Twitter, Facebook and Democracy: Imperative for competitive social media
March 15, 2021
Competition among social media platforms will discipline them more and looming dangers to our democracy and unity and integrity of the nation could also be avoided successfully. — Dr. Ashwani Mahajan
In the wake of farmers agitation in India, role of microblogging platform Twitter has become a centre of controversies, especially due to hashtag trending like farmer genocide; mushrooming of anti India twitter handles instigating violence and promoting hatred against India and challenging integrity of India and Twitter officials also retweeting some such tweets. Whereas, the government has made its unhappiness clear to twitter on the same, citing that such developments are against the constitution of India and has told Twitter firmly that nothing less than suspension of these twitter handles is acceptable. At the same time, attitude of Twitter doesn’t seem to be of compliance fully. Recent events have raised serious questions about the role and attitude of social media giants with regard to unity and integrity of India, and issue is, whether these platforms be allowed to have their way.
Twitter issue is one of its kind, however, there is a history of issues with social media companies indulging in unethical and illegal acts.
Politicians have history of using the social media platforms for their benefit. Although, former US President Donald Trump was at loggerhead with Twitter at the fag end of his term, but through out his term as President and even before that twitter was the most darling platform for him. He was also known for having used other social media platforms to carry his political agenda forward. Sometime back revelation came that that Cambridge Analytica company worked in the election campaign of Trump based on Facebook data of 8.7 million US people and this company played an important role in Trump's victory. Cambridge Analytica has also been in news for all wrong reasons earlier as well, when it was caught red handed while using Facebook data of Indians to ignite social disharmony in India for the political advantage of some political parties. Though, Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for the breach of data of Facebook users and Facebook earned lot of bad name on that count, which even impacted its market valuation on that count. Every now and then we hear breach, leak or unethical sale of data by one or the other platform. The website of the Cambridge Analytica has also claimed that the company worked for the winning party in the Bihar elections in the 2010 elections.
Though, role of social media companies has always been seen with suspicion, recently concluded presidential elections have brought Twitter into a major controversy, when President Donald Trump received constant shocks from Twitter. Twitter’s comments over Trump’s tweets played a major role in creating doubts in the minds of US voters. Twitter company has been marred with severe controversies as President Donald Trump's Twitter account was suspended following violent demonstrations in the United States.
Given the fact that these social media companies have a huge customer base and thus command a greater control over private informations of their customers, apart from their capability to further mine huge amount of data using different logarithms; they can influence society and polity in different ways by impacting social and political narratives. If these platforms are allowed to have their way, our social fabric and democratic system may be seriously endangered. There may be a merit in suspending/ blocking Trump’s Twitter account, however, same merit should have been reflected in the acts of twitter, when they turned their face to other side on tweets by yet another head of the state, legitimising and instigating violence by a particular religious group.
Facebook with 33.6 crore accounts, it’s associate WhatsApp with 40 crore subscribers base, twitter with 7 crore Indian and 33 crore global users, are in a position to tweak social and political opinions, if they wish, the way they desire. This huge unyielding power makes them invincible. Though most of the popular services of Social Media players like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin etc. are available for free, their business model is such that they use their large database to enhance their income. Google and Facebook have become largest revenue earning companies from advertising. Twitter too is earning huge revenue from advertising.
Social media has developed in recent times and law to deal with the same, still has to take shape. Till such time, laws get enacted, social media platforms may continue to endanger our social fabric or even our hard earned democracy. Since long time it was being noticed that Chinese apps were promoting illegal, unethical and anti social contents on their platforms, however, it took long time for the government to lawfully ban them.
Competition is the way forward
It seems that the monopoly over social media by few platforms is making them think that since they don’t have competition, they can have their way. We shouldn’t forget that developing these platforms is no rocket science. Already, some alternatives to twitter, like Koo and tooter have emerged. For WhatsApp, platforms like Signal, Sandesh and Telegram are also becoming popular. Even before banning Chinese apps, many of Indian apps had emerged on the scene. However, after ban on Chinese apps, their business has increased manifold. It’s important to note that China doesn’t allow Facebook, WhatsApp or even Twitter. They have their own alternative platforms.
In the present circumstances, looking at the popularity of these platforms and the consumer satisfaction derived from them, immediate ban on these platforms doesn’t seem to be a plausible solution, but they may be made to follow the law of the land. However, present controversy may prove to be boon if we try and develop our own Indian platforms, which will not only curb monopolies of international giants in social media, will also help save billions of dollars of foreign exchange. Competition among social media platforms will discipline them more and looming dangers to our democracy and unity and integrity of the nation could also be avoided successfully.