Protectionism & the Spectre of Social Media Bans

So last week, in the context of Koo — we said that it’s near impossible to take on incumbents like Twitter without some form of government intervention. And this week, the government of India seems to have found itself on the cusp of banning social media platforms. This is especially ironic since the present dispensation is so adept at using social media to push its point of view. Should they succeed — India will join a rather elite club of countries banning Twitter which includes:

  • China
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Turkmenistan

Coincidentally, Koo also raised $30Million led by Tiger Global this week. But then there’s this meme:

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No jokes though, that’s a serious chunk of change. ‘Protectionism’ implemented successfully is big money.

What the wisdom of the Indian Government’s new policy was — is anyone’s guess but it also has the effect of putting these tech giants in a corner. Putting them all in the same corner. Large tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. might have a business to run but they also have a reputation to protect. They must remain true to the ‘values’ they claim to espouse. Transparency, Independence, Free Speech, Equality and so on. They also have a direct line to the White House.

So, it’s quite hard for them to simply comply with a directive that not just flies in the face of everything they claim to stand for, but also makes them criminally liable for the things users post on their respective platform. If they were to comply — these platforms would essentially have to self-censure — removing content — that might offend someone / lead to expensive & unending litigation. In a country of 1.3 Billion people — what can one even say that won’t upset someone’s fragile sensibilities?

Source : Kalagato

WhatsApp — is also under the scanner. Why? Because the government wants them to trace the origin of every text. This is difficult to do. Unless WhatsApp completely gives up on privacy and the ‘end-end encryption’ they keep telling us about. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. So whatever WhatsApp does — Facebook does.

Sooo… unless Facebook is willing to take the flak internationally, risk a PR nightmare and lose some of its largest advertisers globally — as they did over its lax policing of hate & harassment — this probably won’t happen.

While important from a strategic & growth lens — India doesn’t contribute much to Facebook’s current revenues. Also, companies like this don’t just bend over. Remember this is the company that employs Nick Clegg — the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom as its head of ‘global affairs’. They are a nation state unto themselves. Twitter blocked Donald Trump and stood its ground. My money is on the platforms fighting it and finding some face-saving measure to call it a win for the government.

And lest we forget there is still a pandemic raging. Please stay safe and get vaccinated if you find a slot!

Thanks for your time,

- Aman

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