Facebook Papers Must Be Shared In Outlets Around The World
Even if Facebook acts against misinformation in non-western countries, according to Ashraf Zeitoon, the company’s former head of public policy for the Middle East and North Africa, it is usually small, and too late. For example, he points to several thousand fake accounts that Facebook was shut down recently in the Middle East. “I believe there are hundreds of thousands of fake accounts,” he said. “So whatever they’re doing now is cosmetic.”
If Facebook has rooted such networks, according to Zeitoon, it’s often thanks to the personal efforts of enthusiastic and loyal staff, not because the company has decided to devote time and resources. “If they say they don’t have human skill or strength, that’s a load of stupidity,” he said. “They have some of the best brains in the world. But these people’s priorities are more Western priorities. A network of misinformation in Jordan is not a Facebook priority.
The danger is greatest in countries where democracy is already in short supply. If people don’t trust traditional outlets, they have a lot of news and information from friends. This type of person-to-person communication — Mark Zuckerberg calls it “meaningful social interaction”-seems more believable. And that is exactly why it is the perfect tool for the spread of disinformation. Government authorities are skilled in the art of using Facebook to create disinformation campaigns with fake accounts, fake news, and what Zeitoon calls “a significant number of troll armies.”
The best way to detect these abuses is to allow reporters in the markets to see the papers for themselves. I am an editor of an independent public interest media outlet in Beirut called The Public Source. (I’ve lived in Beirut for over a decade, and I’ve covered the Middle East since 2003.) There are only a handful of truly independent news outlets in Lebanon, and we’re one of them. We do not get funding from the government or political parties or outside power. (Nowadays, that category includes Facebook, which is increasingly bankrolling journalism outlets. in the Middle East and all over the world.) We asked for access and we didn’t hear.
Facebook has a lot of power in Lebanon, where mobile phone rates are some of the highest in the region. Many Lebanese have families living abroad, in part to help pay exactly this kind of overly exaggerated fee. That’s why almost everyone relies on Facebook and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. WhatsApp is so important in daily life in Lebanon that when the government tried to impose a $ 6 monthly tax on voice-over-internet calls, such as WhatsApp, in October 2019, it started a famous uprising — called the “WhatsApp Revolution” by the Western media, but known in Lebanon as the October Revolution or October 17 Revolution — that has lasted, in one form or another, to this day.
The crackdown on Facebook in Lebanon is not unusual. The company Free Basics program, originally launched in 65 countries, takes advantage of poverty and low internet access to lock in viewers around the southern world. Other countries, such as India and Egypt, eventually pulled the plug. But last year, Toussaint Nothias of Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab found that Free Basics still exists in 28 countries on the African continent alone; Facebook launched similar program, called Discover, in many countries, including Peru, Chile, Thailand, the Philippines, and Iraq.
The power that Facebook has in countries like Lebanon is exactly why my colleagues and I at The Public Source believe it is important to have independent media around the world — not just in the Western European or English-speaking press. -allowed to participate in Facebook Papers. Outsiders, no matter how skilled, often forget the stories that locals put in a broader framework. This is especially the case in countries and communities where foreign language and familiarity with local and regional politics are key.