Yesterday, Manish Maheshwari, CEO, Network18 Digital wrote an article with inputs from a friend of mine “Avinash Mudaliar“, titled “Why Facebook’s Latest Dual News Feed Pilot Is a Nightmare for Publishers“. In this article, Manish says “It is the fundamental problem of trying to assume power by controlling what a certain section of users can do on their platform, and displaying this intent through their various initiatives”.
After reading the article, this is what I wrote in the comments on what I thought about the issue:
This topic becomes important with the spread of fake news, and their impact on electoral results and so on. The problems are being noticed now, because of the spread of social media in our day today lives – billions of users on WhatsApp and FB every single day.
There is another side to the coin. Just like other media companies including Television and Print, Social media (especially Facebook) is run for-profit companies whose statutory obligation is only towards maximizing shareholder value. If we look from that angle, Facebook has rights to auction premier real-estate on their property to the highest bidder. It is the same thing Newspapers do. For example, before Diwali, every single national newspaper had several pages in front of the “news” first page being paid by the advertiser, mostly e-commerce firms. Similarly, with Television channels. In those cases, I, as a subscriber has paid for Newspaper and for the TV channel as well. For Facebook I don’t pay any money – I understand in this case, I am the product and I pay with my data – as of today no consumer can monetize the data they generate on their own.
Continuing, with Newspaper and TV an editor selects the news or items I see; with Facebook because of their scale, computers (programmed by their human masters) automatically select the stories based on my personal likes as understood by Facebook. Isn’t it the same thing?
Do I mean to say everything is fine with Facebook?. No.
As long as Newspapers, TV and Films have some form of quasi-government /industry regulatory bodies, empowered to license/regulate/censor them – social media too, needs one. I will suggest there to be an international, industry body comprising Advertisers, Consumer forums and Engineering bodies (IEEE/ISO). Facebook can show its leadership by advocating for such a body. If they don’t do, they can be sure Governments right from the USA, EU and India will regulate it for them – and as a consumer, we can be sure, it won’t be for our liking or Facebook’s. Let us be clear. The utopian idea of “free” speech on the Internet are long gone.