India Should Ban Facebook (and WhatsApp)
It is now clear that Facebook has been giving access to our personal data to random firms who have exploited that data to conduct possibly illegal activities such as interfering with US elections.
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of open trade and free markets. That said, I think that India should seriously consider banning Facebook and possibly WhatsApp, just as China has done, though for different reasons. Let me explain how I arrived at this rather extreme conclusion.
It is now clear that Facebook has been giving access to our personal data to random firms who have exploited that data to conduct possibly illegal activities such as interfering with US elections. They have been participants in the spreading of fake news that has now led to a social environment of mistrust and hate within the US. Fake news is directly responsible for tearing apart the social fabric of America. Fortunately for the US, it is a wealthy country with a well educated population and a 200 year old vibrant democracy. The US will survive fake news and Facebook.
Certain technology firms like Facebook have become so powerful that simply fining them for bad behavior may not be adequate. It is certain that the US will act through regulation and other means to curtail Facebook’s role in spreading fake news and exploiting consumer data. That’s great for the US but how about other countries like India which do not have the muscle to force these powerful technology companies to behave?
The solution may well come down to an outright ban of Facebook and possibly WhatsApp in India. One may wonder whether such a drastic step is warranted. Think about the consequences of “bad actors” exploiting consumer data and spreading fake news within India. Given India’s large population of less educated people, religious and social tensions that are bubbling under the surface, caste politics, economic inequality, we should not wait to find out the consequences of fake news that can stoke communal hatred. This can lead to sudden and uncontrollable violence, especially as we move towards the next general election in 2019. Indian democracy is strong but there is no need to test it when steps can be taken to prevent these obvious threats of fake news spread on Facebook and WhatsApp.
One may wonder whether there would be bad economic consequences from such a ban. Perhaps just the opposite is true. Just as in China, where the banning of Facebook and Google led to the creation of local giants like Tencent and Baidu, perhaps this will give a much needed boost to domestic champions like Paytm. And if domestic firms behave badly and have the potential to disrupt Indian democracy, the Indian government will have the power and control to shut them down, and not have to plead with foreign firms to play by the rules.
Just this morning, I decided that I’ve had enough and deleted Facebook. India should do the same.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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