Blaming Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal is easy. Politicians and media outlets all over the globe have jumped on the bandwagon, denouncing Facebook’s failure to protect user data. But aren’t we missing the point here completely?
While Facebook, like Mark Zuckerberg said, is obliged to protect personal information, we should be asking about the people who’ve been using it and what they have been using it for. Facebook doesn’t put out fake news, nor does it spread it. I may allow it to happen but the responsibility lies with those who fabricate fake news stories rather than with Facebook.
In the case of the US presidential election, it seems Facebook was abused to spread fake news, discrete Hilary Clinton and spread pro-Trump sentiment. It now looks likely that Leave EU also carefully targeted individuals with pro Brexit stories on the social media platform. Most political figures now run social media campaigns and why shouldn’t they. However, when digital marketing firms like Cambridge Analytica are hired to manipulate the outcome of an election or a vote by using unethical methods and fake news, the democratic process becomes the prime victim. Isn’t it the responsibility of candidates to ensure that no unethical campaigning methods are used, be it on social media and elsewhere?
Spin Politics Is Alive and Well
Since the 1990s the public has been aware of spin politics. Here, politicians interpret and manipulate facts in way that it will influence voters in their favour. It now seems that spin politics has evolved into the beast that is fake news propaganda, a frightening form of #massmanipulation and a serious and real threat to democracy. Unless politicians themselves take responsibility and endeavour to engage in ethical and truthful electioneering tactics only, our democracy will be undermined further and further.
Why Aren’t There Laws Banning Fake News?
Legislators can do very little about the publication of fake news. According to an article on the Rasmussen College website, proceedings can only be taken by individuals who are victims of a fake news story. Even if someone does bring a lawsuit against the publisher of a fake news story, winning in court is exceedingly difficult. For that reason, people feel that perhaps the only way to curtail the impact of fake news is by getting social media platforms to better protect users.
However, this again leaves political campaign teams off the hook. As public representatives we should demand that they #StopSpinPoliticsNow and undertake to only use entirely ethical campaigning methods.
Digital marketing firms also share the burden of responsibility. Firms like Cambridge Analytica should not be allowed to engage in the type of practices they’ve obviously been excelling at.
Perhaps governments across the globe should take another look at legislating against the publication of fake news. Much like advertisers are not permitted to engage in untruthful advertising practices, politicians and digital marketeers should also not be permitted to publish and spread fake news stories.
Websites like Politifacts are doing really important work. Today, the trouble is that the public often no longer knows how to distinguish facts from spin and fake news.