In a bold move by the social media behemoth, Facebook will stop showing political groups to users. It comes after Facebook temporarily stopped recommending conspiracy and political groups to U.S. users in October in the lead up to the 2020 U.S. elections.This will have significant impacts on political campaigns and will undoubtedly change the geopolitical landscape.
Yes, you read that right. Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform with 1.69 billion registered users, will permanently stop recommending political groups. This is a much-delayed move in a direction deemed right by political experts and social scientists.
On January 27, 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would no longer recommend civic and political groups to its users. The changes are also highly motivated in the wake of the insurrection by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Moreover, Zuckerberg said that the company is now contemplating steps to reduce the number of political content users see in their News Feed. A panel was constituted within Facebook late in 2020 amid increasing concerns about misinformation around the U.S. election. Zuckerberg said the decision to remove political groups’ suggestions came from user feedback and will apply globally to the social network.
Social Media Has Changed Our Lives
The ways we obtain news and, with it, the nature of political communication have radically changed since the advent of social media. Portentous analytics present social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with new tools for targeting voters at too minute levels.
Such political ‘micro-targeting’ of voters with exquisitely drafted messages allows civic campaigns to operate at relatively low cost and with little or no governing constraints. At the same time, Facebook constitutes the primary source of political message for an increasing number of people. Research by the Pew Research Center determined that more than 60% of Americans read about the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Facebook.
Facebook and Politics- India
Much like former politicians including Indira Gandhi and even her father Jawaharlal Nehru used radio and television (in the former’s case) to their advantage during their bid for the office of the Indian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the internet — and specifically Facebook and Twitter — to make history by gaining absolute majority since Indira Gandhi to cruise the BJP to victory in 2014.
Modi quickly adopted the platform, using Facebook to demonstrate his experience of Gujarat model and to connect with young voters across India. The Indian opposition, primarily envisaged in the Indian National Congress despite having a younger leader than Modi in Rahul Gandhi, couldn’t channelise its social media influence to the fullest extent.
As Modi’s campaign team and I.T. cell fathomed the massive influence of social media, especially Facebook, they well resonated the message of “Achhe Din Aane Waale Hain (अच्छे दिन आने वाले हैं)” through Facebook in 2014.
Facebook Continues to Matter to Politicians Globally
Many political campaigners, academics and journalists think that Facebook and Twitter may have effectively added to Donald Trump’s election. The Trump campaign’s main information channels contained social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
Many fear that this way of campaigning may have enormous, and possibly unwanted, consequences on election results and the working of democratic institutions – particularly given the scandals of ‘Cambridge Analytica’ (related to the direct unofficial access into people accounts) and of ‘Russian fake news’ (associated with the spread of false political information).
Intensity and Susceptibility to Social Media Drives
Despite recent transformations, social media are still relatively constrained platforms. They do not give out most information, identifying the political campaign’s effects on their networks very difficult. At the time of the 2016 U.S. elections, Facebook did put out information regarding the size or content of political ads, or the campaigners’ identity who paid for these ads.
The Facebook price data calculates the intensity of political campaigns at the audience level. Facebook audiences are targeted based on demographic, political and location details, and they see a personalised measure of treatment to political campaigns on the platform.
Facebook Has Serious Impact On Political Outcomes
On the whole, Facebook susceptibility concerns for voting preferences. Advertising on Facebook is an efficient way to influence and mobilise voters. Still, this effect only surfaces in the direction favouring candidates on the right side of the political spectrum like Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.
Research shows that targeted Facebook campaigning increased the probability that a previously non-aligned voter would vote for the candidate massively advertised on Facebook. If the voter used Facebook regularly, the chance boosted by at least 5%. Similar outcomes emerged among those who lacked higher education.
Coming across political ads on Facebook does not make people more politically informed, but obtaining news on newspapers does, as a test applied to measure respondents’ improvement in political knowledge showed.
Overall, social media effectively can and does empower politicians to influence critical groups of voters in elections. It further shows that political outcomes, such as Brexit, President Trump’s election in 2016, and even the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, might be mainly due to data analytics’s practical use.
Facebook's Way Ahead
The company is now aiming to fix its image tarnished by several political controversies. Facebook and Instagram suspended Donald Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, leading to Trump’s second impeachment”.
Facebook’s board, which is assigned with making decisions on appeals regarding what is removed or permitted to remain on the social network, is working rigorously to de-escalate the extremist situations that are fuelled by many conspiracy and political groups to incite violence and misinformation. Members of Facebook’s oversight board include jurists, human rights activists, journalists, a Nobel peace laureate and a former Danish prime minister.
Given that Facebook holds significant sway over ground-level politics and mobilisation of the masses, with the new rules banning political groups’ suggestions, the scene is set to change and for good.
Maybe instead of a place for right-wing trolls and QAnon followers to relish on the calls by their leaders like “Stand Back and Stand By” and “Those indulging in violence can be identified with their clothes“, Facebook can become a space for positive and progressive discourse that has room for everyone.