2018: When Social Media Earned Dislikes
The events that unfolded this year put the spotlight on data security and privacy, social media’s role in propagating fake news and misinformation, and brand safety issues.
2018 was not the best of years for social media platforms globally and in India. The events that unfolded this year put the spotlight on data security and privacy, social media’s role in propagating fake news and misinformation, and brand safety issues.
Facebook’s Year of Apologies
Facebook, in particular, spent the year entangled in a privacy scandal with multiple incidents of data breaches being reported about the social media giant. In March, multiple news outlets reported that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump, had harvested personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
The CA whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Guardian: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Facebook’s stocks tumbled and lost US$40 billion in value immediately after the news of the scandal broke. After five days of radio silence over the CA scandal, Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg came out with an apology to users: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”
This was the first apology from the CEO who continued to deliver apologies on various accounts for the rest of the year. Zuckerberg testified in front of the US Congress for two days where he explained how Facebook made money (through ads) and promised to take a “broader view” of Facebook's responsibility.
In December, the Attorney General for Washington DC filed a lawsuit against Facebook for allowing Cambridge Analytica to obtain people's personal data.
The revelations of 2018 had users contemplating if they should #deletefacebook and their use of social media. Interestingly enough, the news of data breaches and subsequent news of Facebook sharing user data with companies like Spotify, Netflix has not led to an outcry from advertisers; Facebook continues to attract ad monies.
But marketers are watching the social media platform keenly to pick up on any trend of users leaving the platform. Marketers say that Facebook’s merit is its user base and when users start spending lesser and lesser time on the platform they will shift their ad budgets elsewhere.
Facebook-owned Whatsapp was not spared in 2018. The platform which has eased mass sharing came under fire for becoming a tool for the spread of fake news in India. Around forty cases of mob-lynchings were linked to Whatsapp rumours of child-kidnappings between May and July. Authorities slammed Whatsapp and asked the messaging app company to tackle the problem of misinformation spreading virally on its platform, and demanded that an executive is appointed to handle the India operations. In November, Whatsapp roped in Ezetap co-founder and CEO Abhijit Bose as its India head.
The messaging platform has since launched a campaign against misinformation in India and introduced a five chat limit for forwards. It also removed the quick forward button and added a notification that informs users when they receive a forwarded message.
The Purge of 2018
The growing importance of influencer marketing in a marketer’s strategy drew attention to the prevalence of fraud and measurability in such campaigns. To tackle these issues of brand safety and measurement, Unilever called on the industry to increase trust, transparency, and measurement in influencer marketing in June this year. Taking a hard stand against influencers who fudge metrics, Unilever CMO, Keith Weed said that the company will not work with influencers who buy followers.
To clean up the ecosystem Twitter and Instagram purged their platforms of inactive and fake accounts. Twitter purged 70 million bad accounts resulting in the drop of follower counts of users. Instagram’s crackdown affected likes and comments from bots.
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