From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Dealing with disinformation problem
Social media platforms have adopted design choices that have led to a proliferation and mainstreaming of misinformation while allowing themselves to be weaponised by powerful vested interests for political and commercial benefit.
Problems created by social media and issues with response to it
- The consequent free flow of disinformation, hate and targeted intimidation has led to real-world harm and degradation of democracy in India: Mainstreamed anti-minority hate, polarised communities and sowed confusion have made it difficult to establish a shared foundation of truth.
- Political agenda: Organised misinformation (disinformation) has a political and/or commercial agenda.
- Apolitical and episodic discourse in India: The discourse in India has remained apolitical and episodic — focused on individual pieces of content and events, and generalised outrage against big tech instead of locating it in the larger political context or structural design issues.
- Problematic global discourse: The evolution of the global discourse on misinformation too has allowed itself to get mired in the details of content standards, enforcement, fact-checking, takedowns, de-platforming, etc.
- Moderating misinformation vs. safeguarding freedom of expression: Such framework lends itself to bitter partisan contest over individual pieces of content while allowing platforms to disingenuously conflate the discourse on moderating misinformation with safeguards for freedom of expression.
- The current system of content moderation is more a public relations exercise for platforms than being geared to stop the spread of disinformation.
Framework to combat disinformation
- Consider it as a political problem: The issue is as much about bad actors as individual pieces of content.
- Content distribution and moderation are interventions in the political process.
- Comprehensive transparency law: There is thus a need for a comprehensive transparency law to enforce relevant disclosures by social media platforms.
- Bipartisan political process for content moderation: Content moderation and allied functions such as standard setting, fact-checking and de-platforming must be embedded in the sovereign bipartisan political process if they are to have democratic legitimacy.
- Regulatory body should be grounded in democratic principles: Any regulatory body must be grounded in democratic principles — its own and of platforms.
- Three approaches to distribution that can be adopted by platforms: 1) Constrain distribution to organic reach (chronological feed);
- 2) take editorial responsibility for amplified content;
- 3) amplify only credible sources (irrespective of ideological affiliation).
- Review of content creator: The current approach to misinformation that relies on fact-checking a small subset of content in a vast ocean of unreviewed content is inadequate for the task and needs to be supplemented by a review of content creators itself.
Social media cannot be wished away. But its structure and manner of use are choices we must make as a polity after deliberation instead of accepting as them fait accompli or simply being overtaken by developments along the way.