2016 US ELECTION AND ‘SONAM GUPTA BEWAFA HAI’ – FACEBOOK’S DOUBLE STANDARDS

The article’s Hindi version appeared on iChowk.

Suddenly ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’ has started spilling its content from the margins of social media and has started trending on media and, therefore, is subsequently finding increasing number of takers. People and other platforms are writing about it and it is becoming a public sphere chatter. Demonetization jokes on these Facebook pages have given it an added shot.

And we should be worried about it. Its growing number of likes should not mislead us that it is becoming popular. Rather we should go by the version that it is getting more and more notoriety with each passing day. For me, it is vitriolic face of social media (and Facebook). Stories are emerging that how different avatars of this ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’ Facebook pages are creating embarrassing and harassing situations for girls with the same name. They are being targeted by social media trolls and for many of them it has gone beyond the limit to ignore it.

Facebook should take cognizance here and should block such pages immediately. But will Facebook do so – in a market like India where the government and its regulatory agencies either don’t notice such content or simply ignore them?

It is well established that many multinational corporations adopt double standards for developed and developing markets. Products of similar brands will have superior specifications in a developed market like America while it will have many shortcomings, even defying the standard benchmarking, when it comes to developing markets like India – whether it was the Coca Cola and Pepsi controversy where their products were found to high levels of pesticides or the recent case of Maggi ban for not following the norms. Such cases happen even if India is a big market for all these companies. Insensitive Double standards!

It seems this holds true for Facebook as well. Facebook’s second largest user base is India where its annual growth rate is faster than the US, its largest market (but stagnating) market, as well as than the global average. So, the whole game here is about adding more and more users. That is the hard currency for social media sites – users and traffic – and content like ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’ helps in that.

Even if it is in bad taste.

But it is the Facebook content only that is giving sleepless nights to Facebook founder and promoter Mark Zuckerberg who is busy clarifying to the whole America these days that the content on Facebook is genuine and even if some fake content is there, it is less than 1%.

According to a piece in the New York Times, 44% Americans get their daily dose of news through Facebook. That means a lot of traffic and (the eyeballs that come with it).

Now the allegations are being levelled against Facebook that many fake news reports were shared on Facebook that were, in turn, shared millions of times (reaching to millions of people/voters) and helped prepare an atmosphere in favour of Donald Trump, putting Hillary Clinton in a negative light.

There were fake reports like Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump or the FBI officer under cloud for leaking Hillary Clinton’s emails was found dead or Hollywood’s star and a respectable name Denzel Washington had praised Donald Trump. These all and many other such reports were totally fake but given the reach of Facebook, it would have certainly helped Donald Trump, even if Mark Zuckerberg is on a drive to rebut such claims.

So, on one side, there is America where the founder himself has to come forward to defend Facebook – whereas in India, its second largest market – where there is fake content, where there is unethical extensions like ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’, where there are fake and anonymous accounts – and where these are spreading fast – there is no one to take care of it – neither in Facebook – nor in our society.

On Monday (November 14), in the aftermath of the raging controversy in the US, Facebook decided to include ‘fake news’ in the banned category on its advertising platforms. But what about the fake content that lies scattered here and there on Facebook – waiting for its ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’ moment? Humour and satire are the essential parts of our social ecosystems but obscenity and tawdriness can never be accepted in their name.

©SantoshChaubey

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