A long look by the New York Times into how Facebook has responded to “cascading crises — over Russian misinformation, data privacy and abusive content” provides insight into the true nature of the most popular social media platform. And it should inform how or whether you should continue your relationship with (almost) everybody’s favorite social media platform.
The company knew more than they let on about how Russians (and undoubtedly others) sought to use the internet giant’s reach to influence the 2016 election. Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica enabled the Trump campaign’s efforts to discourage voter turnout among women and people of color.
The company feared the wrath of Trump supporters (and the right in general), allowing at-best-questionable content to appear along with overt attempts to denigrate support for American institutions and standards.
From Evan Osnos’ deep dive into all things Zuckerberg at New Yorker:
Although Trump’s language was openly hostile to ethnic minorities, inside Facebook his behavior felt, to some executives, like just part of the distant cesspool of Washington. Americans always seemed to be choosing between a hated Republican and a hated Democrat, and Trump’s descriptions of Mexicans as rapists was simply an extension of that.
During the campaign, Trump used Facebook to raise two hundred and eighty million dollars. Just days before the election, his team paid for a voter-suppression effort on the platform. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it targeted three Democratic constituencies—“idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans”—sending them videos precisely tailored to discourage them from turning out for Clinton. Theresa Hong, the Trump campaign’s digital-content director, later told an interviewer, “Without Facebook we wouldn’t have won.”
The revelation in the Times article getting the most play concerns Facebook’s responses to criticism in the post election period. The company hired a Republican oriented company (Definers) with expertise in opposition research to go after its critics.
A faux news organization (NTK Network) disseminated stories about corporate rivals and critics that were then picked up by popular conservative outlets, including Breitbart.
From the Daily Beast:
Definers’ tactics included posting stories on a website connected to the company that posed as a news outlet and pressing reporters to investigate whether billionaire financier George Soros was behind attacks on the social giant, according to the Times.
Mark Zuckerberg says they’ve now fired Definers, and he only learned about his company’s relationship with the firm thru the Times reporting. Riiight.
The social media platform used its political connections to blunt attempts by Congress to understand what had occurred, drawing on Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s clout.
From the New York Times story:
In July, as Facebook’s troubles threatened to cost the company billions of dollars in market value, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, by then Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress.
Back off, he told Mr. Warner, according to a Facebook employee briefed on Mr. Schumer’s intervention. Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it. Facebook lobbyists were kept abreast of Mr. Schumer’s efforts to protect the company, according to the employee.
Facebook’s pretensions have turned it into a useful idiot of the right, according to Guardian technology writer Alex Hearn:
When companies reach a certain size, they can start to develop delusions of grandeur. If their annual revenue is equal to the GDP of a small country, and their customer base larger than the population of several, well, why shouldn’t they start behaving like they are a state themselves?
That’s how you got William Randolph Hearst reportedly instructing an illustrator to “furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”; it’s how you got General Motors buying, and then shutting down, Los Angeles’ public transport network; and it’s how you got Facebook hiring a public relations consultancy to run a fake news website full of stories about how the fake news sites run by Russia didn’t have an impact on the US presidential election…
Facebook has learned what the rest of the American media did long ago: the conservative establishment wields a sense of grievance like a cudgel, and will continue the beatings indefinitely while the political centre shifts, inexorably, rightwards. There’s no way out of that standoff through politics. The more the company attempts to refashion itself as a political actor, the harder it is to win those arguments. Facebook’s only hope is to see if it can dial back the delusions of statehood, and see itself for what it is: a consumer technology company with a core product that has a non-zero chance of rupturing democracy as a side-effect of making it easy to find your high school crush.
As Judd Legum points out at Popular Information:
After Facebook made changes to its algorithm this year, the highest performing pages are the ones that post right-wing memes.
In recent months there have been actions aimed at influencing with San Diego Free Press content as we tried to broaden our audience. The word “depressed” in the following sentence got us booted from promoting this article on Facebook:
In late spring, the company began requiring entities promoting posts containing what it decided was ‘political’ content to go thru a screening process. I successfully proved to them I wasn’t a Russian provocateur, but only after the SDFP Voter Guide for the June primary was rejected.
The company’s automated search for bad behavior included sending me rejection notifications for articles published in past years.
We’ve stopped doing business with Facebook as of this month (Our page is still active). Attempts to communicate with humans at the company were futile.
Some reputable/honest sites have seen their readership fall by as much as 67%. News oriented blogs who report on far-right activities have triggered “warnings” on ad networks, driving sponsors away.
The big battles and subsequent abuses involving these entities are just starting to emerge. I have no doubt that future historians will find these practices extended to the far reaches of the internet.
Let’s face it folks; those of us with politics as a focus in our lives have been in an abusive relationship with a social media entity.
It’s soooo easy just to share observations confirming our inclinations; to invite people to join our causes; to tell the world—whether it’s true or not–that we care about an issue.
Getting untangled from Facebook is complicated, as my ‘friends’ on the platform are discovering after boldly proclaiming their intentions to sever all ties.
Do we really want or need to get hundreds more emails/texts/IMs every day? How do you stay in touch with your past connections/friends/relationships? Aren’t we already too isolated as it is?
My feeling going forward is that it’s ok (if you don’t mind the vacuuming up of your personal data) for keeping up family and friends. I talk politics on Facebook when it suits me because it’s a big part of what I am, but with the understanding it’s not a good soapbox.
The promise many politicos saw in Facebook as an organizing platform and communications channel were unrealistic. How we get past that realization is a question I don’t yet have answer to.
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.