Day 2 of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the US Congress turned out to be an even greater chagrin for the company as the senators made it unavoidably vivid that the billionaire could not sweep the fiasco under the rug. While the second day had anticipated a more resistant response from Zuckerberg, who bore the look of a flinching and tensed up persona throughout the first day’s testimony, it saw none of it.
As the senators reprimanded the CEO with heaps of allegations and demands for greater regulation, Zuckerberg had little defence to exhibit with most of the questions being evaded.
Zuckerberg was called to testify before the House after the Cambridge Analytica scandal resurfaced with a swarm of other disconcerting instances where data breaches had occurred and a sudden public outburst became inevitable. Inter-alia a multitude of objectionable occurrences, the US election manipulation took initial billings with arguably the heaviest ramifications.
Facebook, along with Cambridge Analytica, had sold private information of users to political factions in order to manoeuvre opinion and distort the vote trajectory. The alleged Russian involvement used this course as one of their pawns to steer the mass perspectives prior to the debatably most monumental event in the US — the presidential elections.
While such trespasses on user privacy and data breaches advance to become a phenomenon more substantial than mere moral panics, the national concern proceeds beyond this facet. In response to the (now) customary reservation of Russian and underlying American involvement in the US elections expressed by a senator, Zuckerberg conceded to the ‘debacle’ that has now been unravelled.
Elaborating upon his meek defence, he mentioned the imminent elections around the world including those in Pakistan where Facebook would refine its security and data collection procedure so as to prevent any deliberate contortion of news or swaying of opinion leaders that ultimately transmit the manufactured consent and borrowed perspectives to the naïve masses. Some may perceive this as a coincidental mention while the others feel confident to dig deeper.
As Zuckerberg employs a slight harbinger towards hovering possibilities, it is prudent to put this into perspective by analysing the politically manipulative potential such a threat carries. With the proliferation of social media and its growing authenticity certified by legislation and watchdog bodies, the Pakistani public has shifted its inclination towards the universally acclaimed trend.
The precedents Facebook has set escalate the bleak circumstances including discriminatory censorship of the Kashmir dispute from the Pakistani side of the matter, particularly as an aftermath of the martyrdom of Burhan Wani and the reinvigoration of the freedom struggle. When one of the senators in the Day 2 hearing mentioned the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Muslims and Facebook’s screening of the massacre, Zuckerberg swerved around the prime query which solidified his ill-reputed propagandist agenda.
While this is not to be taken into account by the Congress, there is no veiling of the much ‘arcane algorithms’ that sift the plight of those endorsed by the consumers of Facebook and those that are truly victimised.
So to state, the laissez-faire structure of media that may assist an otherwise weak side of the argument would fail to work in this context since Facebook has not been censoring selective speech on the basis of consumerism but the pattern is one of blatant discrimination against users who shower support over freedom fighters scapegoated by the West.
Veering to the initial concern of manipulation in elections in Pakistan to ‘frame’ democracy, the social networking site has time and again proved its methodical and audacious potential to have vehement impacts that may be short-lived, but decisive nonetheless, for the supposedly fledgling national system.
Pakistan may have a long road to tech-savviness but media manipulation has always been an express feature of our society.