The excerpts you’ll read below from an LA Times Op-Ed are a little hyperbolic (even for Heisenberg’s tastes), but they’re funny and they are, at heart, a more accurate description of reality than the narrative being pushed by the opposing side, which hilariously asserts that Facebook couldn’t possibly have swayed the 2016 election.
As we’ve been over more times than we can count, the suggestion that ad spend on Facebook couldn’t have impacted the vote seems at odds with reality. Because after all, the whole reason Facebook and other popular social media platforms are attractive to advertisers is because of those platforms’ unparalleled ability to amplify a message.
Just in the past couple of weeks we’ve learned quite a bit about how Russia sought to leverage Facebook. In September for instance, we drew your attention to the connection between a highly dubious story (which posited a link between the spread of disease in Twin Falls, Idaho and immigrants) pushed by Breitbart, Alex Jones, and other Right-wing media outlets, and an effort by a Russia-linked Facebook account to capitalize on the xenophobia that story catalyzed by organizing anti-immigrant rallies.
And then, last week, we learned that Steve Bannon apparently tried to infiltrate the site’s hiring process.
As Max Bergmann wrote for JustSecurity.org, it may be time to start treating Facebook like a crime scene. More below from David Horsey…
From a longer piece by David Horsey for The LA Times
You have got to give Mark Zuckerberg credit for maintaining his boyish faith in the benevolent influence of technology, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.
Since founding Facebook as a callow student at Harvard, Zuckerberg has insisted that walls of privacy and gatekeepers of information are impediments that should give way to instant and limitless sharing of ideas and information with all who will listen. As expressed in the company’s mission statement, Facebook’s goal is “bringing the world closer together.”
Sometimes, however, proximity is not so pleasant. With a nudge from congressional investigators and the special prosecutor looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg has been forced to face the truth that Facebook has been weaponized by alien operatives intent on sowing chaos and division with the aim of undermining democracy. Humming along with minimal human oversight, Facebook’s vast system of algorithms allowed Russian operatives to set up fake accounts, buy ads and spread a sophisticated array of lies and bogus news stories targeted at particular groups of Facebook users who would be susceptible to their influence.
When this issue first came up, Zuckerberg said the contention that Facebook had been used by the Russians to mislead voters and influence the election was a “pretty crazy idea.” Now, however, he has announced that his company will be turning over to Congress an initial 3,000 ads placed on Facebook by agents and affiliates of the Kremlin.
“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Zuckerberg said in a live broadcast on his Facebook page. “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy.… We are in a new world. It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation-states attempting to subvert elections. But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”
However reluctantly, Zuckerberg is recognizing the not-so-nice aspects of our ever-more-interconnected world. His counterparts at Twitter are having to do the same now that it is apparent their platform was utilized for Russian mischief to an even greater extent than Facebook.
It is probably too much to hope that the president of the United States will be similarly willing to accept the facts.