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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2398

Will Facebook Survive the Latest Controversy? The answer – resounding yes!

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Facebook, the best known social media platform used by billions of users across the world, is still reeling from the biggest ever challenge it faced since its inception. Despite the negative impact that the controversy made, the social media network knows it can weather the storm and it will, as the alternatives are a few and far between.

At the centre of the controversy is an academic at Cambridge University in England. Professor Aleksandr Kogan, a specialist in psychology, as the story goes, was allowed to use a substantial set of data – personal details of over 50 million users – for academic research by Facebook.

Sharing data with academics for research purposes by Facebook – or other companies in similar positions - is nothing new. In this context, the access provided by Facebook to Professor Kogan is perfectly understandable.
At present, there are many academics doing the same and application developers are given the access to data provided that they come from reputed research backgrounds and data is not for abuse.

Professor Kogan has done the same and Facebook has allowed him to extract large chunks of data from its database servers in proportion to the ‘trust’ built between the former and the social media network.

What happened, however, was personal data of millions of users has ended up in a data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica, that in turn sold it to third parties – at a hefty fee.

It is alleged that Donald Trump’s campaign team has paid the company in question for the data and in the light of revelations, President Trump detractors wasted no time in associating the development with the election outcome. In short, according to them, President Trump won, because the analysis of data eventually turned the voter tide in his favour.

As the Facebook shares tumbles and few influential advertisers left the social media platform in protest, it emerged this week that Cambridge Analytica had been in touch with the individuals that ran the last Nigerian Presidential Campaign too.

In this case, however, the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, lost the election to President Buhari, despite the wisdom gained from the extreme data analysis.

When Facebook realized that Professor Kogan has used data for purposes other than his academic work, it stopped the latter from using its servers and suspended Cambridge Analytica.

Adding insult to injury, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO as well as its Chief Operation Officer, maintained a prolonged silence, leaving their loyal users, the governments and the entire tech industry in limbo.

During this dark period, the organizations that were hit by the influence of Facebook – and the likes – seized upon the opportunity to demonize the social networking in general and Facebook in particular. When politicians joined the bandwagon, the top two of the company were left with no choice; they issued the belated apologies.

Judging by the strong words against Facebook on both sides of the Atlantic, there are signs that Mark Zuckerberg will be forced to appear before committees of the elected representatives to be grilled.

Cambridge Analytica, meanwhile, has to salvage what is left of its reputation: the firm has suffered an irreversible damage to its brand in the light of a catalogue of disturbing revelations; an expensive PR campaign will not be enough to turn the things around.

In the past few days, not only did Facebook lose its share value, but also realized it is ‘mortal’ after all. Although, its young audience, particularly the age group between 12 – 17, converges on apps like Snapchat and Instagram in droves in developed countries, in developing nations, it still grows significantly.

As the wind of anxiety slowly dies down, the regular users will flock back to their favourite social networking platform as if nothing happened in the coming weeks. All in all, it is far too early to write off Facebook despite the latest controversy – especially in the absence of an alternative with universal appeal.

- Asian Tribune -

Will Facebook Survive the Latest Controversy? The answer – resounding yes!
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