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What Effect Does Social Media Have on Democracy?

Around the world, social media is making it easier for people to have a voice in government — to discuss issues, organize around causes, and hold leaders accountable. As recently as 2011, when social media played a critical role in the Arab Spring in places like Tunisia, it was heralded as a technology for liberation.

A lot has changed since then. The 2016 US presidential election brought to the fore the risks of foreign meddling, “fake news” and political polarization. The effect of social media on politics has never been so crucial to examine.

All of this raises an important question: what effect does social media have on democracy?

As the product manager in charge of civic engagement on Facebook, I live and breathe these issues. And while I’m an optimist at heart, I’m not blind to the damage that the internet can do to even a well-functioning democracy.

That’s why I’m dedicated to understanding these risks and ensuring the good far overshadows the bad.

With each passing year, this challenge becomes more urgent. Facebook was originally designed to connect friends and family — and it has excelled at that. But as unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it’s being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated.

In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform. We’re working diligently to neutralize these risks now.

We can’t do this alone, which is why we want to initiate an open conversation on the hard questions this work raises. In this post, I’ll share how we are thinking about confronting the most consequential downsides of social media on democracy, and also discuss how we’re working to amplify the positive ways it can strengthen democracy, too.

Foreign Interference

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Around the US 2016 election, Russian entities set up and promoted fake Pages on Facebook to influence public sentiment — essentially using social media as an information weapon.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we discovered that these Russian actors created 80,000 posts that reached around 126 million people in the US over a two-year period. This kind of activity goes against everything we stand for. It’s abhorrent to us that a nation-state used our platform to wage a cyberwar intended to divide society. This was a new kind of threat that we couldn’t easily predict, but we should have done better.

Now we’re making up for lost time. The Russian interference worked in part by promoting inauthentic Pages, so we’re working to make politics on Facebook more transparent. We’re making it possible to visit an advertiser’s Page and see the ads they’re currently running. We’ll soon also require organizations running election-related ads to confirm their identities so we can show viewers of their ads who exactly paid for them. Finally, we’ll archive electoral ads and make them searchable to enhance accountability.

As critical as this plan is, it poses challenges. How, for example, do we avoid putting legitimate activity at risk? Many human rights organizations commonly use Facebook to spread educational messages around the world. The wrong kind of transparency could put these activists in real danger in many countries.

But we’re committed to this issue of transparency because it goes beyond Russia. Without transparency, it can be hard to hold politicians accountable for their own words. Micro-targeting can enable dishonest campaigns to spread toxic discourse without much consequence. Democracy then suffers because we don’t get the full picture of what our leaders are promising us. This is an even more pernicious problem than foreign interference. But we hope that by setting a new bar for transparency, we can tackle both of these challenges simultaneously.

False News

But foreign interference isn’t the only means of corrupting a democracy. We recognize that the same tools that give people more voice can sometimes be used, by anyone, to spread hoaxes and misinformation. There is active debate about how much of our information diet is tainted by false news — and how much it influences people’s behavior. But even a handful of deliberately misleading stories can have dangerous consequences.

To take just one example, in Australia a false news story claimed that the first Muslim woman to be a Member of Parliament had refused to lay a wreath on a national day of remembrance. This led people to flood her Facebook Page with abusive comments.

In the public debate over false news, many believe Facebook should use its own judgment to filter out misinformation. We’ve chosen not to do that because we don’t want to be the arbiters of truth, nor do we imagine this is a role the world would want for us.

Instead, we’ve made it easier to report false news and have taken steps in partnership with third-party fact checkers to rank these stories lower in News Feed. Once our fact checking partners label a story as false, we’re able to reduce future impressions of the story on Facebook by 80%. We’re also working to make it harder for bad actors to profit from false news, eliminating their incentive to create this content in the first place.

Finally, since the best deterrent will ultimately be a discerning public, we’ve started sharing more context about the news sources people see on Facebook. By helping people sharpen their social media literacy, we can help society be more resilient to misleading stories.

Even with all these countermeasures, the battle will never end. Misinformation campaigns are not amateur operations. They are professionalized and constantly try to game the system. We will always have more work to do.

