Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

Tackling the challenge of Big Tech

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Social media and challenges

The article discusses the threat posed by the spread of misinformation on the internet and suggests the steps to tackle it.

Warning for India

  • The U.S.’s experience with the Internet should serve as a stark warning to India.
  • Most Americans now get their news from dubious Internet sources.
  • This resulted in hardening of political stances and the acute polarisation of the average American’s viewpoint.
  • For India, the danger is that like the U.S., such extreme polarisation can happen in a few short years.
  • There are anywhere between 500 million and 700 million people are now newly online, almost all from towns and rural areas.

Use of targeted algorithm

  • Social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter have become the source of news for the people, but these have no journalistic norms.
  • The spread of the misinformation or news has been greatly enhanced by the highly targeted algorithms that these companies use.
  • They are likely to bombard users with information that serves to reinforce what the algorithm thinks the searcher needs to know.
  • As they familiarise themselves with the Internet, newly online Indians are bound to fall prey to algorithms that social network firms use.

Steps to control the misinformation on the internet

  • 1) Tech firms are already under fire from all quarters,  nonetheless, we need to act.
  • They are struggling to meet calls to contain the online spread of misinformation and hate speech.
  • 2) Unlike the U.S., India might need to chart its own path by regulating these firm before they proliferate.
  • In the U.S., these issues were not sufficiently legislated for and have existed for over a decade.
  • Free speech is inherent in the Constitution of many democracies, including India’s.
  • This means that new Indian legislation needs to preserve free speech while still applying pressure to make sure that Internet content is filtered for accuracy, and sometimes, plain decency.
  • 3) The third issue is corporate responsibility.
  • Facebook, for instance, has started to address this matter by publishing ‘transparency reports’ and setting up an ‘oversight board’.
  • But we cannot ignore the fact that these numbers reflect judgements that are made behind closed doors.
  • What should be regulatory attempts to influence the transparency are instead being converted into secret corporate processes.
  • We have no way of knowing the extent of biases that may be inherent inside each firm.
  • The fact that their main algorithms target advertising and hyper-personalisation of content makes them further suspect as arbiters of balanced news.
  • This means that those who use social media platforms must pull in another direction to maintain access to a range of sources and views.

Consider the question “What are the factors responsible for the spread of misinformation on social media and suggest the measures to tackle it.”

Conclusion

We need strong intervention now. Else, in addition to the media, which has largely been the responsible fourth estate, we may well witness the creation of an unmanageable fifth estate in the form of Big Tech.

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