World of ‘Digital gangsters’

“EVERY time you go online, people are competing for your attention. Friends, strangers, businesses, political organisations, charities and news websites all serve up a constant stream of eye-catching pictures, videos and articles, wherever you might go looking for information — Google, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or YouTube,” Beth Hewitt of University of Salford wrote on The Conversation.

“In the process, not all these players feel like they have to tell the truth — and you can’t always rely on social media platforms to filter out the falsehoods,” she noted.

Welcome to the world of ‘Fake News,’ a phenomenon christened by The Telegraph, UK as ‘greatest threats to democracy and free debate and defined as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

Such news has serious consequences. On Monday, it was the turn of international social networking giant Facebook, often alleged as the most popular platform for proliferating such news, to bear the brunt.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee of the UK Parliament on February 18 arraigned Facebook for behaving like “digital gangsters” in the online world.

Media reports informed the parliamentary committee, in its scathing final report after an 18-month investigation into disinformation and “fake news,” concluded that Facebook “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use everyday,” Damian Collins, Chair of the DCMS Committee, said in a statement.

The 108-page report also accused Facebook of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights.

Death threats, bullying, mental torture, privacy invasion, election rigging, fake news, monopoly abuse’ stalks the land the Social media and it must be curbed, BBC Media editor Amol Rajan wrote in a blog commenting on the report. He called the DCMS report a ‘significant moment’ in scope, ambition, likely impact and news value.

Other than lack of regulation or data sale, in recent times, Facebook has been accused of, or at least acting as a conduits, for spreading fake news. Micro-targeting of voters in last US presidential elections, as well as Brexit referendum, are some major allegations. The intensification of the investigation into the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal resulted in the current report. The alleged Russian interference in last US Election currently under investigation, are some fallout of this universe.

Coming on the day when Australia reported breaching of the networks of major political parties after a cyber attack by ‘state actor,’ calls for certain sets of regulation may grow stronger.

In India, the government has taken other social media platforms, including WhatsApp, which incidentally is owned by Facebook, to task for their alleged failure to prevent as well as proliferation of unverified news.

Today, technology is enabling everyone not only to generate stories but also influences the way it is being read and circulated. At the same time, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp etc are substituting the mainstream media for many.

The consumers, thus, have a right to be informed with verified news and other information, and not accentuated by commercial concern. “A clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action,” is prerequisite to form an informed decision and choice.

As noted by the New York Times, conclusions in Britain add to momentum globally for new regulations against the ‘Digital gangsters.’