Echo Chambers

One of the most common criticisms of social media is that it creates echo chambers where people only see viewpoints they agree with — further driving us apart.

That’s a legitimate issue but it’s more complex than how it is sometimes portrayed. Compared with the media landscape of the past, social media exposes us to a more diverse range of views. A recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that 44% of people in the US who use social media for news end up seeing sources from both the left and the right — more than twice the rate of people who don’t use social media.

The deeper question is how people respond when they encounter these differing opinions — do they listen to them, ignore them, or even block them?

Think about how our minds work. It’s natural to seek out information that confirms what we already believe — a phenomenon social scientists call “confirmation bias.” Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein found evidence last year that social media users are drawn to information that strengthens their preferred narratives and reject information that undermines it.

That makes bursting these bubbles hard because it requires pushing against deeply ingrained human instincts. Research shows that some obvious ideas — like showing people an article from an opposing perspective — could actually make us dig in even more.

A better approach might be to show people many views, not just the opposing side. We recently started testing this idea with a feature called Related Articles that shows people articles with a range of perspectives on the news they’re already reading about. We’ll see if it helps, and we’re eager to share our findings.

Political Harassment

While we want Facebook to be a safe place for people to express themselves politically, we need to make sure no one is bullied or threatened for their views.

To make matters more complex, governments themselves sometimes engage in such harassment. In one country we recently visited, a citizen reported that after he had posted a video critical of the authorities, the police paid him a visit to inspect his tax compliance. As more countries write laws that attempt to criminalize online discourse, the risk grows that states use their power to intimidate their critics. That could have a chilling effect on speech.

Even in more open societies, we’re seeing cases where government officials write hateful posts that make enforcing our Community Standards challenging. So far, we’ve kept such posts up on our platform since we view them as newsworthy information that citizens deserve to know. We’ve also found these posts often become important magnets for counter-speech, but we recognize reasonable people may disagree with this policy.

Our concerns with political hate speech aren’t limited to the online sphere — we also need to be vigilant that social media doesn’t facilitate offline violence.

Policing this content at a global scale is an open research problem since it is hard for machines to understand the cultural nuances of political intimidation. And while we are hiring over 10,000 more people this year to work on safety and security, this is likely to remain a challenge.

Unequal Participation

While foreign meddling, misinformation, echo chambers and hate speech get the headlines, what worries me most is how social media can distort policymakers’ perception of public opinion. People on Facebook tend to represent every walk of life, but not everyone is using their voice equally. Take women. They represent a majority of the population, yet are under-represented in public political dialogue on Facebook.

If politicians mistake the views of a few with the views of many, that can make for bad public policy. Vulnerable populations could end up ignored, and fringe groups could appear mainstream.

We’re trying to move the needle on this by studying, for example, why women participate less in political discourse online. In some of our civic features, we’ve incorporated these lessons and pioneered new privacy models that help to increase women’s participation. They still aren’t on par with men, but we’re getting closer. This is proof in my eyes that research-driven design can make social media a better medium for democracy.

Giving Voice

Clearly, there is no shortage of challenges at the convergence of social media and democracy. But there are also many bright spots that keep me coming to work every day.

First, social media has enormous power to keep people informed. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of US adults consume at least some of their news on social media. Since many people are happening upon news they weren’t explicitly seeking out, social media is often expanding the audience for news.

More importantly, people aren’t just reading news — they’re actively discussing it. The implications for civic engagement are profound. It has long been observed that when people discuss the news, they’re more likely to be involved in their community, whether by volunteering or reaching out to elected officials. There is growing evidence that this is also true for social media — especially among young people.

Social media platforms are driving people not just to learn about issues but to take action. During the 2016 US election alone, we estimate our voter registration efforts on Facebook led more than 2 million people to register to vote.

Even more encouraging is that we’re seeing how social media can help people be more knowledgeable voters. During the last US election, we created Voting Plan, a tool to preview your local ballot and discuss it with friends. Millions of people did so. On average this increased people’s knowledge of their ballot by over 6%. That’s equivalent to raising the average ballot knowledge of the entire US Facebook community by a few grade levels.

