FACEBOOK: FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION TO CENSORSHIP

Facebook is reportedly working on a software that will sift the content hostile to the interests of the Chinese government in order to gain entry in the world’s largest base of active telecom and internet users. Facebook was blocked by China in 2009 for allegedly contributing to Xinxiang’s race riots.

China has around 700 million digital population, largest in the world – and Chinese internet companies like WeChat, Weibo and Baidu have grown manifold, aided by a protectionist Chinese government and by the absence of global internet giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

And it seems Mark Zuckerberg wants a share of that digital population to fuel his organization’s further growth even if it comes at the cost of the founding principle of Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg had written about information flow on Facebook in an open letter on September 8, 2006 that is available on Facebook. The open letter was basically about how apologetic Mark Zuckerberg felt after Facebook had a messy launch of its News Feed. The open letter was basically about the ‘free flow of information the Internet’.

Zuckerberg writes in the initial lines of his open letter, “When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we’ve seen is because of these basic principles.”

Zuckerberg further writes in the letter about creating a group ‘Free Flow of Information on the Internet’ because this is what he believes in as he says. The open letter has hyperlinked text to redirect to the group but when the link is clicked it says “sorry, this content isn’t available right now.”

From that motto of ‘free flow of information on the internet’, Facebook is now reportedly developing tailored tools to serve propaganda of the autocratic regimes like China.

Facebook was founded in 2004. In 2006, it was still a small business with valuation around $500 million. But 10 years later, its market cap is now over $350 billion – in ivy league with companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Exxon. Industry analysts say Facebook’s profit has the potential to grow 32% annually for some next years and its market cap may touch $1 trillion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is already among the wealthiest people in the world and that if it happens so it will make him the richest person on the planet.

That makes Facebook a pure business interest for Mark Zuckerberg and with that comes the pressure growth. And he is already facing the heat. The pressure to grow its market has effectively put a break on Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of ‘free flow of information on the internet’. The ‘unavailability’ of the group Mark writes about in his open letter can be seen as a testimony to that. There has been a flurry of cases around the world on how Facebook uses the data or it violates personal privacy norms. It has unsuccessfully tried introducing controversial platforms like Free Basics in India, essentially a marketing tie-up with some companies that provides free basic internet to the users but with selected content.

fb-infoflow

To maintain its hold as the primary and most preferred social networking site, Facebook has tried to increase its reach, acquiring new platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram and focusing on markets with enormous potential like China and India. Facebook’s mammoth acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 was seen as a desperate attempt to maintain that lead.

Facebook is slowing down in its main market – America and Canada – that it counts as one – and it needs to expand. China and India are the world’s biggest telecom markets in terms active users. As Facebook India MD Umang Bedi puts it, and as Mark Zuckerberg says, India is the most critical and strategic market for Facebook. But there is a big catch. India may a be a future market for Facebook but its contribution in Facebook’s overall revenue at the moment is negligible. Facebook earns Rs. 630 per user in the US whereas in India, it is still less than Rs. 9 while the global average is around Rs. 270. That is a huge gap to fill.

Also, Facebook has set a norm for itself that how many ads it can show in its news feed and it will hit the threshold in 2017. So, it needs many more users and markets outside the US to fuel its miraculous growth story. And China can be the solution Zuckerberg will have in mind.

And he is trying to woo China like anything. He has had multiple visits to China. Though Facebook is blocked in China, he opened his sales office there in 2014. He has learned Mandarin. Like Narendra Modi, he has also met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and has given those events ample publicity. Narendra Modi even visited Facebook headquarters during his US visit in September 2015 but that luck has not smiled on Facebook when it comes to Xi Jinping.

©SantoshChaubey

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

THE BASIC THAT ‘FREE BASICS’ IGNORES!

Indian philosophy has always seen charity as one of the best virtues and ‘a must have endeavour’ in every human life – yes, an endeavour that doesn’t expect anything in return.

