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Facebook’s Faulty Promotional Model Helps In The Spread Of Fake News And Propaganda

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Nowadays, we are witnessing fake news being spread all over the world. There are lots of discussions everywhere. We are routinely coming across many news items which later turn out to be fake. And social media is a major player here, for its role in spreading rumours, hatred and baseless news, which is causing social unrest and havoc among people.

As we all know, initially, Facebook was meant to help people connect and communicate with each other over the internet. Its worldwide presence and acceptance by the public is proof of its utility. There is no doubt that Facebook has brought the whole world to our fingertips. But recently, Facebook has been heavily criticised for sharing user data and fake accounts. In this article, I will try to investigate whether Facebook pages are contributing to the spread of fake news.

There is this Facebook page called “Just A Thought To Rethink”. Its purpose is to share and spread information, knowledge and take opinion polls in the interest of the Facebook users who like and follow the page. The purpose of this page is to create awareness by sharing posts, articles and pictures about various aspects related to society, politics, environment, culture, etc. It has had its presence on Facebook for just over a month.

Last week, “Just a Thought to Rethink” had a post titled “Fake News -Misinformation is worse than no information”, which highlighted the concerns of fake news. Since the page was new and there weren’t many followers, the post couldn’t reach many people. Consequently, the post received a low number of likes and only a very limited number of users read it. Considering the seriousness of the issue, the page admin decided to avail Facebook’s ‘Boost Post’ service (a paid service) and try to reach more people – thereby, also testing the results of this promotional service for which he was getting regular notifications from Facebook.

To clarify what the Boost Post facility is all about (especially for those who have an FB account but not a page) – Facebook has provided this facility to all the admins who have created and are managing a page/pages on Facebook. Whenever you post any content on the page, Facebook notifies you regularly to boost your post to reach more users.

There is another facility – the Promote Page facility – which allows your page to be advertised on the FB accounts of the target audience/viewers, which you can select before availing the service. There are various day-based packages for both the services which you can choose as per your budget.

If you wish to avail the Boost Post service, Facebook will promote and help your post reach a larger audience, only for the days for which you have made a payment. Basically, this is a business model created to promote products and services after creating a page for your company. Here, you can easily advertise the products and services of your company by selecting the targeted customers who are readily available on Facebook.

In this case, the admin had availed the 2-day Boost Post service for the article mentioned above by paying ₹120. When the service was delivered and initiated by Facebook, within minutes, the post’s outreach and the number of like it received increased exponentially. Amazingly, the post, which didn’t get many likes even from its own followers, had become trending (for the admin only, that is) within hours. You can see the final results of the paid service, through which the post reached up to 659 Facebook users out of the total of 697 users targeted. It was liked by 297 users – and this was quite remarkable!

Evidently, such advertisement and promotion is really a good business idea developed by Facebook to earn money and help its users promote their products and services to targeted customers only, using Facebook pages. But this marketing tool has serious flaws – and many questions need to be asked here.

The questions concern the utility of this promotion tool, how it actually works and whether Facebook subcontracts promotional activities and pays to the account holders (even those with fake ones) for the same facilities. People also need to know what measures Facebook has taken to curb the issue of fake accounts, and whether FB data is secure, even with stringent controls.

Facebook has recently revealed that there are more than 200 million fake accounts and pages which are operational on their platform. And looking at the way how Facebook pages get promoted, it can be said, with reasonable certainty, that it is one of the biggest sources of fake news.

Twiplomacy – a social media brand that observes ‘digital diplomacy’ – shared the “World Leaders on Facebook” study released by Burson Cohn & Wolfe. It says that the Indian PM is the most ‘liked’ leader on Facebook, which should ideally be a proud moment for Indians. But here, the 200 million fake accounts (to which India contributes significantly) also need to be factored in. Now whether we actually believe whether these accounts had a role to play or not, we can’t deny the possibility of the ‘fan base’ being manipulated by fake users.

Also, it is clearly evident from the above case that these fake account holders can blindly promote their posts by availing the paid services from Facebook. Also, there may be a monetary angle involved here. If there was no monetary benefit to be made from promoting these pages and posts, why would these people waste their time and money? In my opinion, this can’t be the case. We have witnessed many politically-motivated pages who have been trying to run a negative propaganda, create unrest among the people and instill fear. And if the pages created intentionally to spread rumours are availing promotional services from Facebook, then it should be very embarrassing for Facebook. They are digging their own well and causing big troubles for the society.

Many peoples and organisations are working against fake news by creating awareness among the masses. They promote professional journalism and many more such initiatives. The masses need to contribute to this fight too, because the current measures to counter this menace may prove to be insufficient in the long run, due to the wide outreach of technology and the exponentially-rising unethical ways through which the audience is being manipulated.

The models used by Facebook to promote pages and posts can be really handy for actual business organisations as a means of advertisement. However, in my opinion, the same facility should be altered/modified in such a way that they are used only by authentic sellers of goods and services. I believe people having original Facebook Accounts should not be allowed to create a public page. Facebook is smart enough to find out ways to overcome such problems. It  will definitely come up with a concrete plan to curb fake accounts.

The author can be found at nileshpatil3012@rediffmail.com.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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