But perhaps what inspires me most of all is that with social media, people can have a voice in their government everyday, not just on election day. Some 87% of governments around the world have a presence on Facebook. And they’re listening — and responding — to what they hear.

In Iceland, for example, when someone moves to a new neighborhood, the first thing they often do is join their community’s Facebook group. They tag their representatives in posts and push for the issues they want taken to Parliament. Conversations like these are quietly reinvigorating local governance around the world.

To bring this experience to more people, in 2016 we built a feature that makes it simple to follow all your elected representatives on Facebook with a single click. When we launched it in the US, it doubled the number of connections between people and their government. We’ve since seen a similar level of impact in other places like Germany and Japan.

This means that for the first time in history, people can keep up with their government as easily as they keep up with their friends. This is unlocking new waves of latent civic energy and putting power into more hands.

So, What Effect Does Social Media Have on Democracy?

If there’s one fundamental truth about social media’s impact on democracy it’s that it amplifies human intent — both good and bad. At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy.

I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can’t. That’s why we have a moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.

This is a new frontier and we don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I promise you that my team and many more here are dedicated to this pursuit. We’ll share what we learn and collaborate with you to find the answers.

What gives me hope is that the same ingenuity that helped make social media an incredible way to connect with friends can also be applied to making it an effective way to connect with the public square.

In the end, that’s why I believe that a more connected world can be a more democratic one.


Written by Samidh Chakrabarti, Product Manager, Civic Engagement at Facebook

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 00:00

Luxury’s New Blueprint for Global Success

Uniting analytics with shopper psychology to drive global success for luxury brands.

The Pathway to Luxury

With the holiday shopping season unofficially kicking off this Black Friday, the question of what it takes for a brand to thrive in the luxury space amid a continuously evolving retail landscape pops in our minds. What does it truly take to be considered a luxury brand?

BAVShopper® studies luxury and premium brands across ten categories in 17 countries using Y&R’s BrandAsset™ Valuator, a proprietary research and insights tool, and the world’s largest study of brands. Through analysis, we were able to identify five distinct routes that brands can take to establish a “luxury” positioning for this holiday season and beyond:

Status: Luxury brands with a sense of strong heritage have long succeeded in the high-end space. Brands that combine their heritage with perceptions of glamour, style, and originality are deemed iconic.

Craftsmanship: Craftsmanship represents a luxury brand’s quality, tradition, and pricing power. A well-made product helps a brand stay relevant, but a luxury brand that incorporates all the elements of Craftsmanship in its DNA differentiates itself from close competitors.

Cutting Edge: Global luxury brands that create exciting experiences for consumers convey a sense of dynamism and innovation. These brands tend to be category trendsetters, resonating among early adopters and forward-thinking consumers.

Hospitality: Exceptional customer service is an industry expectation, so brands that go beyond service stand out from other brands. However, due to evolving customer expectations, Hospitality also means a straightforward and simple experience. Luxury consumers still want to be indulged, but they want their needs fulfilled as quickly and directly as possible.

Integrity: In an industry often defined as frivolous and unsustainable, luxury brands that act ethically are perceived as different. This differentiation increases associations with trust and authenticity and gives luxury brands higher levels of respect and customer loyalty.

Brands That Own the Luxury Space

Luxury brands currently rely heavily on Status and Craftsmanship for much of their success. But in order to reenergize their reputations among shoppers, luxury brands can develop their performance on Cutting Edge, Hospitality, and Integrity. When we take a look at the brands that already go above and beyond within these sectors, the reasons for investing in these pathways becomes clearer. These three brands epitomize the best of their sectors and exercise tremendous cultural relevance, helping them to thrive despite retail’s changing landscape:

Cutting Edge: Tesla, with its focus on daring, cutting-edge innovation, has created a singular and desirable brand experience that positions it well above other automotive brands.

Hospitality: Luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter provides superior hospitality through its innovative and highly-attentive delivery methods, such as its try-on-and-wait service.

