Social media: challenging terrain for govts

By Fang Xingdong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/12 21:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


The 2016 US presidential election has not only changed the US political structure and landscape, but also impacted the way that Westerners view social media. Unlike before, US and European mainstream media this year has adopted a more reproachful attitude toward social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Official inquiries are being made, such as on December 4, when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was directed by the Australian government to investigate whether any instances on Facebook and Google had disrupted the news media sphere or had gone against the interests of publishers and consumers.

There are various reasons why the concept of social media fell out of favor almost overnight. Above all, it is a fact that social media is beginning to affect politics, the economy, society and life in a number of ways. In the third quarter of this year, the number of daily active users on Facebook reached as much as 1.37 billion, which is almost the same number as the total population of China. The number of monthly active users is around 2.07 billion.

Meanwhile, public authorities which used to be more or less controlled by traditional media and governments quickly shifted to the super network platform. Furthermore, with the continuous accumulation of data concerning users' personal information, hobbies and activities, our personal private lives have also been taken in by the network platform.

While an increasing number of public authorities and people's private lives are converging onto one network platform, there has been scarcely any check and balance of powers, nor any efficient governance mechanism available, apart from the scattered and unreliable self-discipline of businesses.

In the US and Europe in particular, worldwide users of social media are increasingly getting out of control of the elites, which is quite a different scenario from mainstream media, which can be more or less controlled.

It should be noted that there are around 240 million American users on Facebook, making up 11 percent of all users. In other words, around 90 percent of Facebook users are from outside the US. It is likely that most of the social media fans who helped Donald Trump to win the presidential election are not even American. So have these non-American users influenced and interfered with the US presidential election? The answer is plain to see.

So why is Western mainstream media only becoming irritated now? The essential factor lies in a conflict of interest.

It may be the first time that Western society has truly realized the sheer influence and implications that social media can have. Over the last decade, Western political powers have been interfering via social media with the politics and economy of Middle Eastern countries, as well as other countries such as Russia and China. They take Internet freedom as an excuse to make their interference seem legitimate. But in return, Trump was later elected the US president with the aid of social media, almost bringing the US an American "Color Revolution."

In the past, the most intensive Western attack on China's Internet management was focused on web content management. The forthcoming UN Internet Governance Forum has made the concept of fake news a hot topic, among a collection of others. The definition of fake news and malicious content, the formulation and operation of the content management system, as well as its system for accountability have all become key problems of global concern.

China, in the midst of a transition, has been suffering from the impact of fake news and false information over the past years. Therefore, the problem of effective governance is imperative, whether in China or in the West, where social media has a notable impact on political and social stability.

With social media becoming increasingly popular worldwide, it is of global concern as for how to make social media play a more progressive and constructive role and how to manage and control its potentially negative impact on society. Being confronted with the same challenge, either of cyber terrorism and cyber crime, or of fake news and political interference by external forces, the West and China can together seek to better understand each other's network management tools and methods.

The author is dean of the International Institute for Internet, Shantou University, Guangdong.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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