Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, Facebook India and South Central Asia, at her office on March 3, 2014 in New Delhi, India. (courtesy TIME.com Priyanka Parashar—Mint/Getty Images)
Facebook is not new to controversies. The brand which was started from a Harvard University dormitory in 2004 years, has come a long way.
In its biggest market India, Facebook, is back in news following its top India Executive Ankhi Das quitting the company amidst Controversy Over Hate Speech
What started with a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article in the United States publishing “Facebook Hate-Speech Rules. As per media reports Facebook was quick to respond with a statement clarifying that Facebook enforces policies on hate speech “without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation” the opposition MPs called for investigations into Facebook’s conduct in India. The parliamentary standing committee on information and technology also summoned representatives of Facebook and present their views on the issue of safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social and online news media. Leaders from the key opposition party Congress shot off a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to set up a high-level inquiry into the Facebook India leadership team and seeking explanation on the report.
A FIR was also filed against the Facebook India’s public policy director Ankhi Das, who was named in the WSJ article, and two users in Chhattisgarh for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and spreading hare. Parallelly Ankhi Das filed a complaint with the Delhi Police Cyber Cell unit after she allegedly received threats and offensive messages on social media. Now Ankhi Das, stepped down from the company on 27th October 2020 apparently to “pursue her interest in public service”.
If in India, its biggest market, Facebook is currently in thick of an allegation for being biased towards the incumbent government, Facebook is suffering a massive criticism across the world from those in power, in opposition, activists to the corporates.
News of India corporates and MNCs pausing or reducing their advertising presence on Facebook and Instagram have started doing rounds. For MNCs these are part of the parent companies decision to avoid being associated with platforms promoting objectionable content.
Post the death of African American George Floyd in the US, there was a massive call for the boycott on and it triggered the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
In June- July 2020 more 100 major corporates including Microsoft, Starbucks, Ford, Honda, Coca-Cola, Conagra joined hands to pull advertising from Facebook, as part of the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign. This comes on the growing concern over Facebook’s inability to properly rein in hate speech and disinformation being shared on the platform.
Probably this was the first time so many advertisers had joined hand in such an organised manner for a cause. This also brings the spotlight on the menace of the mis-information and fake news which today goes viral courtesy the social media.
In 2018 after the controversy with Cambridge Analytica, many of the leading Indian corporates who advertise heavily on Facebook, sought clarifications from Facebook and expressed concerns over data privacy and Facebook Cambridge Analytica relationahip
Corporates and advertisers showed concern on the spread of fake news over Facebook and the steps being taken to filter out objectionable content and increase accountability and transparency.
The power of media has always been there to spread news/information and help build perception but today (digital) media is not only acting as a media but is defining the message. In India with more than half a billion (504 million) active internet users, who are five years or above, the digital world has the potential to reach more than half the population directly and act like a force-multiplier in all kinds of messaging. India is also the largest number of social media users in the world across platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, ShareChat and the banned TikTok.
Today anyone with access to the internet can contribute to the war on misinformation; Social media users are spending more time online than ever before.
With more that 400 million Whatsapp users in India political parties have mastered the art of using this platform. On WhatsApp, which has 1.5 billion users, information spreads like a virus with people forwarding messages to their contact list and also in various groups, leaving no track to determine the starting point. Why do people spread fake news or mis-information intentionally. The key factors from a study on this suggests the reasons varying from fear of missing out (FoMO), trust, self-disclosure, and social media fatigue.
While the Covid-19 cases are spreading fast and doubling in 12-18 days the fake news is travelling much faster across the world and India is one of the biggest victim. In India the voice of social media is so loud that reliable sources of news are frequently drowned out by unverified information online. Fake or mis-information leave a big impact on vulnerable and unsuspecting targets. And this is a pan India phenomenon with 90% of internet users coming online are non-English speakers, often with more trusting attitudes than experienced surfers.
To curb the menace of misinformation, the Indian Government authorities had sent a letter written to the major social media platforms including Facebook, and the now banned Tiktok. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked for daily reports to be submitted by the platforms detailing the measures they are taking to prevent the spread of misinformation.
But inspite of the government crackdown there is no stop to the menace of fake news and now the platforms are also coming up with slew of self-regulation measures regarding Covid-19.
Facebook updated its community standards to remove COVID-19 related misinformation that could contribute to imminent physical harm. Facebook also plans to removes posts making false claim of healing, curing an treating of Covid19 victims.
Twitter has also started putting warning messages and labels on tweets containing misleading information about Covid-19.
Two years back in Dec 2018, WhatsApp came up with a new ad campaign urges users to ‘share joy and not rumours’
The ads had been crafted by Taproot Dentsu and executed by Oink Films with the objective to educate Indians about the dangers of fake news and spurious forwarded messages.
Anup Sharma (@TweetsAnup)
The author is a StoryTeller with two decades of experience in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. He is also the Senior Director at Public Relations Consultants Association of India.