Facebook and developing countries

The Washington Post, in today’s edition, states that Facebook estimates that there were as many 87 million fake accounts in the last quarter, a dramatic jump over 2016, when an estimated 18 million were judged to be fake. A large number of these accounts were created in such countries as Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam. Not included in this figure are the duplicate accounts created by accident or by people who have private and professional sites. These latter two categories account for an estimated 10% of Facebook’s global user base.

“The troubling implications of Facebook’s global monopoly are at last becoming clear. The worst threat is to developing societies, which lack a free press or an independent judiciary to check the pernicious influence of social media. Now that its market in the West is approaching saturation, Facebook is assiduously targeting less developed parts of the world, where it often offers free connectivity as part of the deal to get its app.

“The result is that for many, Facebook is now the sole source of online information – and a far from wholesome one. In Myanmar, it was essentially the medium for the anti-Muslim hysteria that led to ethnic cleansing: the ultra-nationalist monk Ashin Wirathu, who was banned from preaching to crowds, used Facebook to broadcast his inflammatory propaganda. Sri Lanka’s recent descent into communal violence was similarly fuelled by provocative Facebook content. “Fake news affects elections in the West, but in the rest of the world it costs lives. And Facebook is often a carrier of it.”. (part-adapted from an article by John Naughton in The Observer, reproduced in The Week).

Maybe I am anti-social, but I am also far too busy to mess with Facebook. From time to time I am told that my eldest son is in Warsaw or Dubai, or some such place, but although I am proud of him for handling a good career so well and seeing the world while he is about it, I cannot get too excited. For one thing he is too busy to give me his take on Warsaw or Dubai, and what he did there, and I like to think that, like him, I am a doer, not a watcher or a follower. But these comments are simply a preface to a much more important observation: Facebook is turning out to be a malign influence in far too many places. We have had promise after promise from the company, mea culpa after mea culpa about bogus news and political manipulation. Facebook has become sinister and is too concerned about money and unconcerned about the use to which the service is put. It should either be policed firmly and effectively or be closed down – in the name of decency. It turns out increasingly that it has little positive social value. Talk to your friends and family, phone them, visit them look them in the eye, relate with them directly for heaven’s sake!

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