Social Media and the Indian Elections

We have seen what social media did in the US election and then in Brazil. The upcoming election in India might be the biggest challenge yet for the future of electronically mediated democratic discourse. I am skeptical of Facebook's capacity to deal with this problem while satisfying four constraints:

  1. Its business needs. After all, so many of FB's advertisers benefit from the hatred that's floating around (See those Muslims eating beef; bad Muslims; let me offer you some nice vegetarian pakodas instead – I am vegan myself but the identification of meat eating with one community is outright criminal).

  2. Its user needs. In India as in many other parts of the world, people are genuinely partisan. They want to share hateful messages because that's what they believe. Elections bring out that latent hatred even in those who are usually uncommitted.

  3. It's concern for privacy. Whatsapp is encrypted from end to end. How is FB even going to know what's being shared on Whatsapp? It can limit the number of shares but all that will do is to make the hate spewers hire more people to share their hatred.

  4. The sheer volume in so many languages. Algorithmic curation can only go so far. How will FB's AI figure out complex family dynamics where I can share a progressive message and get a negative response from an otherwise beloved uncle?

I am convinced that this is how chaotic capitalism works but I am less interested in pointing fingers than in figuring out the underlying dynamics. We have almost reached a point of no return.

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