The Straits Times
Social media firms must act responsibly
Social media firms have had greatness thrust upon them. Early in the millennium, when most giants of the tribe were born, their power was not obvious. Now, with half of the world’s population online and most possessing a social media identity, they are a phenomenon to reckon with. An unwholesome facet of their reach came to the fore in the 2016 United States presidential election when they were used by purveyors of disinformation. The companies themselves revealed that propaganda minted by Russia-backed trolls to sway American voters reached a staggering audience through social media. It was seen by 126 million users on Facebook, published in more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and figured in over 1,000 videos on Google’s YouTube. Another study established that there were organised social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries this year, up from 48 last year and 28 in 2017. Ensuring that social media firms are not unwitting corruptors of political discourse is, therefore, a matter of utmost concern. In an ideal world, all voters have equal access and exposure to good-quality information that is relevant to their decision-making.
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This is, of course, hardly the case anywhere. In a media-saturated nation like the US, for example, 60 per cent of citizens said in a recent poll that they regularly see reports that draw from the same set of facts but conflict with each other. Nearly half believe it is difficult to know whether the information they come across is true. About two-thirds get their news on social media, a trend that may vary across the globe but is on the ascendance. It is also a fact that social media firms possess the wherewithal to slam the door on information that amounts to deception and defamation, as is incumbent on traditional publishers and broadcasters. Diverse approaches are in the mix.
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