How to make the most of Meta-Universe and thrive unscathed in it

Natasha Jog- Head, Public Policy, Instagram, Facebook India (Meta)- lists the company's safety measures, and tells us how to make our favourite apps work in our favour.

28 April, 2024
How to make the most of Meta-Universe and thrive unscathed in it

Nightmare scenario: You log chat, we spoke of Meta’s tryst with onto your Meta universe of applications (WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook) that seem essential to your daily existential shenanigans, and find yourself or your business intercepted by mushrooming fake profiles and the very significant threat of identity theft. What next? Panic stricken, you alert your family, friends, and community members, and wait anxiously for order to restore your social space—trying to rebuild the trust factor—now that you have been forced to relinquish control of your online identity. Or worse, you find yourself being harassed by a follow/friend request you never signed up for.

According to the India Cyber Threat Report published in 2023 by the Data Security Council of India, an alarming 400 million threat detections across 8.5 million endpoints (users) were registered last year. In 2022, Karnataka had the highest number of registered offences related to online identity theft in India, according to a report published by Statista. In an op-ed published by Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, in 2022, online violence against women and girls—which now included sexual harassment, stalking, and WhatsApp, and Zoom-bombing (disrupting and infiltrating video conferences with objectionable content by unexpected participants)—was evolving and expanding. And that’s even more frightening.

With the world now running digitally (in most parts) and AI flexing itself at record speed not even technocrats can contain, it is become almost imperative to have a rudimentary understanding of how to check security threats on the most socially dynamic aspect of your life—the Meta world. One of the reasons why a sit-down with Natasha Jog, Head, Public Policy, Instagram, Facebook India (Meta) became imperative. In a freewheeling chat, we spoke of Meta's tryst with tightening control on safety and security measures, policy changes, and how to make your favourite application work in favour of you, sans the constant algo changes.

Pratishtha Dobhal: It was almost two years ago, in 2022, when Meta started to look internally at addressing safety concerns. What changed?

Natasha Jog: While there’s no exact moment in time, frankly, our investments in safety and security have been steadily growing over the last few years. Perhaps the reason why you are saying over the last two years is because there’s been a global focus on the safety of children and minors on the platform, which has led to a steady focus on it. We have added over 30+ safety tools and features over the past few years. In 2023, we launched the #DigitalSuraksha campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for the G20 Stay Safe online programme. We had a steady drumbeat by way of targeted programmes like, if you are resharing child abuse material or any kind of material, you are re-victimising the child. We did have a watershed moment in Cambridge Analytica, and as an organisation, we identified and admitted that we needed to change things and started to work on it. The user interaction on the platform has changed so we do a lot of research internally to understand what is working and what could be the pain points. While women’s safety has always been important, we have found that young users have a different way of interacting with the platform, which is why we recently launched ‘Night Nudges’.

Meta Universe

PD: Tell me more about these tools you have introduced...

NJ: Our ‘Night Nudges’ will show up when teens have spent more than 10 minutes on places like Reels or Direct Messages late at night, which encourages them to close the app. Similarly, you can use the ‘Take a Break’ feature, which allows all users to set reminders to take breaks from using the app along with reminders provided by experts on how to reflect and reset. For instance, I have activated the quiet mode as well, which starts at 11:15 pm and goes on till 7 am—it is the time when I stop getting notifications from the app. If one is a parent and your kid has an account, we have something called parental supervision tools, which links parents to their minor children. One of the parental supervision tools lets the parent take control of their child’s social experience. Also, if we find someone is trying to repeatedly send objectionable content to a minor, we take down the account. For some things, there is zero tolerance. Containing sexual abuse material online is one such bucket where we’ve put in a lot of money and seen significant results. Since this is an adversarial space so it’s not like we have all the answers just yet.

PD: Anything else you have introduced to curb sexual abuse and harassment online?

NJ: Yes, ‘Take it Down’. We launched it with NCMEC (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children). Very often minors have some kind of intimate imagery, not literally sexual abuse. It could be nudity, it could some semi-sexual act, which they are now worried will get into the wrong hands and will basically be shared online. So what they can do is they can generate a hash of the image in question….they don’t share the image and it doesn’t leave their phones,  although if they believe somebody else has got it on other social media platforms, they can curb it’s usage. They just have to share the hash with this platform called ‘Take it Down’ and all the signing companies will make sure that the image in question (the hash is kind of unique fingerprint) is not going to be produced on any platform. It is an important tool and, in fact, we have invested quite a bit in setting up this technology. 

PD: When it comes to small businesses online, what are some of the safety measures a user should adopt, give WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram are transforming into marketplaces?

NG: You can set up the pages that you want on entrepreneurship business on Facebook. We are seeing there's been a very sharp rise when it comes to the growth of women-led businesses on platforms...some statistics state 73 per cent of businesses are women-owned that have been set up in the last three years. A few years ago, we did a Metaverse start-up hub right on Metaverse's new emerging technology, where we wanted to look at giving grants in the AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality), and Mixed Reality space. A good 20 per cent to 30 per cent of responses came from women from tier 2, and tier 3 cities. So, in that sense, the penetration of technology is quite deep everywhere, especially after COVID. When it comes to setting up WhatsApp business account numbers, we have made the process extremely easy.

While this initiative is outside the safety work that we do, we partnered with the Ministry of Skill
Development and Entrepreneurship to enable one million small businesses to get digitally skilled. We also partnered with content creators and celebrities like Karisma Kapoor, Ananya Panday, Upasana Kamineni, and others to further talk about the safety tools in place. Additionally, to keep our apps safe and inclusive for all women, we launched a global expert advisory group on women's safety as we believe women should have equal access to opportunity. The group held its first meeting in January 2021.

Feature and body  Image Credits: Yogesh Arora

This article originally appeared in Cosmopolitan India March -April 2024 print issue. 

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