Use and abuse of social media?

Published April 13, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

By Florangel Rosario Braid


When Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook testified before the US Senate Joint Committees on Commerce and Judiciary a few days ago, it was big news to millions of Facebook users worldwide. It is now recognized that the social media, specifically Facebook which is used by tens of millions of Filipinos is now perhaps the most powerful tool in our social, economic and political life. It has established connections, as it allowed friends and family members to keep in touch. But it had also been misused for selfish end. The Senate investigation dealt with the use and abuse of Facebook. It was clear during the ten-hour hearing that social media platforms can’t police themselves and left unregulated, the market will be prone to deception. The issue of regulation is still under question because of the policy on freedom of speech. But there was consensus about the need to provide some general guidenlines that would make it difficult for unscrupulous individuals to use personal data for illicit ends.

The hearings were aired at about 2 to 7am (our time) on most channels but I alternately viewed the BBC and our ANC channel. This meant that one had to stay awake for five hours for two nights to watch the entire proceedings.

The probe focused on the scandal involving the revelation about the illegal accessing of critical data on 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which had subsequently used the information for US President Trump’s 2016 political campaign. It is also now known that the boss of Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy met with two of President Duterte’s campaign managers. Cambridge Analytica which claims that it played an “integral part in the victory of Trump, may have said the same thing about its role in the various political exercises it had assisted in various countries.

That technology, and in this case, Facebook, is a two-edged sword has been accepted by Zuckerberg who admitted his mistake – that he did not do enough to prevent these tools from inflicting harm. Zuckerberg, in his introduction, noted that Facebook today is in an “arms race with Russia and his firm is struggling to get ahead of known manipulation.” He was likewise aware of the possibility of political bias at his company and about the possible involvement of some Facebook staff in the data scandal.

But he was non-committal about regulation even as he expressed willingness to cooperate with the Senate in its subsequent task of crafting policies on preventing further misuse of the social media. Herein lies the worrisome implication of the possible infringement on the privacy of millions of Facebook friends. It is estimated that the personal data of an estimated 87 million had voluntarily provided the information but this later was utilized by Cambridge Analytica for their own interests and that of their clients.

What may have been gained in this data misuse is ensuring the more responsible utilization of this medium which we must admit has contributed immensely in the democratization of information. But with more regulation and secrecy, we could expect less access and transparency which could even be more worrisome.

At this time, the only content that is censored consists of hate speech (racial and ethnic slur) and those that encourage terrorism and violent actions. How about bias by censoring viewpoints of conservatives, asked one senator who noted that Facebook appears to be anti-conservative in orientation. Zuckerberg said he would look into this as well as other lapses.

Zuckerberg appeared to have performed quite creditably despite hostile questioning by the majority Republican bloc, and this was shown by the rise of Facebook market share by about 5%.

Already, there are questions about the nature of Facebook. And these guidelines are the only ones available at this time.

If Facebook is a telecommunication carrier, it may be regulated. But if Facebook is a publication, it could be regulated as a publishing industry.

The consensus after the hearings was that they provided a foundation for new rules in the social media.

Two bills designed to protect the privacy of users and generators of data have been filed thus far: One is that certain prerequisites are required before they are able to collect data on students who use classroom technology. The other would also require all companies to seek permission and satisfy certain criteria before they are able to collect data on other people.


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