Facebook's life-and-death struggle with 'fake news' and hate speech is likely to drive its operating expenses up to 60 per cent in 2018, reducing its profits eventually. Last month, Twitter stock tanked sharply after its revenues showed the impact of crackdown on fake accounts.
In a bid to tackle 'fake news', Google will invest $300 million in content bots, artificial intelligence, video clean-up (YouTube) and data management. In a similar vein, Facebook-owned WhatsApp is spending heavily in its battle against 'fake news' by introducing various features in its messaging app, including the recent forward function. The company may further lose traffic in its efforts to keep it free of fake news.
A toxic mix of fake news and deepfakes coupled with political spin are destroying the credibility and business model of social networks.
As each champion of the fledgling global networked communication market is hell-bent on purging political lies on social networking space, can we call it the beginning of an end of the post-truth?
In spite of huge debates, we are still not sure how and when exactly post-truth tip-toed into our political and media discourses. However, what we are sure about is that a rapid expansion of social networks has played a pivotal role in spreading the post-truth content or debates based on appeal to emotions and lies. As social networks 'crackdown' on fake content and bigotry has already started forcing fake news peddlers and cyberbullies to leave the field, we may happily look forward to the effective sanitisation of public discourse free of post-truth or false content.
What Nietzsche once said — “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you — seems to come true for the fledgling market of globally connected multimedia and multi-dimensional communication and collective thinking.
Since a toxic mix of fake news, deepfakes coupled with political spin are destroying their credibility and business model, the players (FB, Twitter, Google) of this market has no option but to launch a tirade against organised political lying.
By and large, the public conscience is clear about the business of truth and lying. Long before the arrival of social networks, people were convinced that politics always peddles falsehood wrapped in theatrics. However, nobody trusts false market. It is impossible to cheat people repeatedly when it comes to business.
While politics is the art of deception, the market survives on absolute trust.
Companies often recall their products, tender apology and even shutdown their businesses because people do not buy lies or invest in falsehood. On the other side, politics has always been peddling big fat lies, which are tolerated as necessary evil.
So, why is perennial falsehood detrimental to trust in the new market of networked communication?
In spite of various freedoms, the democracies of pre-social network era were based on one-way communication in which real-time conversation between the powers that be and people was just not present. Equipped with the power of technology, economic freedom and globalisation, social networks unleashed freedom of dialogue by creating platforms to empower questioning and blunt acceptation and rejection.
The business model of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and to some extent Google, is, in fact, the celebration of democratic expression. By empowering high-speed, real-time free speech and one-to-all and all-to-all two-way communications, social networks and messaging apps have created a huge empire of business. The infiltration of falsehood has shaken the trust of people in the business of networked free expression.
Who will buy their business, if social network cannot protect people’s freedom from wily fakers and bigoted politicians?
Social networks' crusade against lies is the survival strategy of their business. Since they are ready to bear business losses by investing in new algorithms and lie-searching robots, this will impact their marketing strategies. We are not sure about how much FB revenue come from fake news, but advertising algorithms of social networks are definitely driven by the users’ inclinations, behaviour, political choices and other habits.
It isn't surprising that engagement-driven marketing models may have been indirectly helping in spreading fake news. Therefore, the stock market rightly expects that social networks will bleed initially under the campaign to purge lies from their universe.
In order to keep their credibility intact, social networks may limit or even stop political advertisements altogether on their platforms.
Politics is filthy. It sullies everything that comes in contact with it. Not surprising that the new market of free expression is resisting against its political abuse with full force.
Technology is value-neutral. However, the market of chemical and nuclear technologies has been regulated to prevent its use by some cynical politicians. Social networking is going to be the next technology whose market will decide itself the rules of its use.
Social media's battle against fake news and bigotry is bad news for politics. Ironically, bad news for bad politics is good news for everybody else.
Happy Independence Day.