Meta’s Mark Zuckerburg faced the wrath of a bipartisan U.S. Congress when he testified before it on the company’s role in the suicides of children that used his platforms such as Instagram. There have been suicides of children in Sri Lanka as a result of being shamed on Facebook and Instagram.
Did Zuckerburg have a word for them? Will the Meta boss be brought before a bipartisan group of parliamentarians in Sri Lanka? Or at least before a group of civil society watchdogs who have a stake in ensuring that young ones are saved from the mercenary instincts of those who wield power over them, through platforms they refuse to regulate properly?
Don’t hold your breath. Zuckerburg in his testimony before Congress made no references to children that died in Sri Lanka or any other country for that matter, and there are plenty of those. That’s because he didn’t have to. His testimony was not voluntary. He had been brought before Congress because mothers and fathers of dead children were livid.
Where is accountability for billionaire owners of hi-tech companies in a globalised world? Apparently in the US no laws were passed by Congress to ensure that pedophiles did not find each other on platforms such as Facebook. The US lawmakers were content with bringing Zuckerberg before a Congressional Committee and have him apologise to parents in public.
The US may be slow in passing laws that don’t assist paedophiles. But that doesn’t mean that other countries cannot take action. Somewhere in Mexico, a Court is trying to sue Zuckerberg. But no country has succeeded in extraditing him or at least summoning him and have him be present physically in court, to face charges.
What do we do in Sri Lanka about the suicides that his platforms have caused? Will he at the very least come before the Sri Lankan people, or face representatives of the voters in our Parliament, and apologise to the parents of children who committed suicide because they were bullied on Facebook, and there were no regulations to stop this nonsense?
Zuckerberg is not about to apologise to victims of paedophiles in South Asia, because he doesn’t have to. He will only make something tantamount to a cursory apology if he is compelled to. With regards to most other countries that have had to face the repercussions of unregulated online platforms such as Instagram and so on he wouldn’t bat an eyelid. In any case, a formal apology wouldn’t go any distance towards making the victims of paedophiles feel any better.
But what’s galling is that the children in other countries are non-persons. Nobody seems to care about them including Zuckerberg’s recent inquisitors who made him undergo a ritual humiliation, as it was described in certain media. To him, it would have seemed more a ritual process of renewal. This is apparently the eighth time he came before a Congressional Committee, which means that he is no doubt used to this ritual which he probably views with a certain amount of satisfaction. He is able to paper over his sins without any tangible accountability because there are no laws with teeth that are able to hold his platforms, and ultimately himself, to account.
What can those who are desperate about the fates of children exposed to these platforms in less developed countries do? Not much, except perhaps trying to pass some legislation on their own to protect their children. But when they do that there are howls of protest as well, and various warnings from those in so called advanced democracies.
The recent Online Safety Bill passed in this country is not exactly aimed towards the task of protecting children from paedophiles lurking on social media. As a result it is somewhat out of the context of this article, and this writer would refrain from commenting on the Bill because it’s out of topic. There are other reasons for reserving comment as well.
Having stated that, it’s significant to note that those who admonished us over democracy or a lack of it — rightly or wrongly, and this writer reserves comment on that too — never said anything about the damage that Zuckerberg’s social media does to our children for instance, even as he was grilled and made to make at least a ritual apology to parents in the United States.
Never has it been said by the ‘patrons of democracy’ that our children need to be saved from social media as well, just as American children need to be saved from the mercenary motives of those such as Zuckerberg. Zuck as he is referred to in the social media spaces, is not by any means the only offender. But he has become totemic when it comes to maintaining unregulated platforms online in the interests of shoring up his company bottom line, while acquiring his personal bonus as well.
Meanwhile, in countries such as ours, havoc is created. In the U.S the tech-giants have not been curbed by law. It’s moot as to why. Politicians have their campaigns funded by tech-giants and that could be a reason.
But also, social media has given politicians a chance to be heard, bypassing the mainstream TV and press. Their chances of making themselves heard even if they spew disinformation, is so much better these days, with multiple social media platforms to choose from.
If sundry nations are to hold the tech-giants to account they will need more than reliance on the Senators and Congressmen from the country of origin of these tech behemoths to reign in the errant CEOs and Managements responsible for these tech-platforms.
They need to lobby the United Nations. If rampant pedophilia is the result of unregulated online platforms and it’s not an issue to be taken up collectively at the UN, what is? There are bigger issues with regard to online platforms, but each time they are raised the delicate matters of free speech and censorship come into play.
On the one hand inefficient regulation of these platforms through legislation in the country of origin, the United States, has allowed these tech-giants to have a disproportionate say over affairs of this planet including politics. But politics aside, if paedophiles are having a field day meeting and plotting on these platforms, and there is still no legislation to overcome these situations, what hope is there for countries such as ours in their quest to regulate these online services on our own?
It’s a well-nigh impossible task. Most of these tech-giants are richer than this country. With that kind of financial clout they escape any kind of direct scrutiny by leaders of developing South Asian and other nations.
How do you influence a tech-behemoth that’s so rich it seems to evade any kind of tangible scrutiny in terms of keeping its platforms safe? Various countries have tried various methods, and some have resorted to outright draconian censorship or something close to that.
That is not the solution because social media platforms are useful and people conduct business using Instagram or Facebook, and are used to it.
The regulation must come from within the platform for the most part, but the tech-giants are refusing to do it. That has led to external controls, and authorities generally have no alternatives or they consider the platforms an irritant and don’t mind exercising a degree of censorship.
There wouldn’t be any need for this if the laws were in place to force the Zuckerbergs of this world to regulate their platforms properly and ensure that paedophiles and other unsavory elements don’t make use of their online services such as Instagram, Facebook and so on.
Eventually, it all boils down to money. Teenagers who searched for methods to commit suicide were bombarded with social media ads touting various ways to commit suicide. Tech giants would put it down to the ‘algorithm.’ What would billionaires blame next — AI with a mind of its own?