As 2017 draws to a close, the role of social media as an integral part of our daily lives is becoming more evident.
Today, Facebook has more than two billion active users, with 83.6 percent of them are out of the US and Canada, followed by YouTube with 1.5 billion users watching 3.25 billion hours of videos monthly.
Instagram also has over 800 million users who upload around 80 million pictures a day.
Twitter, the company said the platform’s users reached over 330 million, including more than 82 percent of the world’s leaders who have personal accounts to communicate with their people, and the world.
The growing use of social media and their engagement in politics, and even their recruitment by extremists aiming at spreading their terrorist ideologies, prompted decision-makers to review these platforms, and seek to implement new laws to regulate them.
In this context, an article published in early November by “The Economist” wondered whether social media threatens democracy or supports it. The article said: “Instead of being a mean of enlightenment, social media outlets have become a poison incubator.”
This article came after Facebook and Twitter were accused of turning into platforms for misleading media and violating democracy worldwide. The US presidential campaign was the biggest example.
Since Facebook announced that Russian parties funded promotional messages on its network during the campaign that preceded the US elections in 2016, the company and its rival Twitter - which also disclosed similar information in October - faced many blows, even though both companies stressed their eagerness to protect democracy.
Both groups have yielded to the pressure and accepted to cooperate with the US Congress and the court to investigate the likelihood of Russian intervention in the elections won by Donald Trump. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied these allegations.
In October, Facebook admitted that suspicious Russian companies and enterprises deceived it, and published thousands of ads including content that interferes in the US elections on its pages. By the end of the same month, Twitter made the same step.
Following the investigations conducted by Facebook to respond to these accusations, the company announced earlier this month that the Russian influence on the political developments was not as significant as expected.
It revealed that Russian parties spent less than 1$ on ads that targeted voters during the Brexit referendum. As for the US elections, it revealed that over 3,000 accounts sought to influence Americans in favor of Trump.
Investigations concerning other platforms are still ongoing, but the responses given by the companies were not enough to convince officials.
The election-related conflict between the social media companies and governments was not the only one. Cyber-terrorism was another case that strained ties between them. While extremist groups, mainly ISIS, relied on social media to spread their ideologies, recruit cross-borders armies and plan lone-wolf attacks, governments also recognized the threats behind encrypted apps that spread extremism and facilitated attack planning.
British PM Theresa May has urged these platforms to cooperate with governments to maintain national security and to foil any possible attacks or recruiting attempts. Companies owning these apps have indeed started deleting extremist materials and blocking suspicious users.
They have however refused to share user data with governments, fearing a loss of their audience after violating their privacy. This refusal has maximized the conflict between social media giants and governments.