Strategic Social Media Control: How the U.S. is Privileged
In the social media age, where information spreads at the speed of light, fake news has also become inevitable. In times of major events like the elections, misinformation can have serious consequences, and there is no other country in the world that is privileged like the U.S. as far as the fight against fake news is concerned.
With the U.S. presidential elections now trending all over the world and the fear of a possible declaration of victory by the outgoing U.S. President Donald J. Trump ahead of the final official results (which he later denied), social media control has become of greater importance in assuring the elections' credibility. With most of the giant social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. based in America, there had been a step by both these companies and federal agencies in taking down all fake news posted by users.
Messages cautioning Instagram users following any U.S. election-related post have now been one of the strategies used by Instagram in fighting U.S. election misinformation. This measure is useful in trying to make popular social media a little bit safer from organized fake news campaigns by people and entities with premeditated reasons.
However, not any other country in the world has benefited from such an effective anti-fake news strategy by the social platforms themselves. From Africa to Asia and Latin America, elections are taking place, and unlike in the U.S. case, these giant social media platforms did not provide any special assistance to these countries to fight against misinformation.
Nevertheless, the exposure to misinformation via social media does not necessarily decrease because a country does not have tools to fight against it effectively. Moreover, fake news has been spreading in high volumes about recent presidential elections in Tanzania, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea,..., and unlike for the U.S., there had been no caution messages on the election-related posts in these very countries. One may say that the main reason that these giant social media platforms are taking action in the U.S. elections – and not in Tanzania and Cote d'Ivoire – for two primary reasons.
First, the 2016 Russian interference in U.S. presidential elections has played the role of a wake-up call to the world in general, and the U.S. particularly, that protecting democracy using the old-fashioned tools is no longer viable. In the information age, the world has indeed become an interconnected village because of the internet. This interconnection has been used by both individuals and larger and more sophisticated entities such as governments in different social media campaigns to secure their national interests.
As a reaction to the 2016 U.S. elections fiasco, giant social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram have felt responsible in the fight against misinformation ahead and during the 2020 U.S. elections, and that they cannot afford any other scandal like Cambridge Analytica in the future. These preventive measures have been strategically and most effective during the primaries of the 2020 U.S. elections.
Second, although they have users all over the world, these giant social media platforms are US-based, i.e. American companies that work under U.S. rules and regulations. Moreover, this geographical and legal localization of these multinationals makes it inevitable for them to consider America exceptionally, thus the main reason for all the measures in fighting misinformation and disinformation, especially for the 2020 U.S. elections.
What could be done?
With dozens of presidential elections taking place all over the world every year, the social media platforms cannot keep an eye on every single one of them, as the cost is too high. However, most users rely on these platforms to inform themselves, especially on current events that may be happening in their countries. Moreover, the failure to fight misinformation on these platforms will likely result in low trust by its users who may be looking for credible information.
Presidential elections have been synonymous with dangerous events mostly in developing countries, but the same sentiment is growing in the developed global north, too. However, presidential elections happen on an average five-year period in most countries (it depends on the length of the term allowed by each country's laws). Furthermore, the giant social media platforms should at least invest specifically in these major events – and any other that may have the same weight as elections – using the means that they possess.
The giant social media platforms must come up with a strategy to help in fighting against misinformation – not just in the U.S – but in other places of the world too. However, these giants should not fall into repressive governments that may purposely want to use these means to target political opponents, which could have worse consequences for democracy.
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