JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - For years, the story of Facebook has been like the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The Mr Hyde of Facebook claims that it has the most effective marketing tool that businesses can use to reach potential customers, a tool that has proven to be so effective that it has decimated traditional media, which has long relied on ad revenue.
The Dr Jekyll side of the social media giant, however, claims that it only has limited influence on how things happen in real life, let alone on the result of an election.
Soon after the election of Donald Trump as United States president in 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected the notion that fake news on the social media platform influenced the outcome of the US election, describing it as a "pretty crazy idea".
But since more evidence of alleged Russian-meddling in the US election came to light, it has become more difficult for the social media giant to back up its claim of innocence.
In its own testimony to the US Senate, the company said Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million people on Facebook. The social media company also believed that 120 Russia-backed pages created 80,000 posts that were received by 29 million Americans directly.
As if the disclosure was not damning enough, a new scandal involving data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) and its related company Strategic Communications Laboratories shows that something more sinister had taken place.
In 2016, CA harvested data of 50 million Facebook users with the full knowledge of the social media platform,which did nothing when the data was improperly used to swing the vote in favor of Trump. (CA has also reportedly been involved in an attempt to influence the outcome of Nigeria's presidential election, which pitted then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan against Muhammad Buhari).
The scandal proved to be the biggest threat Facebook has faced so far.
The company's stock prices plummeted and Zuckerberg lost at least US$10 billion (S$ billion) in one week. The US and United Kingdom governments have launched an inquiry to probe the security breach, while Facebook users have boycotted the social media firm by launching the #DeleteFacebook movement.
Against all these challenges, Facebook will likely prevail. The company executives will likely cooperate in inquiries launched on both sides of the Atlantic. Zuckerberg himself said he would testify in a legislative inquiry and this could likely quiet down all the clamoring.
The #DeleteFacebook campaign will likely be short-lived as users find it hard not to share photos of their wedding and birthdays.
Even after users delete their accounts, Facebook would still keep their data and could benefit from it. And just like in the US and Nigerian presidential elections or the Brexit campaign, Facebook will continue to play a key role in influencing voters.
And if Facebook continues to do business as usual, it could once again be abused by anyone wanting to influence an election, including Indonesia's 2019 presidential election.
There must be a concerted effort to demand transparency and accountability from Facebook.
The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.