Wednesday, October 21, 2020

OpIndia Vs Facebook: Reducing page reach from 20 lakhs to 2 lakhs, taking months to respond to emails

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Facebook's bias and OpIndia: How unexplained censorship has cost us traffic and reach in lakhs

— Consider reading the article OpIndia Vs Facebook: Reducing page reach from 20 lakhs to 2 lakhs, taking months to respond to emails on OpIndia website —

There has been a heated controversy regarding Facebook, of late. A lot has transpired in the last few days including the Facebook India chief appearing before a Parliamentary Committee and the Law Minister writing a letter with illustrations to the Facebook CEO. OpIndia also has its own experience to share on this issue, for we have been facing issues on the platform too.

Several questions have been raised regarding Facebook allegedly blocking the right-leaning pages and accounts. Obviously our own experiences of challenging the established Left ecosystem and treading off the beaten path have not been very good. Ever since we launched OpIndia Hindi, it has been catching people’s eye. We have constantly been at the target of the Communists ever since. But we faced the real persecution on the digital platform after Facebook launched latent attacks to stop us.

On many occasions, our Facebook reach was maliciously reduced down to 10 per cent from the usual. We were targeted for reporting the content that was already covered by various other media portals. This has now become routine. When we seek answers through mails, they take 40-50 days to respond. Various malicious tactics were employed to somehow reduce the reach of our Facebook page. The instant article service on our page was stopped. A direct impact of these tactics could be seen on the traffic on our page.

Let us clarify that the instant article service is the biggest demand of any digital media portal. This service allows readers to read an article on a website without wasting time and this also brings significant traffic to the website. To sum up, the instant article service benefits both the readers and the digital media. Many a time, OpIndia was prevented from reaching out to readers for frivolous reasons.

By July 13, 2020, the reach of OpIndia’s page stood at 20 lakh per day. However, we noticed that the traffic on our page began to fall again. From 20 lakh per day, the traffic fell to 1,71,000 per day. By this time, we were aware that Facebook has limited the reach of our posts. We tried to take this up with Facebook once again after which they said that they would check the quality of our page. On the contrary, it was clearly displayed on the page quality tab that this page was on the verge of being unpublished. A page is unpublished or taken down when there are at least three strikes on the quality page tab of Facebook, a ‘strike’ means facebook guidelines have been violated.

OpIndia has not actually violated any Facebook policies even once let alone three times. The one strike our page got was because of a report that we did on the tweet of Times of India journalist. A ‘dubious’ fact-checker website termed it as ‘fake news’ which was a bit strange. Even if that is taken to be a strike, how come our page came on the verge of being unpublished? And how does that explain the reduction in the reach from 20 lakh to 2 lakh?

What was more shocking to us what that this happened despite the fact that we had not violated any community guidelines on Facebook? Now the matter is around a month and a half old, but all we get in the name of response to our mail are the assurances that we would be informed of the updates, if any, in the matter. Neither have we been provided with any appropriate information nor has the reach of our Facebook page improved.

The first mail, in this regard, was written to Facebook on July 29. But instead of a satisfactory answer, we received the cliché ‘we are looking into it’. Now imagine how adversely the traffic on our website would have been affected in the meantime. Earlier, on September 25, 2019, our page was restricted for allegedly violating the community guidelines. On November 28, 2019, we demanded information from Facebook in relation to some of our posts that had allegedly violated the community guidelines.

After sending 22 emails (yes, 22 Emails), most of which were to remind that our previous mails were not addressed, they sent us some of our posts from December 2019 and told us that our page did not follow the image policy.

Isn’t that shocking? They showed us posts from December 2019 to explain why the instant article service on our page was suspended from November 2019. Anyway, this is hasn’t happened for the first time. We have been receiving such stupid replies from Facebook all the time. We have been noticing that the same images, the same stories are being openly covered by other media portals but they are not being countered in the same way.

For instance, a minor Dalit girl was gang-raped in Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh on September 22, 2019. We did a report on the incident using a blurred image of the victim and the name of the accused in the headline. This report was taken down by Facebook without providing any reason. When we asked for an explanation, they pointed at the image we had used. Besides, we were told that AI decides which content violated the Facebook guidelines. Interestingly, the same report with the same image remained available on another website. If it was about the algorithm, a similar action should have followed on the other website as well.

This instance makes it clear that OpIndia was being targeted by some Facebook employees and not by AI. On many occasions, we have been asked indirectly to refrain from using certain words, phrases and diluting the tone of the report. On the other hand, several instances have come up where people were blocked by Facebook for using words like ‘Jai Shri Ram’, Jai Aanjaneya’ or ‘pig’. OpIndia had done a report back then on these issues. The report contained the posts of people whom Facebook had hidden.

The biggest problem with Facebook is not just that they do not handle this platform in a neutral manner but that even if someone tries to correct their ‘mistake’ as per Facebook standards, they don’t respond for months. As a consequence, a page suffers huge losses in terms of traffic and reach. The Facebook facility of redressal through mails exists in the name only. No actual redressal takes place there. They exhaust your patience by not responding to your mails in time and as a result, your website incurs losses for eight weeks straight. Thereafter, things begin to improve without any response.

This implies that Facebook gives veiled threats to use headlines as per their choice or else they will not just keep you waiting by not responding to your mails but will also reduce the reach of your page. Small portals give in to their bullying and refrain from reporting on a particular community. They even issue guidelines for their employees regarding the words not to be used.

Even today, we face the same problems using Facebook. OpIndia did not do any wrong and Facebook believes that too. Still, since July 13, 2020, we have incurred losses worth lakhs every week. But we haven’t been told so far when our issues will be resolved.

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