Facebook 15 Years On: How the Social Network Became a Powerful Political Tool

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The world’s most popular and arguably most influential social media platform turns 15 on Monday. What was initially designed as a network for university students has morphed into a huge, deep-pocketed corporation – as well as a powerful means of swaying public opinion.

Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard University sophomore when he launched Facebook, and he probably hardly expected what his brainchild would become years later. Since 2004, the platform has witnessed rapid growth, both in terms of users and market value, as well as influence, a less tangible asset.

Facebook went on to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp, and its active monthly user count hit the one-billion mark in October 2012, and today sits at some 2.3 billion. Other than its truly global reach, it has also become one of the world’s biggest companies, with a market capitalisation of nearly $480 billion (as of the end of January).

Economics and demographics aside, Facebook has exposed the dangers of social networks in an information society. Zuckerberg’s pet project has been mired in scandals and controversies, with the biggest one so far being the Cambridge Analytica saga.

Lucrative Political Tool

The Cambridge Analytica scandal stirred widespread outrage both in the US and overseas, with critics saying that an unregulated Facebook poses a threat to democracy.

“Facebook has totally changed over the past decade with the evolution of the concept of social media,” Pierluigi Pagainini, a member of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security, told Sputnik. “Social networks had become a privileged instrument for intelligence activities, user profiling for commercial purposes, for pry-ops.”

“Facebook does not apply any form of direct censorship, but it has not yet been able to prove that it cannot be misused for disinformation campaigns by political parties or by states,” German economic historian Alexander von Witzleben said.

“This is dangerous because Facebook has a dominant position and almost monopolistic power, both economically and in the field of social media.”

Witzleben argues that to prevent political abuse, Facebook should be put under a similar legal regime as universal service providers, such as postal and telephone services.

Choong-Fook Fong, CEO of cyber security firm LGMS, contends that if Facebook takes up the regulatory role to decide what statements are allowed and what is against their policies, it might as well be “another political party”.

He insists that governments shouldn’t pass a law to prohibit the publication of political ads. Instead, he believes, “all social media giants shall be banned from performing data analytics on their users’ preferences, particularly their political preferences”.

His colleague, Kenneth Shak, a senior cyber security consultant, made similar remarks: “Facebook can be viewed as a powerful means to shape the public opinion,” he told Sputnik, adding that “much tougher regulations” should be imposed on the company to ensure data security.

Full article from Sputnik News

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