Washington: Social platforms like Facebook may help fight government corruption, especially in countries where press freedom is curbed, say researchers who studied the impact of social media during the 2012 anti-corruption protests in India.
Sudipta Sarangi of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in the US said his cross- country analysis using data from more than 150 countries shows the more Facebook penetrates public usage, the higher the likelihood of government corruption meeting protest.
In short, social media serves as peer of the press, Sarangi said.
"This study underscores the importance of freedom on the internet that is under threat in many countries of the world," Sarangi said.
Facebook helps lessen corruption in governments where press freedom is low.
"By showing that social media can negatively impact corruption, we provide yet another reason in favor of the freedom on the net," Sarangi said.
Researchers, including Chandan Kumar Jha, took into account a number of control variables including other economic, democratic, and cultural factors, said Sarangi.
It also comes on the heels of a volatile American election in which Facebook and other social media platforms were seen as culprits in the spread of "fake news," especially tied to politics.
Researchers began the study in 2012, when social media was being used to organise anti-corruption protests in India.
They also followed the 2011 rise of Arab Spring across the Middle East where large protests toppled governments.
"Our initial results were encouraging in that we found a significant, negative correlation between Facebook penetration and corruption across a small sample of countries," Sarangi said.
Several qualitative studies have touched on the use of social media to oust corruption before, and many other studies have focused on internet or e-government and its impact on corruption.
However, that few quantitative studies have looked specifically looked at social media and its impact on corruption because country-specific social media usage data is hard to acquire, Sarangi said.
The research is the first of its kind to establish a link between social media and corruption across more than 150 countries, showing the complimentary role of social media along with the press in open countries, and its greater impact in countries that are oppressive.
Much of the anti-corruption content posted on Facebook is user-created and shared individually, its audience growing with each share or repost.
In other words, social media as an information and communication technology tool allows multi-way communication as opposed to traditional media such as TV and print media that allow for only one-way communication. The back and forth of communication is harder to control by government censors.
"Social media provides cheap and quick means of sharing information and reaching a larger audience to organise public protests against the corrupt activities of government officials and politicians," Sarangi said.
"It is therefore not a surprise that despotic governments favor controlling social media," he said.
Additionally, interaction in social media platforms typically is shared among friends and family, thus adding a personal connection and therefore more perceived credibility to shared information. Sarangi said individuals may feel compelled to act on such information to show solidarity with family or friends.
The study was published in the journal Information Economics and Policy.