Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #1021 FascisBook: (In Your Facebook, Part 3–A Virtual Panopticon, Part 3)

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This broad­cast was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Intro­duc­tion: This pro­gram fol­lows up FTR #‘s 718 and 946, we exam­ined Face­book, not­ing how it’s cute, warm, friend­ly pub­lic facade obscured a cyn­i­cal, reac­tionary, exploita­tive and, ulti­mate­ly “cor­po­ratist” eth­ic and oper­a­tion.

The UK’s Chan­nel 4 sent an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist under­cov­er to work for one of the third-par­ty com­pa­nies Face­book pays to mod­er­ate con­tent. This inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist was trained to take a hands-off approach to far right vio­lent con­tent and fake news because that kind of con­tent engages users for longer and increas­es ad rev­enues. ” . . . . An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who went under­cov­er as a Face­book mod­er­a­tor in Ire­land says the com­pa­ny lets pages from far-right fringe groups ‘exceed dele­tion thresh­old,’ and that those pages are ‘sub­ject to dif­fer­ent treat­ment in the same cat­e­go­ry as pages belong­ing to gov­ern­ments and news orga­ni­za­tions.’ The accu­sa­tion is a damn­ing one, under­min­ing Facebook’s claims that it is active­ly try­ing to cut down on fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, hate speech, and oth­er harm­ful con­tent that may have sig­nif­i­cant real-world impact.The under­cov­er jour­nal­ist detailed his find­ings in a new doc­u­men­tary titled Inside Face­book: Secrets of the Social Net­work, that just aired on the UK’s Chan­nel 4. . . . .”

Next, we present a fright­en­ing sto­ry about Aggre­gateIQ (AIQ), the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off­shoot to which Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca out­sourced the devel­op­ment of its “Ripon” psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file soft­ware devel­op­ment, and which lat­er played a key role in the pro-Brex­it cam­paign. The arti­cle also notes that, despite Facebook’s pledge to kick Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off of its plat­form, secu­ri­ty researchers just found 13 apps avail­able for Face­book that appear to be devel­oped by AIQ. If Face­book real­ly was try­ing to kick Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off of its plat­form, it’s not try­ing very hard. One app is even named “AIQ John­ny Scraper” and it’s reg­is­tered to AIQ.

The arti­cle is also a reminder that you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need to down­load a Cam­bridge Analytica/AIQ app for them to be track­ing your infor­ma­tion and reselling it to clients. Secu­ri­ty researcher stum­bled upon a new repos­i­to­ry of curat­ed Face­book data AIQ was cre­at­ing for a client and it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble a lot of the data was scraped from pub­lic Face­book posts.

” . . . . Aggre­gateIQ, a Cana­di­an con­sul­tan­cy alleged to have links to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, col­lect­ed and stored the data of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Face­book users, accord­ing to redact­ed com­put­er files seen by the Finan­cial Times.The social net­work banned Aggre­gateIQ, a data com­pa­ny, from its plat­form as part of a clean-up oper­a­tion fol­low­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, on sus­pi­cion that the com­pa­ny could have been improp­er­ly access­ing user infor­ma­tion. How­ev­er, Chris Vick­ery, a secu­ri­ty researcher, this week found an app on the plat­form called ‘AIQ John­ny Scraper’ reg­is­tered to the com­pa­ny, rais­ing fresh ques­tions about the effec­tive­ness of Facebook’s polic­ing efforts. . . .”

In addi­tion, the sto­ry high­lights a forms of micro-tar­get­ing com­pa­nies like AIQ make avail­able that’s fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from the algo­rith­mic micro-tar­get­ing asso­ci­at­ed with social media abus­es: micro-tar­get­ing by a human who wants to specif­i­cal­ly look and see what you per­son­al­ly have said about var­i­ous top­ics on social media. This is a ser­vice where some­one can type you into a search engine and AIQ’s prod­uct will serve up a list of all the var­i­ous polit­i­cal posts you’ve made or the polit­i­cal­ly-rel­e­vant “Likes” you’ve made.