Integrity: Beauty brand Shiseido has been recognized repeatedly as one of the world’s most ethical brands for its social contributions supporting women and the environment, its corporate governance, and its established corporate ethics.

Luxury brands have a huge opportunity to engage with shoppers who are inclined to spend more on those special splurge gifts this holiday season. However, luxury brands cannot rely solely on their reputations to draw the crowds in. Ultimately, the luxury brands that maintain their status and quality while investing in underleveraged industry pathways will be best equipped to appeal to shoppers across various markets during the giving season, and for seasons to come.


Written by Divya Munjal, Dami Rosanwo, and Jenny Yip at Y&R

How the luxury industry will balance the traditional world of exclusivity with the digital world that is available to everyone.

The digital age poses challenges for all brands in every sector, and yet for the luxury market the conundrum is a particularly tricky one.

For a long time conventional wisdom was that the luxury goods sector was largely impervious to the ups and down of the economy. Recent results suggest this is no longer true, with 29% of luxury retailers reporting a decline in sales earlier this year. Digital would appear to be a huge opportunity, making luxury goods accessible to everyone.

And yet one of the traditional appeals of the luxury market has been its perceived ‘exclusivity’, with the very fact it is ‘hard to reach’ making it so much more satisfying when you do attain it. So how to balance the tension between this traditional world of exclusivity and the online world available to everyone?

This is the question for luxury brands. Embrace the ultimate democratisation and risk demystifying the category, or hold on to your ‘cloak of mystery’ and lose relevance by failing to keep up with the times?

Experience so far suggests that brands which have embraced digital are reaping the rewards, so maybe the two aren’t incompatible after all. There has been a wholesale shift in people’s expectations of customer service in the digital era. Amazon, for example, speeded up delivery times by using big data analysis to predict what its customers will order next, shipping products to nearby delivery centres before they have even ordered them.

The luxury sector can be no more immune to such trends than anyone else. Luxury brands are embracing the online world to improve both consumer journey and brand experience, with almost 6 out of 10 luxury sales said to be ‘digitally influenced’.

From boutique appeal to everything online

Luxury shopping has become more effortless and easy for consumers in the era of e-commerce and more integrated customer experiences. Here are three examples of how the luxury and online world have connected seamlessly to open up new and exciting opportunities.


A world leader in luxury goods, LVMH launched 24 Sèvres, a global e-commerce platform and mobile application opening the doors of the world’s first department store, Le Bon Marché in Paris, online in more than 70 countries worldwide. 24 Sèvres prides itself on the ultimate customer service – fast shipping, easy returns, 24 hour availability with bespoke add-ons including a personal shopper service.

Net A Porter

Net A Porter showed how luxury services be used to their maximum effect online with its ‘extremely important people’ programme offering a bespoke shopping service to its biggest spending customers. It includes priority shopping, front seat tickets for fashion shows, exclusive events and previews and a buying team on the lookout for items just for you. Online shopping will always be at its heart an egalitarian experience but luxury online retailers are increasingly going the extra mile to meet the expectations of their biggest spenders.


The online fashion retail platform sells products from more than 500 boutiques and 1,500 designers around the world. Unlike Net A Porter it doesn’t hold any stock, it provides the means to connect, peruse and buy from the latest brands and boutiques from around the world. Conde Nast was an early investor and it recently raised more than £300m for expansion, the majority in China, one of the fastest growing luxury markets.

Exchanging brand sacralization for brand experience

Experience-seeking millennials are changing the rules of the game in the luxury market. Luxury brands have come to realise that they need to find a way of removing the ‘cloak of mystery’ without sacrificing any of their brand appeal. In other words, they have accepted their brands and products need to be ‘desacralised’. You can do this in any number of ways.

Some of them, like luxury jeweller Fred, is using its Parisian stores to enable customers to personalise one of their iconic wristbands, Force 10, in 450 million different ways. Others, like Hermes, provide advice and exclusive content to its Hermes Career range through its Silk Knot mobile app, which now has around 50,000 downloads.

To stand out in a myriad of content, luxury brands have to go beyond storytelling to create involvement and a compelling consumer experience in which the customer takes charge.

