Fake news and data breaches: the failure of Facebook to protect human rights

Fake news and data breaches: the failure of Facebook to protect human rights

Facebook is the most famous and widest-reaching social media platform. It has around 2.8 billion active users all around the world and this number is growing each day. The social media giant provides its users a platform to communicate with each other, share their photos and videos. The platform provides a medium for billions of people to stay connected with each other from different parts of the world. Similarly, it provides an opportunity for different businesses to grow and market their products to their desired audience. However, in recent times, this social media giant has been in hot waters. It has been accused of violating the right to privacy of its users and crushing its competitors to maintain its monopoly. In the United States, more than 40 states have filed a lawsuit against Facebook for breaching anti-competition laws. Similarly, different countries and regulators have expressed their concern about the monopoly of Facebook and the threat it poses to the protection of the privacy of its users. The platform has also been accused of spreading fake news, misinformation, and hate speech in different parts of the world, which have resulted in the killings of hundreds of people and security concerns in many regions. The platform has been accused of failing to fulfil its commitment to protect human rights and to prevent human rights abuses.


The rise of Facebook and other tech giants reflects a new business model in which personal data of users is the main product. This type of business model is called data economy. Users can make an account by following a very simple process, after which they become part of a social network that connects people from all over the world. Social media platforms not only provide means to communicate, but also give access to other services. Users can, for example, use the platforms to access news and other information. All services are available to users without any payment. However, users give access to their personal data in return for the free services provided by these platforms. The provided and collected data from the user’s engagement are used for targeted matching. Facebook and other similar companies use sophisticated algorithms to match ads with user profiles and the majority of their revenue comes from these ads.


Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks". Article 12 has declared a right to privacy as a fundamental right and provides legal protection to the privacy of an individual. Similarly, members of the international community have incorporated the right to privacy in their domestic legislative instruments and undertaken a commitment to ensure the protection of privacy. The right to privacy has different dimensions and it covers different aspects of life, including data protection. The business model of Facebook and similar companies have emerged as a threat to the right to privacy. The collection and use of personal data by Facebook for ads has been subject to exploitation. Data of users has been made available to third parties, due to which the company has been accused of unauthorized use of personal data and a breach of privacy rights.

The business model of Facebook and similar companies have emerged as a threat to the right to privacy. 

Facebook and other tech giants have a responsibility to ensure the protection of data provided by or collected through the engagement of users on their platform. They are obligated to protect the data from external threats and ensure compliance with the law in the collection and storage of data. The unauthorized use of data constitutes a breach of privacy law. Facebook has been accused of data breaches on multiple occasions. One of the most infamous scandals of a data breach concerns Cambridge Analytica, a data marketing firm that collected data of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users with their consent. However, the firm was also given access to the profiles of their friends. This way, the data firm collected data from millions of Facebook users. This data was then used by politicians in the United States during the presidential elections, to use targeted political advertisement and influence public opinion. Similarly, Cambridge Analytica was also accused of playing a role in Brexit in the UK. The Cambridge Analytica scandal reveals the implications of a data breach and how the data can be used to manipulate public opinion and impact decision-making on a national and international level. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 43% of Americans get their news from Facebook. Similarly, in other countries, a very large portion of the population relies on Facebook to keep themselves updated about current affairs. The business model of Facebook encourages the engagement of users on the platform to maximize their revenues through ads. The increase in the number of users and the maximum time spent by them on the platform is the most significant priority of Facebook. Reports indicate that fake news and propaganda spread faster and result in the engagement of a greater audience compared to relevant news sites. Due to this, the platform is widely used for misinformation and propaganda. Facebook does not have an effective mechanism to check the validity and truth of the news. Their priority is to increase the engagement of the users, which is exploited by malicious groups. Similarly, the platform has been used to influence public opinion and spread propaganda to achieve political benefits.

