Sunday, August 16, 2020

Facebook's Many Faces - Delicate Balancing Acts To Optimize Profit And No One Is Full

I continue to have a Facebook account.  I check in on it once a month really to make sure it has not been hacked like those of some of my friends over the years.  So far, so good.  Other than that, I don't really care at all what goes on my timeline and who went where and first world complaints.  What I am concerned with is the amount of fake news and hate that have appeared.  I can unfollow people who are spewing nonsense and trash but I cannot unfollow the ads.  And recently, Facebook's dealings in India shows just how critical of a role that social media is playing in creating division within society.

Perhaps, one can make the argument that the social cracks was already there.  However, Facebook is doing nothing mend those cracks.  In fact, it is widening them and creating new ones that was not there before.  All of this is being done not for the sake of policy shifts or politics but profit.  

Facebook favored prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party,  Bharatiya Janata Party and extremists.  Hindu nationalists have advocated hate speech and violence against Muslims without Facebook executives doing anything about it even after concluding such violations was rampant.  "T. Raja Singh has said Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques",  according to the Wall Street Journal.

All the while, Mark Zuckerberg has railed against China, which I agree with him on.  However, do not think for a moment if Facebook was allowed to operate in China that Zuckerberg would not hesitate to tow the Community Party line if it means Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp earns billions more in revenue.  If Facebook was in China and the Communist Party was advocating stronger action against its minority populations including the Tibetans and Uighurs, it is unlikely Chinese Facebook executives would even think about removing the post.

Personally, as an American and supporter of the First Amendment, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances", I am fine with people saying whatever they want, within limits of the law.  And I do want to know what people are thinking - I advocate people speaking up regardless of political affiliation, gender, or race.  I may not agree with them.  

Social discussions are about shades, not just black and white.  It is not black and white. There are just some things we all know crosses the line. Advocating violence or hate, yelling fire in theaters, and so forth.  We have all had this discussion in school before.  

With social media, social and political discourse has reached a level never seen before.  However, what we are seeing are not constructive debates but at times, intelligent discussions end up deviating into shouting matches that are filled with false facts and fake news.  We have leaders yelling fake news to real news and facts that does not fit their narratives or agendas.  Ask enough people to wear a mask and you'll see where that gets you.  

Back to Facebook.  I am heartened that at least here in the US, public opinion and laws are still strong enough to force Facebook to do the right things when some profit are on the line and they forced to take some heat from segments of the political spectrum.  But that is also about money as well - lose a few million from the alt-right or billions from the larger more mainstream users.  

To be fair, Zuckerberg himself is navigating Facebook through uncharted territory.  There was no such social media experiment in the past that help guide him.  And he has pressed Congress to come up with laws and regulations regarding speech on social media.  For now, I am glad that Congress has not done so.  It has nothing to do with the freedom of speech.  Rather, I think they just do not know what laws we need.  

For now, Facebook is choosing to make money in each country by sucking up to whoever in charge even if it means hate is allowed to prevail.  

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