By Karishma Mehrotra
At the centre of a storm around data firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting Facebook user data to influence elections, the social media giant’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg Wednesday said his company is committed to ensuring the integrity of elections in countries like India and Pakistan.
Questioned for nearly five hours, in a US Congressional hearing Zuckerberg in his testimony said: “2018 is an incredibly important year for elections. Not just with the US midterms, but around the world there are important elections – in India, in Brazil, in Mexico, in Pakistan and Hungary – that we want to make sure that we do everything we can to protect the integrity of those elections.”
After allegations that British data firm Cambridge Analytica inappropriately harvested Facebook user data for targeted political advertising, the senatorial questioning focused on concerns about data privacy, control, and regulation, highlighting how the advertising business model disincentives privacy protection. Zuckerberg responded with apologies and promises of internal investigations and remedies.
In a discussion about algorithmic tools that flag inappropriate content, Zuckerberg noted the difficulty of monitoring hate speech in non-English languages, a conundrum that has impacted the Indian social media landscape, which rife with trolling and inappropriate content.
“I am optimistic that, over a 5-10 year period, we will have AI (artificial intelligence) tools that can get to some of the nuances – the linguistic nuances of different types of content… But today, we’re just not there on that. So a lot of this is still reactive,” he said.
Siddharth Narrain, who researches hate speech and law at Ambedkar University, noted that virtual conversations have grave physical consequences in India. While regulation is needed, he said, concerned Indians must ask more questions about the subjectivities with Facebook’s proposed measures. “When it comes to something like hate speech – the nuance, the context, the rhetoric, the same word and the way it is said, the intonation, all of that matters,” he said.
Zuckerberg also stated that his company does not see the content of WhatsApp, a messaging platform with 200 million users every month because it is encrypted.