such fake news as can create a situation conducive to themselves. It is not hard at all in a country with more Facebook users than America. Not only that, in this country winning 30% votes itself – which is well within reach through such propaganda - is more than enough to capture power. Apart from elections, the dangers caused by fake news were very visible in Gujarat and Muzaffar Nagar. Thus, what this evil trend will ultimately endanger is our very democratic order. Unfortunately, there are no definite laws in our country to control such 'apps' fraught with dangers. For that very reason, the country urgently needs a 'data protection law'.

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