From the ‘happy few’ to a global community, making luxury available to all

If they are to remain relevant in the digital age then luxury brands can no longer speak to the ‘happy few’. A growing number of big players understand they should better engage a broader community on social media, to make their brand more accessible and vivid in the eyes of consumers. That is also the case with Kenzo, which has developed a playful theme in its Instagram content to make it more approachable and inclusive for consumers. By taking the brand off its pedestal for a moment, it creates a horizontal platform for customer interaction.

But the challenge remains: how can luxury remain different from all other categories while using the same tools?


Written by Laura Hurst, Associate Director Brand at Kantar Added Value

Saturday, 20 January 2018 00:00

Sairee Chahal Founder, CEO – SHEROES

We are a women-first enterprise, and our aim is to build products that create sustainable value for women. Trust, empathy, safety - these are all at the core of what we do, and to be more effective, we partner with businesses with women-first strategies.” Explained Sairee Chahal Founder, CEO – SHEROES (the women’s community platform)

In an interview with MediAvataar India, Sairee took us through the amazing journey she has had with women empowerment over a span of her wonderful and benevolent career. Here is the complete Q&A....

MediAvataar: Today more and more women are becoming financially independent and have an elevated decision making, in your opinion how is it influencing brand strategies around the globe, especially in India?

Sairee: I believe this shift is already influencing the global gender narrative in the way we design and market products for women. Even in how businesses view women employees. For instance, I see finance companies rethinking the way they engage with women consumers, also pushing for diversity in their boardrooms. I see legacy lifestyle brands echoing values that can support women’s growth, making products accessible, body-positive, inclusive. It’s a slow shift, but it's definitely happening.

MediAvataar: Tell us more about SHEROES, and what made you connect with it?

Sairee: SHEROES is a women’s platform, and SHEROES communities are safe, high trust, high empathy spaces where women talk about a range of things - from health and careers, to relationships, parenting and travel. Having started our journey in 2013, today, we are a 2 million-strong community, and growing rapidly, via our online platforms and offline summits, community meets and foundation initiatives.

MediAvataar: There were a few transitions to the platform since its inception what made you reach the decision and how do you keep this machine well oiled?

Sairee: We started off as Fleximoms, a platform to support women on career breaks looking to return to work. At the time we engaged extensively with businesses to influence mindsets and help workplaces transition to being more relevant to women. However, as we engaged with more women, the underlying message was that women across profiles and geographies, needed support - not just in crafting career journeys via opportunities and mentorship, but more importantly, through continued engagement around other core pillars like health, parenting and relationships, to name a few. Scaling this engagement is of course always a challenge. So, we launched online communities in 2016, and in 2017, we launched the SHEROES app, a women-only space. Our focus is now to build more lifetime value for our community members by investing in our communities, both in terms of relevance and depth.

MediAvataar: What is your core value system for SHEROES?

Sairee: We are a women-first enterprise, and our aim is to build products that create sustainable value for women. Trust, empathy, safety - these are all at the core of what we do, and to be more effective, we partner with businesses with women-first strategies. For instance, we partnered with a tech business looking to invite women in tech back to work post a career break, a mobility business to talk about the link between women’s safety and aspirations, a training company looking to attract more women into analytics, and an urban creche network to talk about the impact of onsite daycare centres for professional women. At the end of the day, it is always a win-win for SHEROES as a brand, our primary customer - women, and the businesses, we partner with.

MediAvataar: Despite the data not backing your decision to launch a women-only app, what made you take this risk?

Sairee: Our gut told us that just like workplaces in the industrial era, most apps are primarily built for a male-dominated audience - the language, the orientation, the journey. Yes, we do have some women-based apps, however, they tend to focus on specifics aspects - menstrual cycles, fitness, or fashion. There is nothing holistic in the market built to support women in their growth journeys. The SHEROES app is designed for a women audience, and the women on the platform respond to that. The engagement tools are designed to tap into women’s aspirations. For instance, we host regular AMAs with experts around important aspects like financial health, health-based conversations and travel. At the dawn of the New Year we challenged women to share their dreams for 2018 - and the responses were bold, and deeply aspirational, which only deepens are resolve to keep pushing the boundaries of what a “product for women”, can encompass.

