We need to discuss Facebook, the technology giant that has willingly allowed thousands of developers to extract their consumer’s data. To make matters worse Facebook allowed a now infamous data company Cambridge Analytica to share this information with the Trump campaign. The campaign then used the data to target American voters, to great success. Trump ended up winning the election, legally or illegally we don’t really know yet. The response to this has led to people delete their profiles. It is important to note that we have allowed Facebook to do what it wants when it wants with our data.
Facebook decided to deny all allegations regarding helping to fuel the Trump propaganda campaign which helped secure the Oval Office. To the extent that they finally admitted that at least 150 million Americans were exposed to Russian Propaganda. The company did not admit any of this willingly; they only admitted it when in front of Congress. Zuckerberg himself denied any wrongdoing at first, then on November 12 of 2016 he wrote: “of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic.”
When Facebook had to appear in front of Congress they admitted they uncovered fake accounts linked to over 1,000 ads. A Russian troll farm purchased these ads. Finally in November of 2017 Facebook finally came forward with the explosive revelation that 150 million Americans saw Russian propaganda relating to a foreign government’s support of Donald Trump, who became the 45th American President.
Facebook took action by banning those accounts, however, what is one of many issues here is that this is a company that has a massive transparency problem. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would like to pretend that his company is looking out for their users when in all reality their company is just like some other tech companies today. Selling user data for profit. Allowing a rogue regime influence a United States election. It took Facebook several days to respond to the latest scandal surrounding its company. We only found out about it because of a whistleblower.
A video surfaced from an undercover reporter working for Channel 4, revealing the CEO of Cambridge Analytica discussing how they influence elections all over the world. The data company has campaigned in over 200 hundred nations around the world. The data company leads to a separate problem. An issue about digital campaigning, that extends to every continent. It is a problem that if not addressed will only worsen. It is a problem that should be addressed by governments all around the world. It may have to be addressed by the United Nations.
What We Know
A foreign government purchased advertisements to aid a sitting President, in his bid to become President of the United States. This is not a violation of campaign finance laws in part because they were purchased online through platforms that do not require a disclosure of who purchased the advertisement. If a foreign government wanted to get away with meddling in the electoral process in the United States this would be the way to do it. The government in question then received a phone call from the President that it sought to help to congratulate their leader a dictator mind you on his recent election rigging in his own nation. Facebook lied to its users and to the world on numerous occasions. Cambridge Analytica a company that was hired by the Trump campaign used the private data of more than 50 million users without their information to target them with specific ads to woo votes for their particular candidates.
One must note that it isn’t just the major players at Facebook nor those at Cambridge Analytica who are connected to this issue. Robert Mercer a major Republican donor, as well as the one time White House Staffer Steve Bannon, are both connected to the data firm.
In Bed with Dictators
Certainly, the American President has a cozy relationship with dictators. Zuckerberg and his Facebook do when he allowed Russian propagandists to use the data of Facebook users. In the age of responsible businesses, one would think a company that project itself, as socially conscience would know better than to play footsie with Russian dictators. What’s Facebook going to allow next the butcher of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte to purchase ads? Facebook allows Governments to crackdown on the platform, as one has seen in several instances when there has been a protest.
Facebook needs to address this problem, which they are doing; it isn’t just a Facebook problem. It is at the end of the day a problem that Americans and people who care about privacy and democracy will have to contend with, America holds elections in a few months.
There are some problems, which can be solved by the private market, and then there are problems, which concern us all. Problems such as this one, like many problems in America this one touches on multiple issues. It touches on the problem of campaign finance when one can purchase advertisements to influence a vote and not disclose who purchased the advertisement. This would be a campaign finance issue.
Many argue that liberals won’t get anything they want until they address campaign finance in an effective way. Facebook could solve this issue overnight if it wanted too, they could mandate that anyone who purchases any ad disclose who purchased the advertisement.
The issue of data is one in which Facebook must address, it’s an issue Facebook must address itself. Now if Facebook were to take no actionable steps to address any of these problems then the government would have to take the necessary steps to break up the company.
Congress could take the step to tell Facebook you have until August of this year to tell us how you will effectively clean up your mess and if not we will introduce an act of Congress to break up the company. This would be a last resort. . It would be wise for our national conversation to begin around the issue of when is a company too big that it hinders competition?
Hearings are a great place to start, Facebook can make good on its newfound hope of transparency by insisting that these hearings be open to the public. Zuckerberg should suspend all travel relating to his presidential bid and instead focus his company. Perhaps Zuckerberg should consider resigning with the company.
When does a company that puts a democracy at risk become a problem that must be stopped? Is there a need for a right to be forgotten law, as adopted in certain European nations?
Power to We The People
At the end of the day it is up to We The People, do we wish to hold Facebook accountable for their actions? Will more people follow suit and delete their accounts or will the platform see no reason to alter its current course? Will people demand action from their governments, or will they simply be outraged for a week and then outraged when it occurs again.
It is hard to see this issue being addressed if campaign finance reform isn’t addressed. It isn’t just about holding companies accountable though; we have to insist on holding individuals accountable as well. These companies that play fast and loose with our data, would balk at the idea of a right to be forgotten law, and that could force them to wise up.
Zuckerberg is likely still eyeing the Whitehouse; one would hope that this is an issue that is brought up when he seeks that office. Steve Bannon the former Whitehouse staffer is sure to be back on the campaign trail. Mercer is still going to donate to candidates, however, will these people be held accountable or will we shrug these issues aside.
If America shrugs these issues aside we are allowing our Democracy to be put at a far greater risk than the one posed by foreign adversaries.