Thomas Friedman warns of Russia meddling in 2019 LS polls, says Facebook must be made accountable

Mumbai: Award-winning American columnist and author Thomas Friedman has warned Indians about the possible meddling of Russia in the upcoming elections through unregulated media like Facebook, exactly the way they did to the detriment of the US in the 2016 presidential polls.

President Vladimir Putin will be "voting" in the summer general elections, the author of the book The World Is Flat said here Thursday.

"If you (Indians) think they (Russians) will not be playing in your elections, you are not paying attention. Believe me, Putin will be voting in your election," Friedman said speaking at an annual Nasscom summit in Mumbai.

Thomas Friedman warns of Russia meddling in 2019 LS polls, says Facebook must be made accountable

File image of Thomas L Friedman. Reuters

The noted political thinker and author also accused Facebook of "fundamentally violating the trust" that got the US a president like Donald Trump.

When a country like the US, which is a champion of liberal thoughts, talks about building border walls and chooses to "go into the dark", it impacts the whole world, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner said, adding Trump's imprint through his policies is spreading "venom and poison" across the world.

The comments come in the light of accusations of Russians using social media platforms like Facebook to spread fake news among the American electorate, which resulted in the surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton and the victory of Trump in the November 2016 polls.

The American national investigation agency FBI is currently probing both Trumps personal involvement in Russian meddling and also Moscow's role in the polls.

Similarly, the British also launched a probe against Moscow after it has come to light that the Brexit referendum too was manipulated by Russia using social media. Two years ago, the British in a thin margin of 52 percent voted to leave the EU by March this year.

Friedman said a platform like Facebook has deep insights, courtesy a massive invasion of individual privacy, and said it's essential for entrepreneurs to know constitutional morality along with computer codes.

"Mark Zuckerburg did computer coding in college but did not take a constitutional course in the college. He extended the Facebook platform all over the world without thinking about privacy or election implications. And we are now paying the price for that," Friedman said.

He further said a newspaper like The New York Times, for which he writes, is strictly regulated, unlike a Facebook which revels at zero oversight.

Facebook, however, wants newspapers advertisers and readers, without the regulation over things like fake news, he said, calling it as a fundamental violation of trust.

When asked about the growth of India and China, he said both the countries have their own strengths. Drawing parallels with a super-highway, he said China has a smooth road with an uncertainty lurking on the political front, where rights are trampled on.

As against this, in India, the journey is very bumpy with a lot of hindrances in between but far on the horizon is something that kindles optimism.

"Whether it is a mirage or an oasis only time will tell," he said, adding the way India has stuck to democracy for so long and how a land of 1.34 billion people votes in a largely free and fair election is nothing but a "miracle".

He said the lack of natural resources is India's biggest strength, which results in all the people being forced to use their minds and work extra.

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 22:44:12 IST

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