If Mark Zuckerberg thought he had an optics problem on Capitol Hill already, you can expect that to get worse, because according to BuzzFeed, he made a “secret” phone call to Donald Trump to congratulate him on his election victory.
Facebook is of course at the center of the controversy surrounding the 2016 election. The company has been widely criticized for failing to adequately protect American citizens from purported foreign efforts to influence the electoral outcome with misinformation campaigns.
BuzzFeed goes on to say that Zuckerberg’s call with Trump “is just one in a series of private endorsements from Facebook employees of the Trump campaign’s ad efforts on the platform.”
Specifically, the article cites “company presentations and memos” which laud the campaign’s “innovative” use of Facebook over the course of the campaign. Apparently, the company even attempted to adapt the methods employed by the campaign in order to “refine [its] own internal marketing model called ‘Test, Learn, Adapt (TLA)'”.
Last year, the company revealed details behind Russia-linked ad campaigns shown on the platform.
In early October, Facebook said some 10 million people in the U.S. saw at least one of the Russia-linked ads. 44% of those views were before the election, 56% after the election was over (so at least Trump’s defenders had that latter stat going for them).
Later that month, prepared testimony the company submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that an estimated 126 million Americans or, roughly one-third of the population, was subjected to Russian-backed content on Facebook during the 2016 campaign.
Elliot Schrage, then Vice President of Policy and Communications, noted that “some of the ads were paid for in Russian currency” but went on to claim that “currency alone isn’t a good way of identifying suspicious activity, because the overwhelming majority of advertisers who pay in Russian currency, like the overwhelming majority of people who access Facebook from Russia, aren’t doing anything wrong.”
As we noted at the time, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone is buying divisive, targeted ads and paying in rubles, but isn’t engaged in some kind of questionable behavior.
Schrage stepped down from his position last month.
In March, House Intelligence Committee Democrats released thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russian agents around the election covering social issues from immigration to gun control.
Getting back to the BuzzFeed article, Facebook apparently considered asking Trump campaign officials to do consulting work. To wit:
In an internal presentation document from 2017 obtained by BuzzFeed News, one Facebook marketing group suggested that the company “bring in innovators,” specifically naming the Trump campaign, to brainstorm how it could refine its own ad strategies.
In September of last year, BuzzFeed reported that Steve Bannon had planned to place a “mole” inside the company. That, according to emails sent days before Bannon took the reins in Trump’s campaign. He needn’t have expended the effort, it appears.
The ultimate irony in all of this comes in the following passage from BuzzFeed’s Thursday story:
The company touted the lessons it learned from the Trump campaign for its current “Here Now” effort, a multimillion-dollar advertising push to assuage users’ privacy concerns and the glut of misinformation cluttering the platform. In addition to primetime television spots and “False news is not your friends” bus ads, the effort also included marketing on the Facebook platform itself, where the Zuckerberg-led company fed messages to some of its more than 2 billion users that were calibrated with the help of the TLA ad-testing methodology.
Zuckerberg, it would seem, is using lessons learned from a campaign built on spreading misinformation on Facebook to dispel the notion that Facebook is a platform that’s conducive to the spread of misinformation.