If we discussed this yesterday, I missed it, but Facebook’s turnabout on the Russia election meddling scandal seems significant. From the NYT:
Facebook to Turn Over Russian-Linked Ads to Congress
By SCOTT SHANE and MIKE ISAAC SEPT. 21, 2017
WASHINGTON — Under growing pressure from Congress and the public to reveal more about the spread of covert Russian propaganda on Facebook, the company said on Thursday that it was turning over more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads to congressional committees investigating the Kremlin’s influence operation during the 2016 presidential campaign…
Facebook’s admission on Sept. 6 that Russian agents covertly bought ads on the site during last year’s campaign has brought intense scrutiny on the social network and on Twitter, entangling both companies in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. Both companies have turned over detailed data to Mr. Mueller.
The disclosure of the ads also raised the possibility of future regulation of political advertising on social media platforms. This week, congressional Democrats asked the Federal Election Commission to advise on ways to prevent illicit foreign influence on American elections via social media, including possible new laws or regulations.
The news triggered Twitler, whose severe, untreated personality disorder makes any suggestion that he wasn’t elected by popular acclaim an intolerable insult:
The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017
Facebook’s Zuckerberg was also triggered, but in a more rational “greed-head deflecting threats to the bottom line” kinda way:
“We are in a new world,” he said. “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.”
Despite Russia’s stealth attack, Mr. Zuckerberg argued that Facebook remained a force for good in democracy, promoting billions of online discussions, linking voters to candidates and helping two million Americans register to vote. He said that positive role was “100 or 1,000 times bigger” than the illicit activity.
I would counter that the elevation of an erratic demagogue like Trump, with the social media-fueled assistance of a murderous foreign autocrat, suggests that social media might not be a net positive for democracy. But safeguarding democracy isn’t Facebook’s purpose, and neither is giving my auntie a place to publish photos of awful decoupage projects.
Facebook and Twitter don’t charge us for using their platform because WE are the product they offer to their advertisers. This time, a significant number of those advertisers were hawking hate instead of hand sanitizer.
As the Times article points out, Facebook generates tens of billions in advertising revenue every year, and anyone with a credit card and a Facebook account can buy an ad. Self-serving platitudes aside, Zuckerberg and shareholders of other tech companies that are mainlining billions in self-service advertising revenue have no real incentive to change.
It’s going to take government regulation (unlikely in the current political environment) or mass action by consumers to solve this problem. And solve it we must; 2018 is right around the corner.