Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms will do well to remain what they are—technological firms providing platforms—and not try to become media companies. Once they get into the hate speech business, which they are trying to, they enter a minefield. The Wall Street Journal recently reported how Facebook, having entered a minefield, is not trying to navigate through it.
Facebook India’s public policy director Ankhi Das, according to WSJ, told staff members that “punishing violations” by Bharatiya Janata Party politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users.”
The comment was made in reference to the alleged hate speech by Telangana BJP MLA T. Raja Singh.
Businesses, and human beings, face such dilemmas when they unnecessarily take up responsibilities they are not equipped to deal with, especially when the responsibilities pertain to the phony and nebulous concept of hate speech. It is phony because anything anybody doesn’t like can call it hate speech, from the scholarly analysis of a religion to the erudite criticism of a political leader.
More fundamentally in the case of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, jumping off from the platforms brings them into the domain of opinion and subjectivity, the domain of controversy. If they say that A is hate speech, racist, xenophobic, etc., they have to define each of the concepts, or accept the definitions provided by others. In either case, controversy is unavoidable. This will also affect their business models, as Das told her staff.
Worse, they are inevitably dragged into the political arena. So, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India.”
This evoked a sharp response from the ruling party. Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted, “Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS. You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?”
This happens when platforms, which are supposed to be content agnostic, try to play God and decide what is proper and what is not. It is like telecom majors letting people use their network only for ‘appropriate’ communication. If they do that, they too would get caught in the crossfire between political leaders.
So Facebook, Twitter, etc., should stop playing God and remain what they are—social media platforms..