The future of "fake news": Pepsi gets Facebook to censor jokes about plastic in its Kurkure corn puffs

There is a conspiracy theory that Pepsico's Kurkure corn puffs — developed and sold in India — contain plastic; there's a much wider discussion in which people are making fun of this dumb theory (while simultaneously pointing out that Kurkure might as well be made of plastic, given their nutritional value and flavor).

Calling the whole phenomenon "fake news," Pepsico India successfully sued to get a court order against Facebook, requiring the company to censor any posts linking Kurkure and plastic, even jokes or criticism of Pepsico products.

It's an important cautionary tale about the call for digital monopolists to police the speech on their platforms: access to these systems will always be a function of your existing social power. To prevent abuse, the systems for reporting bad speech will have "safeguards" that will be hard to navigate, requiring that you frame your complaints in specific, detailed language that will be easy for skilled professionals to manage, but that average users who've never had to interact with the system will struggle with.

In other words, Pepsico has all the money and lawyers in the world needed to trigger a "fake news" review on Facebook, but members of an oppressed ethnic minority will still struggle to get calls for genocide removed from the platform — and if you make it easier to report that kind of hate speech, you also make it easier for Pepsico to silence its critics.

I've been writing Boing Boing since 2001, and this year has seen more legal threats for critical posts about big companies than any time since our inception. I've been threatened by a company behind a rich-people-only terminal at a major airport for making fun of it; by a celebrity seller of "remedies," and other rich, powerful people who decided that criticism should be met with legal threats.

Once you create a system for censoring speech on the grounds that it is "fake news" (even if it's parody, or sarcasm, or criticism), expect that this system will be instantaneously mastered by oligarchs and their lickspittles, and deployed against their critics.

PepsiCo's argument is that these rumors are untrue and defame the brand—though it's evident that a number of the posts are satirical in tone, poking fun at the rumor rather than earnestly trying to spread misinformation. Many are relatively benign. "I've gone from having zero thoughts about Kurkure to complete and utter conviction that they are made entirely of plastic," novelist Samit Basu tweeted in February. Like other affected social media posts, that tweet was not deleted but it is now being withheld from users who have their country set to India.

As stands, outside of India, it's easy to find posts alleging that Kurkure contains plastic. A cursory search on YouTube and Facebook yields a bunch of videos of people setting the snack on fire to either debunk or "prove" the hoax.

Facebook Forced to Block 20,000 Posts About Snack Food Conspiracy After PepsiCo Sues: Report [Melanie Ehrenkranz/Gizmodo]

(Image: Scrillrock)