From IT rule tweaks to Thanos’ snap at Twitter, social media hits reset in #2022
Many spend a good part of their day on social media but what has become an integral part of one’s lives went through future-altering twists and turns through the year.
The world’s town square Twitter was taken over by ‘free-speech absolutist’ Elon Musk, amended rules for digital platforms set the stage for grievance appellate panels and more accountability, work started on new norms for data protection, and employees got fired from what was once touted as dream jobs. Meta said it will cut 13 per cent of its global workforce, more than 11,000 employees, marking one of the biggest tech layoffs of the year as fabled companies wobbled under slowdown headwinds, soaring costs and a sluggish advertising market.
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While Musk continued to experiment with paid verifications, takedowns, lifting life bans and Twitter polls, social media users, in general, changed the way they posted online. Posting blurry photos on Instagram became a fad, and Gen Z happily traded picture perfection for unfiltered photo dumps. New apps such as BeReal appealed to those tired of unrealistic standards of Instagram clicks. “The world regained normalcy in 2022 but social media continued to remain a major source of entertainment for the users,” said Pranav Srivastava, Partner at Phoenix Legal.
Bite-sized, snackable, and super-personalised content, flourished. The year gave a tonne of new ways for users and platforms to reward creativity, and pay the creators. Tumblr launched tip jar feature and YouTube announced new pathways for creators to make money for their content. That said, not everything changed. Selfies, for one, remained a staple, and so did the overflow of good morning greetings on WhatsApp replete with images of dewy flowers and motivational messages.
On the global stage, the USD 44 billion dramatic takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk grabbed eyeballs but comparisons of self-anointed ‘Chief Twit’ changed overnight from that of Avenger’s Iron Man to real-life Thanos. In the purge that followed — like super villain Thanos’ ‘snap’ that had wiped out half of all life in Avengers: Infinity War — thousands of employees were handed pink slips at Twitter, as Musk, chased deep cost cuts and imposed rigorous work hours. The firm reportedly downsized from more than 7,000 people to under 2,000 across the globe — the mass-layoffs began with firing of CEO Parag Agrawal as well as the CFO and many other high ranking leaders.
Twitter fired the majority of its over 200 employees in India as well. Only a handful were spared as layoffs culled roles across engineering, sales and marketing, and communications teams. The US-based social media platform, in an internal email to employees in early November said, “in an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce…” The high-profile departures were not confined to Twitter, alone.
On November 3, Meta’s India head Ajit Mohan stepped down with immediate effect, and the exit was followed by the departure of Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s India head, and Rajiv Aggarwal, Meta India public policy head. Vinay Choletti quit as WhatsApp Pay India head after just a few months into the job. Sandhya Devanathan has been appointed as Vice President of Meta India — she takes charge at a time when bold, new rules to curb user harm and rein in Big Tech, are taking shape in India.
On the regulatory side, the government amended IT rules for social media companies to ‘follow’ and hit refresh on draft data protection norms. After a year of bitter confrontation with Big Tech, the government moved decisively in 2022 to tighten the rules for safety of digital and social media users, curb toxic content, and protect citizens’ data. The government notified rules under which it will set up appellate panels to redress grievances that users may have against decisions of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on hosting contentious content.
The hardening of stance against the Big Tech companies comes at a time when discontent has been brewing over alleged arbitrary acts of social media platforms on flagged content, or not responding fast enough to grievances. The government said the “broken” grievance redressal mechanism offered by intermediaries (social media platforms) and lakhs of messages flagging users’ concerns around unresolved complaints forced its hand.
IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar had said the amendment of IT rules will put more definite due diligence obligations on social media companies to make efforts that no unlawful content or misinformation is posted on their platforms. Those aggrieved by decision of the grievance officer of social media companies can appeal to the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC), according to the amended IT rules.
“We believe that this empowers the users and their digital rights. The GAC seems like a timely counterfoil to protect the rights of users,” said Aprameya Radhakrishna, CEO and Co-Founder of Indian microblogging platform Koo. In another significant move, the government mooted a new data privacy law. The new version proposes to allow the transfer and storage of personal data in some countries while raising the penalty for violations.
The draft Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill 2022, currently under consultation process, has stipulated consent before collecting personal data and provides for stiff penalties of as much as Rs 500 crore on persons and companies that fail to prevent data breaches. Companies are allowed to store the collected data for only specified periods. The draft has also proposed to set up a Data Protection Board of India. As social media and other players brace to keep pace with regulatory compliances and deal with market-related challenges, there would be some solid opportunities, too.
Market watchers believe that hyper targeting ability that marketers need will put the platforms at the desired level for consideration. “Also the nurturing of an influencer and community ecosystem on the social media platform that supports the advertisers’ needs can bring better opportunities to the platform. Tech-based hyper personalisation of content and recommendations will be a focus area,” said Chandrashekhar Mantha, Partner at Deloitte India. An emerging trend that may spillover into coming years will be social commerce, Mantha said, adding the innovative integration of e-commerce with social commerce can yield a new line of revenues for the platforms.
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