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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightFacebook setting...

Facebook setting ground for 'kar seva'

Facebook setting ground for kar seva

A few days ago, Congress President Sonia Gandhi in a speech in the Lok Sabha, drew attention to the role of social media in electoral politics which deserved serious debate, but it was by and large ignored by our media. The thrust of the submission made during zero hour was that new social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were hacking the elections at the behest of the powers that be. Since her speech was made in the run-up to the results of the recent elections to five state assemblies, many national media outlets construed it as a ploy by the party president to blame the social for the recent debacle of the Congress. As a result, her comments not only failed to receive serious media attention, but were also criticized and perhaps ridiculed for that intervention. In fact, the issues raised by Sonia were not such as to be subject of trolls alone. Her contentions were supported by evidence. Sonia was trying to establish, by quoting the news reported by Al Jazeera and The Reporters' Collective , that Facebook was taking a special interest in the speeches and election campaigns of certain political parties and their leaders. And Sonia demanded putting an end to the clearly planned attempts on new social media to undermine the country's democratic system.

This is not an allegation of Sonia alone; this is is the real experience of any Indian involved in new social media. Reports released by Al Jazeera in recent weeks further corroborate those experiences. The survey underlines that Facebook's policy on advertising is often in favor of sangh parivar parties, including the BJP, and those advertisements also exert a huge influence on elections. Al Jazeera prepared its report after analysing more than 500,000 political ads that appeared on Facebook during the 22 months from February 2019 to November 2020, a period during which elections to the Lok Sabha and to nine states were held. Facebook's 'Karseva' begins with the Sangh Parivar movement being given space and time for advertising at reduced rates than charged for others. In addition, the report also reveals that Facebook made a major overhaul of its algorithm aimed at the sangh parivar ads reaching more users. Besides political parties, this discrimination also applies to advertisements by its 'benefactors'. On this count alone, the FB ads of BJP candidates are estimated to have been viewed by 130 crore people. Remember, these are not just advertisements; what keeps flowing under the guise of 'advertising' are video clips of racial hatred and riot calls. The IT Act requires that new social media should remove such posts. But the experience is that when the BJP is the defendant, the law turns dormant. During the Lok Sabha elections, Facebook deleted 687 posts related to the Congress, while it did only 14 of the BJP.

Facebook has an estimated 34 crore users in the country; WhatsApp, which is part of Facebook itself, is used by over 40 crore people. As mentioned above, when these platforms become a breeding ground for fake news and communal slogans, its political beneficiaries will definitely be the Sangh Parivar. For that is the very ideology of those movements. It is to this group that popular social media platforms cozy up for political collusion. The result is that Facebook's content and algorithms get completely geared to favour the Sangh Parivar. That is now beginning to be reflected in the elections too. It was along the same lines that Facebook teamed up with Cambridge Analytica, a British company, to ensure Donald Trump's victory in the United States. The same strategy was later adopted in Britain and Brazil. And everywhere far-right organizations came to power. The same political drama is being repeated here. It has always been the style of fascists to raise strident slogans of hatred and 'othering' through false news and similar propaganda. One can easily guess what would happen if the Hindutva fascists, who had staged several riots using similar tactics, began to dominate social media too. All the instances of racism witnessed in north-east Delhi are some indication of that. It is in this context that Sonia's concern becomes relevant. Champions of democracy are bound to to take up Sonia's arguments in right earnest.

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TAGS:Sonia Lok Sabha submission Facebook algorithm changed IT Act removing posts Al-Jazeera report 
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