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Social media intermediary norms & tackling menace of fake accounts & privacy breaches

Social media has become an integral part of our lives today – be it for staying in touch with friends and family, networking, expressing one’s views, but most of all to showcase one’s talent and create content. Thus, the immense popularity of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and more.

But there is a more dark side to social media as well, which has created some serious headache for the government, regulators, companies and users as well –that of tracking and removing fake accounts, while protecting the profile of genuine users. Misuse and abuse incidents are happening all too often to be ignored anymore and there are growing concerns regarding users’ posts on social media and privacy issues. According to a June 2021 report by antivirus software company, McAfee, “New fake social network account vectors increased 43% from Q4 2020 to Q1 2021.”

Considering the growing complaints, the government has come out with new guidelines for intermediaries on top social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove accounts with fake profile pictures of known personalities and businesses, including the general users, within 24 hours. This had come as part of the New IT Rules 2021 and social media giants had to act immediately after receiving a complaint to this effect.

Even after making a verified tick icon available on social media giants, some users still tend to persist with the fake accounts on the Internet, which leads to spreading misinformation about the original content that is posted. Be it celebrities, cricketers or any other brand profile, such acts tend to fool the normal people with morphed images and similar followers which exist on the original account.

Speaking about the impact and effects of this intermediary act, Amit Dhawan, Business Head, Schbang, said, “Removing fake accounts, and that too at the rate at which we’re expecting it to happen, will certainly impact both brands, agencies, as well as creators/ influencers/ celebrities. While this is for the benefit of everyone, initially we may observe a negative hit as well – especially creators and influencers. Number of followers that an influencer or a creator has, has a definitive impact on how much they get paid by a brand for collaboration. With the removal of fake accounts, some influencers/ creators are likely to observe a sudden and massive drop in their followers and hence, a brand’s willingness to pay the same price in new collaborations. Lesser number of followers may also lead to them not being able to make the cut for collaboration because of the selection criterion the agency or brand has set around the follower’s count. This negative impact, however, is short-term. In the end, we must look at the greater good. A thousand genuine and engaging followers are way more impactful than a million fake followers. Removal of fake profiles will also mean control on trolls that almost every celebrity or creator or influencer is subject to. This is also a great step towards curbing identity thefts and privacy breaches.”

The rule applied by the government may not give instant results, but it is going to be fruitful to protect the brand image of profiles as well as businesses. According to Megha Ahuja, Group Director - Brand Communications, Gozoop, “We may see a steep decline in followers – as the removal of fake accounts will not only help social media become a safe haven from abusers, but also protect the social universe from impersonating, especially those accounts created for crime and mischief. Overall, it may pinch initially, but in the long run it will be helpful to build a more authentic and genuine follower base.”

Dhawan added here, “We may need to look at certain preventive measures to stop this (fake profiles) right at the origin. In the future, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., may need to resort to stricter verification protocols at the time of user account creation – like real-time picture verification, something that a lot of new and upcoming platforms (specifically in the online dating space) are resorting to. Hoping for the best and looking forward to a safer and secured social media experience for all users, creators, and influencers.”

With a huge number of followers, the New IT Act may be a restrictive line to show the real engagement of influencers with their audiences and how well they use social media without any illegal medium to increase their follower base. Ritesh Ujjwal, CEO, Kofluence , explained, “The issue of fake accounts has been ailing the social media industry for a long and as the industry is getting matured, rules and guidance from the Government are most welcome to help contain risk and fraud in social media. While current rules specify the removal of accounts within 24 hours of reporting, social media giants will do well to leverage technology to have restrictions on fake accounts. The rule may not have an immediate impact considering the scale of social media, but, in the medium to long term, it’ll definitely reduce the follower base. However, the silver lining is that real influencers will benefit as all the KPIs viz. Impressions/ Reach/ Engagement rate will be closer to truth and thereby real impact could be ascertained accurately.”

Shrenik Gandhi, CEO & Co-founder, White River Media, opined, “Sooner or later, influencers, brand pages, or anyone and everyone who is dependent on fake followers or fake accounts to showcase ‘Might’ on social media are anyway going to perish. This move is a very important step in making bloated brands and influencers face a harsh reality, and make people realise what truly matters is Engagement and a real People. Real and genuine content and engagement is the only thing that works, rest everything is hogwash which people can see through.”

Removing accounts that harm the image of any user with deemed or offensive content has always been a concern for the tech giants. Though they are adopting various measures to tackle privacy issues and ensure safety of their users, complaints are still being received regarding inappropriate activities, trolls and negative comments. Amey Asuti, Founder and MD, Futuready Media, noted, “Social media allows us all to create and share information, ideas, interests with anyone across the world. However, the manipulation of media to suit political goals, influence public opinion and change perception through likes and followers has led to a menace of fakes. Fake accounts are usually bots that add artificial volume to follower counts, helping influencers seek more money or helping portray a message as popular. Many are harmless fan accounts of famous people, some are parody accounts that make you laugh but a small number are involved in duping people too.”

He further said, “With AI and other tools at the disposal of the media intermediaries, it is imperative that this menace is tackled at scale. I welcome this move.”

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