Facebook fiasco - II

Fasi Zaka June 01, 2010

In the first part of this article I hinted that Muslim demand of respect for religions was shallow since they are not willing to commit to larger principles of eliminating hate speech. I also explained some issues regarding the legality at hand in America where Facebook is incorporated.

While the previous article outlined some general issues, here I would like to talk specifics. The arguments on the issue of Facebook in Pakistan are skewed because people do not understand the nature of the website.

There has been a huge viral campaign via the internet and SMS regarding the ban from Pakistan, it has been both self-congratulatory and self-delusional. For starters, most people believe they have done Facebook two billion dollars worth of damage in a week’s time during the ban. On what planet these people live I do not know. Facebook’s annual revenues are between $500 million to 800 million. Their further assertion that just another week would cause Facebook another $40 billion in damage is ridiculous, the total net worth of the site is between $8-12 billion.

I give estimates because no one knows for sure, Facebook is not a publically traded company, it has not gone through the IPO process. There are about 400 million users worldwide; now in a case like the “Draw Muhammad (pbuh) Day” some have argued that Facebook’s employees should have caught it in time.

Let’s put this in perspective. Microsoft has about 100,000 employees, Facebook has between 350 to 700. How less than a thousand people are going to police 400,000 members with accuracy is anyone’s guess.

Part of the reason why these incorrect facts show up is dodgy mathematics. People who believe these figures do so because they have erroneously calculated the total number of Muslims on the site, and assigned them the same economic value as their counterparts in developed countries. Yes, Facebook does sell advertising, but the cost of advertising for people in Pakistan is way less than a similar advertisement that is targeted to New York’s users. These differential rates are common practice in the industry.

Knowing these facts is essential to rational discourse. Fudging data simply to make a legitimate argument stronger is a weak strategy. Not having Pakistani users does not hurt Facebook as much as people would like to believe.

But not having Pakistani users does hurt Pakistanis and Muslims in general. We have to get used to the idea that we cannot control what others believe and that without dialogue, all we have is threats and violence.

The internet is hard to police, and with the bad comes the good. We have had relative freedom of speech in our country, but with this judgment we have opened the floodgates to a very dangerous precedent. Blocking sites because they contain material against the president can follow, or a total filtering of the internet. It’s ok to ban hate sites, including those that host hateful caricatures, but because of our penchant for ad hoc decisions no policy will come out of this but a malaise that will make us even more inward.

We make choices every day, and part of those choices will be not to visit certain sites even if they are available to us. At least that’s what adults would do. Our general infantilism is cringe worthy. When the Christians were burned alive in Gojra, I never received any text messages to lodge a protest, none. The same is true of the recent killings of Ahmadis.

There is truth in the fact that we will only use freedom of speech and talk against hate speech when it is in our interests, casually abusing freedoms but not internalising them. It is so prevalent that I know that writing this article it is almost not worth the hassle personally that is bound to come. Every discussion becomes feral hair raising. This bodes badly.

We can do without Facebook, but it means nothing if we do not address the larger issues in our own society.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2010.


Adnan | 11 years ago | Reply @Fatima I agree with you on following points. We should concentrate of on our real social problems and corrupt govt. We should fight for women's right But why you are giving importance to these problems over dignity of our beloved prophet? Why Pakistan has law against blasphemy? I am quoting blasphemy law in Pakistan, you can verify it anywhere 295-C Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. Don't you feel offended when Facebook deletes page in favor of Hitler but promotes blasphemous pages regarding our beloved Prophet (S.A.W.W). Why do you think Facebook is not important? Facebook has captured the whole internet. Facebook Connect and Facebook like feature on every website is not alarming for you? Don't you think if Facebook had deleted that page at first place there would have been no Draw Muhammad Day. If you keep aside the respect and love of Prophet, still the dual standard of Facebook is offensive for me. By banning this website we can give message to facebook that such things are offensive and must be removed as you remove pages of Hitler.
K.K. | 11 years ago | Reply Great column Fasi Bhai!
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