The threat to democracy represented by the Social Media Monopoly, Facebook, was underlined again today, with the discovery of a video ad about abortion, which purported to be an RTÉ report.
A new row has erupted about the role played by the social media monopoly Facebook in the upcoming referendum on abortion.
Hot Press was the first to highlight the potentially pernicious role which Facebook advertising, and fake news, might play in the referendum campaign. The magazine specifically called on Facebook to provide assurances that it would prevent the Irish democratic process being poisoned by malign use of its platform by either side of the debate. However, following initial delaying tactics, Facebook has failed to answer questions posed to it by Hot Press.
Since then, the scale of Facebook’s culpability in relation to the distortion of both the US Presidential election, in which Donald Trump was elected, and the UK Brexit referendum has become far clearer, as a result of revelations in The Observer about the role played by Cambridge Analytica and its abuse of the Facebook data of 87 million users.
Hot Press has pointed out to Facebook that – if it cares about the democratic process in Ireland – the company should refuse all advertising in relation to the Referendum on Repealing the 8th Amendment. It has failed to respond and is currently raking in money hand over fist, in particular from the ‘No’ campaign.
Against that backdrop, the latest controversy – involving a fake video on the issue of abortion, purporting to be RTÉ news – merely confirms that Facebook is incapable of the kind of self-regulation that it continually promises to Governments, and as indeed it did when its representatives appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications recently.
The fake video was removed from the Google-run YouTube, following a complaint made by RTÉ. However, the video had also appeared in a Facebook ad, generating revenue for the Social Media monopoly. It required a complaint from RTÉ to have the ad removed – but the Facebook account of the responsible party remains active.
Today, RTÉ has expressed its disappointment that substantive action has not been taken by Facebook, given the very serious nature of the misrepresentation – which effectively amounts to fraud. However, in a further demonstration of their evident contempt for the democratic process, and the immunity they assume from prosecution or damages claims, Facebook defended their decision to leave the account live by saying that it was a "legitimate Facebook profile, with no previous violations."
"It opens up the whole question of how social media is being used to create fake news around this referendum,” the People Before Profit TD, Brid Smith commented in response. "Facebook need to be told to take down sites and there needs to be accountability."
Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil TD, Timmy Dooley, said that he was disappointed that Facebook had not lived up to the expectations which they set out at the Oireachtas Communications Committee recently.
Not that anyone should be surprised.
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