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Citizens manipulated on social media, FB’s selective curbs


Journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines is one of two journalists to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021, along with Russian Editor Dmitry Muratov. Maria Ressa recently spoke about journalism in the age of authoritarianism, big tech and terrorism.

Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by a news agency company.


GS-III: Science and Technology (IT & Computers, social media), GS-II: Governance (Government Policies and Innovations, Accountability and Transparency, Issues Arising Out of the Design and Implementation of Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What the Nobel Laureate said about Social Media Manipulation
  2. About Facebook’s selective curbing
  3. Issues of Social Media Misuse
  4. Extras: Pros of Social Media for the Youth
  5. Extras: Cons of Social Media for Youth

What the Nobel Laureate said about Social Media Manipulation

  • In the recent years, journalists are losing their gatekeeping powers to social media and now the use of social media lead to an erosion of trust in mainstream media.
  • When citizens are being manipulated by parties on social media, they begin to distrust everything.
  • In 2021, an Oxford University research Programme on Democracy and Technology found that the “cheap armies on social media” (people working for leaders etc., to spread content on social media) are rolling back democracy in 81 countries around the world.

How this manipulation on Social Media works:

  • Studies now have shown us that lies laced with anger can be spread faster and further than facts.
  • As human beings, we have a lot more in common than we realise because the very same platforms are using an algorithmic manipulation in order to change what we think, to change how we feel.
  • According to one biologist who studied this behaviour, our greatest crisis comes from “palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technology”. The technology is God-like because social media has become a behaviour modification system.
  • With a lack of accountability, and the potential to make significant amounts of money, it is a business model that takes our data and uses it to manipulate us.

About Facebook’s selective curbing

  • From research as recent as March of 2021 to Facebook’s memos that date back to 2019, the internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market.
  • Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence. The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address these issues.
  • According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.
  • Facebook has said that Hate speech against marginalised groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally and that it is improving enforcement and is committed to updating its policies as hate speech evolves online.

Issues of Social Media Misuse

  • Paradoxical Utility- It is true that social media is effective in galvanizing democracy. Social and civil right activists use this platform quite often in garnering attention on the social issues and instances of injustice. However, social media also allows fringe sites and hate groups, including peddlers of conspiracies, to reach audiences far broader than their core readership.
  • Fake narratives on online platforms have real life implications. For example, recently in India, online rumours, regarding child traffickers, through popular messaging platform WhatsApp, led to a spate of lynchings in rural areas.
  • It enables the communalising agents to polarise people for electoral gains. For example, during the election campaign of recently conducted Delhi legislative assembly elections, a leader enticed crowds with the use of communalising and violence on social media platforms. Following this, a young man translated these words into reality by opening fire on protesters.
  • Social media platforms’ artificial intelligence based algorithms that filter out hate speeches are not adapted to local languages. Also, the companies have invested little in staff fluent in them.

Extras: Pros of Social Media for the Youth

  • Platforms like Facebook and Twitter give teens and young adults a sense of belonging and acceptance. This is particularly true for those who feel isolated or marginalized, such as LGBTQ youth.
  • Social media outlets provide students with a platform to share their creativity and their ideas with a neutral audience and get an honest response. The response becomes a guide for them to better shape their skills if they are looking to pursue that skill professionally.
  • Social media can help youth to enhance their confidence and creativity. It connects young people with a world of ideas and a world of possibilities. These platforms encourage students to exercise their creative skills in terms of engaging with their friends and their general audience.
  • Social networks can create peer motivation and inspire young people to develop new and healthy habits. Teens can also find positive role models online.
  • Adolescent years are a time when youth are attempting to master their identities and finding their place in society. Social media provides a forum for teens to practice skills related to identity development. A study has shown that young people who express their opinions on social media experience increased well-being.
  • Mental health experts and researchers can use social media to collect data that subsequently informs research. In addition, therapists and other professionals can network with each other within online communities, thereby expanding their knowledge and reach.
  • Social media has allowed teens to develop a voice of advocacy. This can be a very positive influence when exposed to the right outlets.

Extras: Cons of Social Media for Youth

  • Studies have found close links between social media usage and teen depression. As per a study, youth with moderate to severe depressive symptoms were nearly twice as likely to use social media almost constantly.
  • Teenagers on social media spend much of their time observing the lives and images of their peers. This leads to constant comparisons, which can damage self-esteem and body image, exacerbating depression and anxiety among adolescents.
  • Over usage of social media has resulted in less time being spent on doing healthy, real-world activities. sleep deprivation due to staying up late to continue scrolling through their social media feeds, a habit known as vamping.
  • Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills. However, as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practise them.
  • Scientists have found that teen social media overuse creates a stimulation pattern similar to the pattern created by other addictive behaviors.
  • Social media allows reaffirmation of prejudices and stereotypes they have about others. This is exacerbated by meeting like-minded people online, giving them a sense of community.
  • Cyberbullying or Trolling has posed serious problems and has even led to cases of teenage suicides. Moreover, even teens who commit acts of cyberbullying are more likely to report substance use, aggression, and delinquent behaviors.
  • A study in USA found that nearly half of all American children surveyed indicate that they have been made to feel uncomfortable, been bullied, or had an interaction of a sexual nature while online. In another study, it was found that over 50 percent of the victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15.

-Source: The Hindu

March 2024