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The problem with Facebook

/ 05:05 AM June 08, 2020

I’m writing this on a Sunday, and for the entire day, friends and relatives have been posting and messaging about fake Facebook accounts seemingly popping up overnight. I found two of my own, with no harmful content and with no photos, but other friends are not so lucky. Some have been impersonated with photos, and some have received hateful messages from their impersonator accounts. One user has reported up to 12 accounts with variations of her name on the link. Another user claimed that his elderly relatives, who had never had social media accounts, suddenly had ones in their names.

This is happening in the middle of a pandemic, when the health care sector is bracing itself for a slew of new infections and is still clamoring for expanded testing of the coronavirus. It’s also happening in the middle of public alarm over the anti-terrorism bill. Yet we are here worrying about our online presence and identity theft, and rightly so, because as the previous months have shown, online activity is enough to get one arrested. We also worry about doxxing, or the searching or publication of private information on the internet, as part of the capabilities of the fearsome machinery that is the troll farm. The fact that we need to waste time searching for and reporting these accounts is mind boggling. In 2017, Bloomberg wrote a feature on how Facebook was weaponized in the 2016 elections, calling the administration’s use of social media “patriotic trolling,” citing evidence that some of the user accounts are paid. Since then, these activities have been successful in turning the country’s foremost social media network into a hostile environment and an ocean of fake news, with an overabundance of inauthentic profiles and copied template posts in praise of the administration and in retaliation against its enemies.

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Does Facebook continue to fulfill a happy and necessary social function? Yes, undoubtedly: as the most widely used social media platform, and requiring the minimum of internet or cellular data, Facebook continues to connect us in a way that few other platforms can do, and has served as the chief news source for those without means or interest to peruse other media. But Facebook has been under pressure since 2016 to recognize its role in damaging arenas of political life in the Philippines, in Europe, and in the United States, with little by way of tangible results in the arenas of fact-checking, the halting of suspicious activity or harassment, and the recognition and suspension of fake profiles and activity.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned in a recent interview that he believes strongly that “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he has understood Facebook’s impact in creating this new age of fake news and trolling. He has also said that “Political speech is one of the most sensitive parts in a democracy, and people should be able to see what politicians say.” But what about vulnerable countries like the Philippines, where the average person endures harassment and even doxxing for a simple political post, and where the enemy is like Hydra—where blocking or reporting one user merely leads to being attacked by more? What about countries like ours, where funds seem to have been steadily funneled into the social media war machine for years, creating a climate of hostility and fear, exposing opposing politicians and ordinary citizens alike to unprecedented levels of personal attacks?

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In Europe, governments threatened Facebook with stricter regulation and new fines unless the company acted to remove extremist propaganda and fake content. We obviously can’t expect any such action from our own government. One wishes that boycotting Facebook were an option, but it seems that it’s also up to the common user to protect their own identities and battle fake news. Until we are capable of holding Facebook more accountable for the way it has impacted our politics and our discourse, there’s no other option but to keep reporting and blocking.

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