This is the headline of an article by The Guardian.
Us, human beings, are so diverse and the world and local context is also so diverse. Basically, seeing is believing!
And we, me, my friends and family in a way, we know so much but we also know so little. Some friends and family, the ones less traveled, don’t know how life here in Malaysia is. There were questions like:
“Oh but, where do you shop?”
– “Well, just like you do? At Tesco or something? Going to a (night)market?”,
“Do you have a Tesco there? Same as here?” some asked surprised.
-“Yes. We have!” I replied happily.
In the imagination of some friends and family, I guess, Malaysia is still “a third world country” though I totally dislike that term, but that’s for another time. It does imply that their expectations how life is does not match reality. Instead of the expectation in wealth difference, there actually are seemingly less ethnic and religious conflicts here, on peninsular Malaysia, than there are the Netherlands/Germany/UK etc for example. Yes, Malaysia is a Muslim dominant country, but, also yes to a society with 3 different ethnic groups, Malay, Malaysian-Chinese and Malaysian-Indian, living peacefully together. There is no news about churches being attacked, there is no beef put next to a new Hindu temple, vice versa neither, mosques aren’t vandalized at all. The three ethnic groups don’t blend totally and every ethnic group socializes within their own ethnicity, however, there is enough interaction between the groups preventing social unrest and everything that comes along with it.
Western-Europe certainly can learn from that!
Now I don’t speak Malay just yet, so I am also not in WhatsApp groups, other than a family group and no messenger group at all. As I don’t have Facebook anymore, that world totally passes me and I am seeing the benefits from it as I just go along with that what is happening around me and some proper news sources.
Yet, social media as such, in a way, yes, true, it is neutral. It simply is a technical platform which gets shaped through users’ interaction with each other. On the other hand, when it does get shaped negatively, as in that the consequences are a cost for society, be it a social cost or an economic cost, then, who is responsible for it?
Can Facebook be blamed? Can Mark Zuckerberg peacefully sleep, which the Guardian article is referring to? Where is the line between corporate social responsibility and the responsibility from its users?
“We” have enough news sources to find out what is true, what is just vomiting hideous thoughts with little value in a group chat, and what totally is fake. Well, we should. We must be able and show interest in telling what is real and what is fake. When something sounds too (insert something) then it also is. In that context the argument, from for example Facebook, that it is the users responsibility to give it its shape is reasonable valid. Though, I also agree with the fact that people are plain lazy or are becoming too ignorant or too good believers to assume that whatever “friends” post is true and that slowly but surely the wrong sentiment enters a society. Meaning, the responsibility to stop f*ucked up news is also in the hands of Facebook/Twitter/WeChat/name them all.
But, that’s ‘us’, now look at this picture:
Internet.org is a Facebook initiative, among others, that has as goal to connect the less privileged. As many of you know, I have been in Africa, Angola and Zambia to be precise. In the most rural places, where food can be scarce, there are a bazillion phones. Cheap, Chinese copycat phones that are barely functioning, but, they are there. Technology is just a status object for them as it is for us too. We don’t, or, cannot live without a phone, so why should they be able to live without when that is an easy way of keeping in touch?
This internet.org makes it possible that people can communicate through, mainly, Facebook so it becomes their only source of world wide access.
You have to understand that in many of those rural places, in African nations but also still in some South East Asian nations (such as Myanmar) is a huge lack of infrastructure. On land that is. Everything through the air always is faster and more reliable. Hence, many small airports with regional planes to go around more effectively and radio broadcast to spread local/national news for example. Internet also goes through the air and that, thus, is also a more reliable source of information than everything that has to come over land.
Thus, when a relatively uneducated group of people come together on social media, for sure all kinds of news, rumors, gossips, lies, and truths go hand in hand together and nobody can be hold responsible for spreading. They really can believe that this fake news is true when it goes around long enough. I could have been spreading nonsense that I am living very rural in a cheap house (for European prices it is ridiculously cheap (for real!)) and that I have to go over a mud road to go to a market that is only there once a week and eat dry rice for the last 2 days before the market is there again, I’m sure I could have convinced some people exactly that. Then to me it is most obvious that Facebook, and the rest, totally 100% is responsible for the content spread over its network. They must have established any entity, within Facebook or beyond, to filter out harmful content and to educate its users why it is harmful.
Then when that is not happening and there are several groups, ethnic, religious, or tribal, are living together and they do not interact enough with each other to know that what is said online isn’t true, a disaster is brewing of which the Guardian article give some examples.
By no means I am intending to say that there is anything wrong with these “violent” people. They are intelligent, they can live at places where you and I already would have been dead long time ago because we are unable to adapt to their environment. They are friendly, happy, lovely people and great to be around with. The great majority, as with all majorities, are nonviolent and in Angola’s context glad that the violence is over. I believe that this also is the case in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Also these proportions needs to be in the right context before you get the “Hollywood-concept” that all Africans and Asians are villains mass slaughtering each other.
What I am arguing is that Facebook is, on the one hand too big to fail, but, on the other hand too large to manage in local context so it must be stopped/decentralized/anything but what it is now.
If Facebook were a country it would be one of the largest of the world, but, who is managing all the people effectively?
I’m glad I’m out.
(Featured Image copyright: Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)