The dangers of a rogue social network

What happens when a social platform abuses its monopoly position to play with people's opinions

Dec 22, 2015

This is a cross-post from my original article on Medium

Facebook is at it again. It’s a shame that a company that I used to respect, has degenerated to a degree where I’m no more surprised at their malicious & outright misleading campaigns.

When you can’t convince ’em, confuse

In its effort to get people to support FreeBasics (a renamed, it created a page, designed to have two complementing effects:

  1. Equate digital equality with FreeBasics. The truth is there are many other ways to address it without breaking NetNeutrality — look at STI’s response to Question #3. People are being tricked into supporting FreeBasics under the guise of digital equality

  2. Discredit the critics of FreeBasics. Notice the language on the page? It makes any critic of FreeBasics appear to be an enemy of digital equality. People will listen to the critics’ arguments much lesser when there’s a question mark on their intent.

Instead of addressing the TRAI’s questions, it goes about a modern twist to what essentially used to be the white man’s burden — that India’s poor need Facebook’s FreeBasics to free them.

Questionable ethics

Then there are reports coming in about how Facebook is asking even non-Indians to show support. It ultimately issued an apology, but only after this was discovered.

However, there’s an even bigger issue here.

What does one do when a social network goes about abusing its monopoly status, to manipulate the psychology of the masses for its vested interests?

The critics of FreeBasics certainly can’t use Facebook’s graph in as seamless a fashion as it did. One could argue that the virality of a social network is available to all. But is it available in as seamless a fashion as their own campaign, with all the unsolicited notifications, and prompts?

There’s something fundamentally wrong with a social network that actively manipulates mass psychology, and this campaign just illustrates the tip of the iceberg.

A conspiracy theorist can be forgiven to fear that this position of power, this capability, can be abused to manipulate even elections. For the time being, I’m not going to make that claim, but simply let our leaders & politicians assimilate this fact, and think about reigning in a company that by every single metric, has gone rogue!