And ‘secret charity’ is its most pious form – giving without expecting anything in return – even good words – even obliged gestures.

It is the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ act of a virtuous, meaningful human life that believes in ‘giving’ because it comes to him as responsibility and not as liability – because it comes to him as answerability to his inner urge and not as a mean to feel ‘high and mighty’.

Indian philosophy, right from the dawn of its civilization, right from its earliest texts like in Vedas, has consistently extolled virtues of charity (and secret charity). Its scriptures worship concepts like Dana (donation/charity), Bhiksha (alms) or Dakshina (reasonable fee) and put emphasis on their inevitability in every human life and their need for overall well-being of the society – the need to give it back to the society.

Charity (or secret charity) is very basic to human life in Indian culture, tradition and history – and so in every other religion or faith practiced worldwide – be it Christianity or Islam or Buddhism (which emanated from India) or Judaism or others.

Not like the ‘basics’ of Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’.

Tomorrow, December 30, is the deadline to send in your opinion on the consultation paper floated by the telecom regulator TRAI on ‘differential pricing’ of digital content (zero-rating/net neutrality).

Activists and many concerned people, who can think and who bother to think, are up in arms.

How can the initiatives by these ‘commercial vendors or social media sites with business interests’ be seen in good faith when ‘profit seeking’ is the root of any business idea?

India crossed 100 crore (1000 million) mobile phone subscribers mark this year, yet only 25% Indians are online as Google’s Rajan Anandan says. And even if we are the fastest growing internet market in the world, there are only 400 million mobile internet users (and there are only 150 million smartphone users) – so there is a huge (huge) market to tap – because it is the mobile internet market that makes India the fastest growing internet marketplace in the world.

And that makes us question the intent of the ideas behind the services like ‘Free Basics’.

We have no reasons to question Mark Zuckerberg’s intent to donate his 99% wealth in charity. In fact acts like that are what the world needs desperately. And people like Zuckerberg doing so publicly, no doubt, will inspire many others to join the cause.

But then Zuckerberg could have kept Facebook away from his ‘Free Basics’ basket – that would have simply answered all the critics who are questioning his intent – an altruistic act that would speak for itself.

That was the minimum (and maximum) basic expected!

That could have answered the critics questioning his intent with doubts like ‘why Free Basics is in bad taste’ or ‘why it sounds inhuman in appeal’!

Free BasicsFeatured Image Courtesy: Free Basics website

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

A ‘DISLIKE’ BUTTON ON FACEBOOK: DOES IT MATTER?

Facebook’s “dislike” button is going to be a disaster – Quartz
Get real Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s dislike button is too late – The Telegraph
Facebook Doesn’t Need a ‘Dislike’ Button – Here’s Why – NDTV
Does Facebook Need a ‘Dislike’ Button? – The New York Times
Facebook gives the thumbs-up to ‘dislike’ button – Financial Times
Will Facebook users like ‘dislike’ button? Opinionline – USA Today
Facebook is working on a ‘dislike’ button – CNBC
Here’s Why Facebook Wants a ‘Dislike’ Button – Time
Facebook’s ‘Dislike’ Button Is Going to Get a Lot of Use in Asia – Foreign Policy
Facebook ‘Dislike’ Button: Why It Might Not Be a Thumbs Down – ABC News
Facebook ‘dislike’ button in pipeline, says Mark Zuckerberg – The Guardian
Facebook Is Creating a Dislike Button, Mark Zuckerberg Confirms – Yahoo Tech

The world media carried out an intense debate about this ‘dislike button’ by Facebook, a development that is nothing but a delayed move by the social media giant – the largest social media platform by user base.

The social media platform that has remained there in spite of stiff challenges from challengers including from Google – it is in fact the only social media website in its category with a global presence. The most talked about challenger, ‘Google Plus’ is going to close its shop. Earlier, Orkut had also failed Google.

