The Financial Express

A forgotten investigative report, a late whistleblowing

| Updated: October 13, 2021 10:56:59

A forgotten investigative report, a late whistleblowing

When fake news is considered a trouble for democratic societies and social media platforms are wholly blamed for spreading misinformation, the conclusion lacks accuracy, misses context elsewhere.

Specifically in countries where it involves risk to speak out, people develop a habit of hiding truth from public (read authorities') eyes, let alone spelling out dreams. Social media activism looks more disciplined under the rule of dictatorial regimes! In our case, it's puzzling to the innocents how the platforms which break news before the mainstream media would just be termed rumour mills or why individuals' newfound freedom and voice of dissents on the net could be equated with pejorative expressions.

However, a popular view that networking sites have presented platforms for 'blooming one hundred flowers' has met with a shock recently. A Facebook whistleblower's (Frances Haugen's) claim that the social media giant put profit before reigning in hate speech has resonated across the virtual world.

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, who just won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, has joined the criticism saying Facebook's algorithms "prioritise the spread of lies laced with anger and hate over facts".

Is the finding-that Facebook might have encouraged people to engage in altercations and tacitly allowed some to resort to falsehood - completely new? The denunciation of Mark Zuckerberg's schemes comes at a time when Facebook has become a network of the billions and its use an addiction for probably majority of them. He is being grilled nowhere but in America which has boasted achievement of his company as an unprecedented global enterprise.

The US politicians might have ignored or remained ignorant about earlier allegation as documented in an investigative piece that Mr Zuckerberg, then a 19-year-old sophomore, might have stolen the idea of three of his seniors at Harvard University to launch Facebook in 2004.

"…they made a mistake haha. They asked me to make it for them. So I'm like delaying it so it won't be ready until after the facebook thing comes out," The Business Insider quoted a 2003 message Zuckerberg shared with a friend, as reproduced in the report titled "At Last -- The Full Story Of How Facebook Was Founded" published in March 2010.

In the observation on the lawsuit, a Massachusetts judge had in 2007written that "dorm room chit-chat does not make a contract". Another judge had later ruled against Facebook's move to dismiss the case. Then, the two parties, according to the investigative report, had agreed to settle for US$65 million. The Insider report should have prompted inquiring minds to wonder why he would make a quick settlement unless there were elements of wrongdoing.

Mark Zuckerberg was also accused of using private login data taken from Facebook's servers to break into Facebook members' private email accounts and read their emails, added the report. On the Harvard campus, he was charged with breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy for pulling photos of students off of the university's website, said a 2003 Harvard Crimson article.

So, morning showed the day! But America's earlier treatment of Facebook and its celebrated CEO suggests its conformity with the West's practice of justifying (questionable) means with (successful) ends.

Much of Asia has also celebrated the glory of Facebook. The Asian elites imitated many of the Western ideas, much before the advent of internet, through colonial experience. Many have apparently given up the right to question while importing business models like 'ends means calculation' devoid of morality.

Thus we fail to read the non-text messages spread by the social media networks like Facebook, where users have become means of not really showing prowess of individuals but of the platforms. Now, there are more criticisms of Facebook and other tech giants on American soil than in Asian countries. The global citizens at the receiving end may still limit themselves to criticising Mr Zuckerberg and American leaders and again continue to follow what the Western companies do.

This scribe doesn't wish to echo criticism made on the other side of the Atlantic to make a case for countries like Bangladesh. We ought to believe that independent thinking can't be sacrificed to even friends, while seeking salvation of men and women in a society. People need breathing space and constant investigation into their social activities.

[email protected]

Share if you like