Big social media updates this week: Google fined, Twitter purge, government actions and China IT report

Let's start this issue of social media updates with the two biggest stories of recent times: Google fined heavily for anti-competition bundling of apps, and Twitter's massive purge of spurious accounts.

Google is slapped the biggest European Commission fine so far

European Commission has fined Google with $5 billion over bundling of Chrome browser, Google search and 9 other apps with Android OS. 

Android OS runs most of the non-Apple mobile devices. 

This is the biggest fine slapped on a single company by EC/ EU ever.

What has been irking Google's rivals is that Google's Android OS (the non-Open Source version) comes laced with Google apps, and most phone makers pre-install them on phones and thus provide Google a huge market share of these services.

Google has explained its position on its blog:
The free distribution of the Android platform, and of Google’s suite of applications, is not only efficient for phone makers and operators — it’s of huge benefit for developers and consumers. If phone makers and mobile network operators couldn’t include our apps on their wide range of devices, it would upset the balance of the Android ecosystem. So far, the Android business model has meant that we haven't had to charge phone makers for our technology, or depend on a tightly controlled distribution model.
The ruling has wide implications. It challenges the Google model in which the ultimate consumers (and intermediaries) get a number of services free in return for an advertisement based system. The ruling also might put pressure on Apple, which bundles many services but has so far been able to avoid such rulings. Or will Apple gain in Android's fall? How will Google implement it? Will it lead to a more chaotic app ecosystem once Google's monopoly ends? 

Donald Trump tweeted soon after the ruling, in a retaliatory tone: I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the US, but not for long!

Millions hurt with Twitter purge, and that includes @Twitter too!

Twitter started purging its platform of suspicious accounts last week, and as per initial reports, some top celebrities have lost thousands, sometimes millions, of followers in one brush.

Interestingly, Twitter's own account lost about 7.8 million (nearly 12.3% followers)! 

Britney Spears has lost 2.1 million, Instagram 1.4 million, Nicki Minaj 1.2 million, Oprah Winfrey 1.4 million.

BarackObama has lost 2.3 million, accounting for about 2.26% of his followers. Many other world leaders have suffered to more or less similar degrees. Donald Trump too has lost 308 thousand, which comes to just 0.58%.

Recall a New York Times expose last year in which a firm Devumi was found to be selling fake followers to politicians and other celebrities all over the world. It is reported that a big percentage of followers - up to 93% - supplied by this company have faced the purge.

On 11th July Twitter announced the cleansing action, stating that it will not impact most accounts greatly:

Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop. We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.
Though the most significant changes are happening in the next few days, follower counts may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts.


The next segment is on a slew of governmental controls that have taken place in recent days on social networking, messaging and blogging. Social media has always been at the receiving end of governmental actions. Sometimes they do not like its use because it is uncomfortable to them; sometimes social media is used by criminals and hate mongers, and thus needs to be legitimately controlled. The dividing lines are often hazy. You decide which side you want to take while assessing these actions:

Uganda imposes heavy social media tax

Ugandan government has imposed tax on online social activity, the way Tanzania did last month. The good news is that Ugandan parliament has referred the taxation to a parliamentary committee.

President Museveni says, social media is just gossip and is hurting his government's efforts to showcase democracy and economic growth. It is also argued that the tax would help Uganda in economic progress.

The tax is a whopping  $10 a day for using social apps.

Sri Lanka shuts down social networks to quell violence

In Sri Lanka, social networking sites were shut down for three days last week following violent protests that had spread across the country.

It had earlier blocked social networks over hate speech (March 2018) and resultant clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities.

In India, WhatsApp goes out of control; separately, supreme court wants the government to tell if it intends to control social media

Two major developments have shaken Indian social media. One, use of WhatsApp for mob killings and two, government having to explain whether it intends to monitor and control social media.

The lynching of innocents by blood-thirsty mobs in different parts of the country surfaces now and then for the last few months, and it has a trend: A message is spread on WhatsApp that some strangers are roaming in the area to abduct children. Then, some stranger (in one case a local tourist, in one case a foreigner) is spotted, a crowd gathers and starts hitting the stranger. It does not stop till the stranger is dead! More than 20 people are reported to have lost their lives so far.

The Indian government had earlier warned WhatsApp to pull its socks but when the lynching did not stop, has threatened to sue it:

Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp... When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability... If [WhatsApp] remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.

On its part, WhatsApp has introduced new features on its platform that include identifying the one forwarding a message and limiting the number of forwards in one go to five. 

The supreme court has asked the government to bring a law if present laws are not sufficient to deal with murders by mobs.

In another major social media related development, Indian supreme court has questioned the government's move to create a 'communication hub' on social media. While the government says, the proposed entity would provide feedback from each district on the implementation of its policies, activists and opposition parties smell in it a plan to monitor social media communication. The hearing in the top court is not yet over.

Finally, good news about how internet and social are helping China grow:

How internet is driving China: a report

Reported to be the most comprehensive report on China's IT scene, China Internet Report 2018 says, in China rural internet penetration has risen fast, and its own social media ecosystem rules with some aid from the government.
Abacus News released the report earlier this week. The rural internet penetration in China stands at 35%, and this has helped rise ecommerce, education and media usage fast in villages, the report says.

Chinese ecommerce companies have adopted a Social+ model where their business is anchored by a social pillar that drives user engagement and growth.

China's internet, smartphone and mobile internet user bases are many times that of the USA. The number of payments China makes are over ten times that are made in the US! 

China has a strong ecosystem of social media, apps and ecommerce that rivals the global peers: It has Baidu for search, WeChat for social networking and messaging, and has own shopping, video sharing, payment platforms and so on. And all are going strong, with positive help from the government and also checks on foreign social media and IT.