Also Facebook supports different media upload platforms. Other famous social media platforms are platform specific – like YouTube and other similar sites for video content – like WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Medium or others for ‘blog content’ – like Twitter, Weibo and others for ‘microblogging content’.

Basically, every social media website is a content sharing platform – in any form – with any possible content as per the norms – but Facebook provides, in a way, to share all of them in one place – and has evolved over the years – based on consumer feedbacks – and loads of ‘algorithms’ insight into them.

Today, Facebook has around one billion users spread in different countries. And in spite of the site growing commercial with time, its role in mass protest movements like Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street or even in anti-corruption movement back home is well known. In fact, the self-propelled social concerns (by users) provide global sanctity to platforms like Facebook. In fact, they help these organization in covering their ‘omnipresent’ commercial streak.

Anyway, what Mark Zuckerberg ‘announced’ was nothing new – and certainly not for generating intense analytical buzz over different ‘contours and aspects’ of the ‘proposed or upcoming’ Facebook ‘dislike’ button.

In fact, the massive global buzz around his ‘question and answer’ session has once again proved the marvel of ‘sleek communication campaign’ that kick off spontaneously after every such development – in case of products reaching masses globally.

People started writing about it because so many people use Facebook. The writers were trying to speak on their behalf, even if a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ button doesn’t do much beyond some case studies of anaemic effects of social media on people.

Well, the actual debate has to be – do we really need debates of this sort – like Facebook introducing an addition to elements of its site, here with a ‘dislike’ button?

To continue..

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

FACEBOOK INVASION

Social media invasion – well, it is one of the most intensely ‘debated’ issues worldwide – the invasion of the social media tools in our lives beyond the ‘perceived’ usage of the social media for us – and the two outfits are central to the logics of this debate – Google and Facebook – the two online giants with access to almost 3 billion users.

Here, it is about one such incident associated with Facebook that I witnessed last night.

Last night, around 11 PM, I was exploring websites of the carriers Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet for Delhi to Varanasi flights on August 15. While doing so, I was also in my Facebook account.

FB-1

Jet

Indigo

Spicejet

Suddenly, an incoming message drew my attention to the Facebook page. Nothing unusual! It keeps on happening and signing out of the Facebook chat app is the best way to deal with it.

Anyway, here the context is different, about invasion of the social media tools in our lives, going deep into the details of what we do and how we behave online to dig information for their commercial use, and my first hand experience of it the last night.

While visiting the Facebook page of my account last night while exploring the flight booking options, what arrested my eyesight and stuck me with was the advertisement bar of the Facebook page (left or right side, depends on what convention one uses to write so) showing advertisements of Jet Airways and the travel portal http://www.makemytrip.com for exactly the same itinerary of mine – Delhi to Varanasi – promising me special rates – as shown in the screenshots above.

Now, we know websites like Google, Facebook and many others use cookies and other information collection tools to makes heaps of information on the social media usage behavior of their users (in the name of tracking the online shopping behavior, a more or less accepted practice by the user who bother to know about such issues – but, it ‘must’ be limited to what we do on Facebook and what we do with its advertisements – certainly not with what we do on other websites) – but what this last night experience tells – that websites like Facebook are getting so deeper that they can look through what all we are doing online.

The last night experience was on marketing advertisements based on information collected on what I was doing on other online platforms than Facebook – means Facebook can have access to every avenue of my online presence – be it my online purchases or ‘online window shopping’ or my other personal online activities – or is it limited to collecting only the commercial information, something that is the ‘redundant’ sort of catchphrase of these companies?

But, like always, we cannot trust the defense of these companies – because, if they have the ability to see what we are exploring and purchasing online – then, they also have the scale to see what else we are doing while online. We cannot trust them on their mere assurance because they are yet to share with us the information they collect from us (on us, about us) by their online snooping.

Have they shared with you?

Yes, it doesn’t mean to shut our online presence, but we need to draw the line and need to very cautious about following this line.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/