Facebook has reiterated its commitment to prevent the spread of fake news and hate speech on its platform. However, the platform has failed to take substantial measures to prevent hate speech. Evidence indicates that the platform is used to spread hatred against vulnerable groups and minorities in different parts of the world. The United Nations has recognized the rising of hate speech on social media platforms, which affects, among others, the Bengali Muslim minorities in the northern parts of India. The platform has been used to spread hatred against the minority groups and instigate people to use violence against them, which has resulted in a dangerous situation in the region. Similarly, the platform has been used to target minorities in different parts of India. However, Facebook has failed to take measures against the groups spreading hate. Evidence indicates that Ankhi Das, Facebook India's former head of public policy opposed the application of hate speech rules to some rulers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year. They have been using the platform to spread islamophobia and violence against Muslims in India, but the platform is not ready to confront the rulers of the BJP on the blatant violations of their privacy policy to keep good ties with them and protect their revenues.


Additionally, the Nigerian police have accused Facebook of spreading violence in the country. Evidence indicates that on 23 and 24 June 2018, horrifying images were circulating on Facebook. The users posting the pictures claimed that the Fulani Muslims were killing the Berom ethnic minority in the Gashish district of Plateau State, Nigeria. The pictures angered members of the Berom community. One of the Berom youth leaders said: "As soon as we saw those images, we wanted to just strangle any Fulani man standing next to us. Who would not if they saw their brother being killed". The horrifying pictures circulating on Facebook feeds resulted in the death of 11 Fulani Muslims in the area. Evidence indicates that the pictures were not from the region, but they were used to instigate hate and violence against Fulani Muslims. Facebook has millions of users in African countries and many of them are going through social tensions. In this situation, Facebook is adding fuel to the fire by providing a platform to spread hate and misinformation. Facebook has claimed that they are taking substantial measures to remove hate speech and misinformation from the platform, but the facts reveal a different situation.


Facebook has been used to influence public opinion and spread propaganda to achieve political benefits.


Facebook is also accused of playing an instrumental role in spreading hatred against Rohingya Muslims, which resulted in the Rohingya genocide. Facebook is one of the few or even only source of information for the majority of inhabitants in Myanmar, and the news and information posted on the platform resulted in serious consequences. Malicious groups exploited the platform to spread hatred against Rohingya and instigate other groups to use forceful means against them. The UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee stated Facebook “has become a beast.” It was used to convey public messages, but “we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities". The statement reflects the gravity of the issue and how a social media platform can be used to spread hate and violence.


The cases of India, Nigeria, and Myanmar show the role played by Facebook in the spread of fake news, misinformation, and hatred against the members of vulnerable groups and minorities. Facebook has emerged as the most important source of connectivity and information. Facebook is one of the few sources of information and connectivity in some African and other developing countries. With such a great outreach, Facebook has a huge potential to be a medium to spread genuine and relevant information, and to empower the inhabitants of these regions and connect them with the world. Similarly, it can play an important role in promoting democratic values and human rights in these countries. However, the platform has been used to pursue sinister motives and to escalate existing tensions. The platform has been used to instigate people to commit violence against a particular group, which has resulted in the death of hundreds of people, as shown with the cases of Nigeria, India, and Myanmar. The platform should be held accountable for its role in the violence and human rights abuses in these countries.


In this age of digital technology, Facebook and other tech giants have emerged as great economic powers. These platforms have a huge potential to empower people in developing countries, build greater connections and promote the protection of human rights. However, the platform has failed to take substantial measures to fulfil its commitment to human rights. It has been accused of aligning with governments to be in their good books and to maximize their annual revenues. It has been used as a tool to spread misinformation and hatred against members of vulnerable groups in several parts of the world.


It is essential to enact new laws to ensure the protection of personal data in the digital world. The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in Europe is a very significant piece of legislation that imposes a restriction on the company regarding the collection of data and gives greater control to the users. Similarly, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), ensures the protection of data of users in California. It is high time that other countries enact similar legislative instruments to restrict the data processors and give greater control to users. Similarly, Facebook and other tech companies should be held accountable for their role in human rights abuses and should be obligated to take substantial measures to prevent the spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platform.



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