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Flipside of social media

Flipside of social media
The Government of India issued a stern warning to Facebook and its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for any data theft of Indian users for the purpose of using it to influence the Indian electoral process. Indian IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad issued the warning and named Zuckerberg in his statement, saying that the Facebook founder and CEO may be summoned to India if there is any instance of data theft. The IT minister's warning followed the news that the Congress has hired British firm Cambridge Analytica to assist it in the upcoming general elections of 2019. The Congress has, however, denied the allegation that it has hired the British firm to help it during the elections. However, there is the backdrop of the news that Russia had interfered in the US Presidential elections in 2016 by applying artificial intelligence (AI) to collect and analyse the data of US users of various social networking platforms. The same has been told about the French elections of 2017. There are several mid-term elections in the US in 2018 and the US authorities are wary of interference from outside sources. In view of the misuse of digital data in the recent elections, the concern of the Government of India that foreign companies can use the data of Indian users to influence the elections is not misplaced. Facebook has, however, said that it is upgrading the security mechanism and would keep a watch on data theft.
Few people are sure as to how the data of Facebook users, for example, can influence the election process. The mechanism to influence the election process through Facebook data that has emerged so far involves fake accounts. In the allegation that Russia had influenced the US elections, the real story was that nearly 30,000 fake accounts were suspected of populating fake news and trolls among the user base of social networking sites. They also used Artificial Intelligence to collect the data and analyse it for spreading fake news. Populating fake news and trolls through fake accounts has become an insurmountable nuisance and calls for strict security mechanisms to protect personal data on social networking sites. It is not only India that is concerned about the misuse of personal data on social networking sites. Many countries in the world which are preparing for elections in the near future are worried about the misuse of the huge database that social networking sites harbour.
In India, the general elections are due in 2019 and the elections are expected to be keenly contested. As we know, a range of issues involving sensitive concerns like caste and religion come into play during the elections. Fake news and trolls have the potential to influence the voting patterns and election results. They can also cause unnecessary acrimony among the people based on the lines of caste and religion. In the light of this, the government's resolve to not allow personal data to be used by a third party in the elections in India is a welcome step. The government must ensure that the Indian elections are free from such outside influence. Indian elections are all the more susceptible to outside influence as it has one of the largest youth populations in the world. Social networking sites are more popular among the young people across the world, including India. There is a huge user base and most of them are at an impressionable age. They are all the more susceptible to fake news and trolls and their voting patterns can be easily influenced. All the political parties, including BJP which is in power at the Centre, are trying to woo the young voters. One way to approach them is through social networking sites where these young people spend a considerable amount of time. Even at the moment, all these parties use social media to reach out to their prospective voters. The social networking sites have an immense reach and it acts faster than any other media. Any advertisement on these sites reaches more people in less time and this is a great advantage that no political party would like to lose out on. But, at the same time, these very reasons make the data on social networking sites so much more attractive for influencing the voters by a third party. And, this must be curbed.

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