MediAvataar: How has been the response to the app so far?

Sairee: We launched in 2017, and have clocked over 1,30,000 downloads, and counting. Women log in everyday to see what is buzzing in the communities, like you would on say, Facebook or Instagram. The app also has some unique features - for instance, we have a dedicated helpline where women can speak to our counsellors about anything - the questions are extremely diverse, and often, they are not questions, but conversations. On the app store a reviewer described the app as a “friend, guide, doctor, sibling, parent”. That says a lot.

MediAvataar: As per the real time data that you gather through the app what is the support the women seek/need from the private and public sector?

Sairee: One, we have thousands of women posting their real live experiences around getting back to the workplace after a career break - the judgement they face, and how their skills and experiences are completely discounted, after they have taken time off to be caregivers. If more businesses introduce creche services, maternity and paternity leave, and flexibility at work, women’s careers will be disrupted less, and we shall see more women in boardrooms. Two, safety is a top concern for women across the board - in homes, in offices and on the street. We have had women share instances of domestic abuse and workplace harassment. Safety is a collective responsibility and must be on the top-most agenda for businesses, as well as our public services. Three, our healthcare systems are mired in gender biases, and a very skewed understanding of women’s medical and health needs. There is an urgent need for upgrades both in terms of mindsets as well as the overall approach to healthcare. In a nutshell, this real-time data is absolutely fascinating, and will tell you so much about women’s progress (or what’s lacking in it) in India.

MediAvataar: Tell us more about your recent acquisition.

Sairee: SHEROES recently acquired mom’s app Babygogo, which was founded in 2014 by three young entrepreneurs - Siddhartha, Sowrabh and Satyadeep, to help parents leverage technology to address everyday child healthcare. Being the best-in-class among a sea of parenting apps, Babygogo aligns perfectly with the SHEROES vision in terms of crafting a high empathy, high trust space where mothers can discuss a range of things, while also seeking expert advice and simultaneously, leveraging the real-time collective wisdom of its growing community. Besides domain depth, Babygogo brings with it a strong tech foundation, and we are extremely thrilled to welcome them into the SHEROES fold.

MediAvataar: What is SHE and what made you launch that?

Sairee: SHE is our compliance and prevention of sexual harassment product in 2017, which interestingly, we launched before the #MeToo campaign. Our conversations and engagement with women since the start, convinced us that the approach towards curbing sexual harassment needed a much more nuanced approach - businesses by their very nature had to focus on becoming safe spaces - not just on office premises; the framework must include work-from-home employees, offsites, and online communication, to name a few. Such a transformation can never happen through one-off trainings but over a period of time, through continued interventions via trainings, conversations, debates and discussions. Such interventions are as important as addressing cases that crop up, fairly and swiftly. The larger vision is to nurture safe spaces, and healthy work cultures, and this can only be brought out through more focus on diversity at work.

MediAvataar: What is your future vision for the platform?

Sairee: In the next five years, SHEROES aims to put 100 million women on the growth road map, and to meet our goals we are strengthening our communities, building solid relationships with partners, and evangelising ideas around what constitutes women’s growth.

New data from Facebook shows that more than ten million people worldwide used its Live video function to celebrate New Year's Eve digitally with others.

The number of people across the globe using Facebook Live on New Year's Eve grew by 47 per cent in comparison to the same date 12 months earlier to reach more than ten million, new figures from Facebook reveal.

Three times as many people used the live video feature on December 31st than on any other day that month, with Las Vegas named as the location with the highest overall number of Facebook Live broadcasts on NYE.

Data also shows that the 'wow' emoji reaction was the most used on the night, demonstrating that people were using the function to celebrate the new year together digitally with friends and family around the world.

In a blog post accompanying the data, Facebook explained: "With Facebook Live, people can still be in the same moment, even if they aren't in the same place."

With this feature becoming so much more popular over the past year, it presents an exciting opportunity to brands wanting to extend the reach of their marketing strategies, with the insights provided by the reaction buttons enabling them to see what works best with their audience.

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