Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are constantly used for mobilizing public opinion. They become an integral part of politics and reflect every political activity of the state.
The world currently is in the wake of political retaliations. These include the Capitol outbreak in the USA or the ongoing protests in the Indian capital. Thus, Facebook and other social media platforms circulate tons of updates, content, and extreme opinions.
However, on Wednesday Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg declared that the social media network shall henceforth permanently stop recommending civic and political groups to users on the platform.
We're currently considering steps we could take to reduce the amount of political content in News Feed as well," said Mark Zuckerberg
Why has Facebook stopped recommending political groups?
We all know that Facebook groups revolve around similar interests. Any public group can be seen, searched, or utilized by any Facebook user.
During the presidential elections in the United States, the social media company put a stall to recommendations of political groups. According to Reuters, this was undertaken to stop the circulation of false information.
“We plan to keep civic and political groups out of recommendations for the long term and we plan to expand that policy globally,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with analysts about Facebook’s earnings. This statement implied that this policy would be made permanent and implemented globally. This move of reducing political content is also done with the intention to curb divisive conversations in public.
Although, it is not surprising that multiple watchdog groups have urged Facebook to limit group recommendations based on its algorithm. Their argument is that these are major platforms of misinformation and extremist activity.
On Tuesday, Ed Markey, the Democratic Senator wrote to Zuckerberg. He demanded an explanation of reports. This was included by news site The Markup, that Facebook had failed to stop recommending political groups after this move. He also termed Facebook groups as “breeding groups for hate.” This was because they were apparently used for the planning of venues related to the January riots at the U.S. capitol.
Controversies of Facebook with Trump and BJP:
Several controversies in recent times have deteriorated the image of Facebook. This is linked to reports that highlight the company’s bias to certain political parties or individuals.
These include allegations of supporting the former US President Donald Trump. However, Facebook and Instagram had collectively suspended President Trump’s account after his supporters attacked the US capitol and this led to Trump’s impeachment for the second time. Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg commented: “We believe our decision was necessary and right.”
To talk in the Indian context, there were several allegations against Facebook, for favoring the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is alleged to have overlooked the hate posts made by BJP leaders. Wall Street Journal in August reported that Facebook’s India’s Public Policy director Ankhi Das was against the idea of taking off problematic posts by BJP leaders due to commercial reasons.
It also was reported that in August 2020, BJP was the top advertiser on Facebook. This was in the genres of “social issues, elections, and politics.” Further, reports claim that Facebook removed 14 of the 44 pages that were apparently flagged by the BJP for the opposition and criticism it received in January 2019.
Hence, one may also imply that this decision of Facebook to reduce political content may be an effort to steer away from any further controversies. It is also to “turn down the temperature.”