Next, we note that Face­book is get­ting sued by an app devel­op­er for act­ing like the mafia and turn­ing access to all that user data as the key enforce­ment tool:

“Mark Zucker­berg faces alle­ga­tions that he devel­oped a ‘mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme’ to exploit vast amounts of pri­vate data to earn Face­book bil­lions and force rivals out of busi­ness. A com­pa­ny suing Face­book in a Cal­i­for­nia court claims the social network’s chief exec­u­tive ‘weaponised’ the abil­i­ty to access data from any user’s net­work of friends – the fea­ture at the heart of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal.  . . . . ‘The evi­dence uncov­ered by plain­tiff demon­strates that the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal was not the result of mere neg­li­gence on Facebook’s part but was rather the direct con­se­quence of the mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme Zucker­berg designed in 2012 to cov­er up his fail­ure to antic­i­pate the world’s tran­si­tion to smart­phones,’ legal doc­u­ments said. . . . . Six4Three alleges up to 40,000 com­pa­nies were effec­tive­ly defraud­ed in this way by Face­book. It also alleges that senior exec­u­tives includ­ing Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly devised and man­aged the scheme, indi­vid­u­al­ly decid­ing which com­pa­nies would be cut off from data or allowed pref­er­en­tial access. . . . ‘They felt that it was bet­ter not to know. I found that utter­ly hor­ri­fy­ing,’ he [for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive Sandy Parak­i­las] said. ‘If true, these alle­ga­tions show a huge betray­al of users, part­ners and reg­u­la­tors. They would also show Face­book using its monop­oly pow­er to kill com­pe­ti­tion and putting prof­its over pro­tect­ing its users.’ . . . .”

The above-men­tioned Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is offi­cial­ly going bank­rupt, along with the elec­tions divi­sion of its par­ent com­pa­ny, SCL Group. Appar­ent­ly their bad press has dri­ven away clients.

Is this tru­ly the end of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca?

No.

They’re rebrand­ing under a new com­pa­ny, Emer­da­ta. Intrigu­ing­ly, Cam­bridge Analytica’s trans­for­ma­tion into Emer­da­ta is note­wor­thy because  the fir­m’s direc­tors include John­son Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and busi­ness part­ner of Erik Prince: ” . . . . But the company’s announce­ment left sev­er­al ques­tions unan­swered, includ­ing who would retain the company’s intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty — the so-called psy­cho­graph­ic vot­er pro­files built in part with data from Face­book — and whether Cam­bridge Analytica’s data-min­ing busi­ness would return under new aus­pices. . . . In recent months, exec­u­tives at Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and SCL Group, along with the Mer­cer fam­i­ly, have moved to cre­at­ed a new firm, Emer­da­ta, based in Britain, accord­ing to British records. The new company’s direc­tors include John­son Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and busi­ness part­ner of Erik Prince. . . . An exec­u­tive and a part own­er of SCL Group, Nigel Oakes, has pub­licly described Emer­da­ta as a way of rolling up the two com­pa­nies under one new ban­ner. . . . 

In the Big Data inter­net age, there’s one area of per­son­al infor­ma­tion that has yet to be incor­po­rat­ed into the pro­files on everyone–personal bank­ing infor­ma­tion.  ” . . . . If tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” Kapi­to said. It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el from tra­di­tion­al bank­ing: Data is more valu­able for tech firms that sell a range of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts than it is for banks that only sell finan­cial ser­vices, he said. . . .”

Face­book is approach­ing a num­ber of big banks – JP Mor­gan, Wells Far­go, Cit­i­group, and US Ban­corp – request­ing finan­cial data includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances. Face­book is joined byIn this by Google and Ama­zon who are also try­ing to get this kind of data.

Face­book assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which will be opt-in, is to be sole­ly for offer­ing new ser­vices on Face­book mes­sen­ger. Face­book also assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which would obvi­ous­ly be invalu­able for deliv­er­ing ads, won’t be used for ads at all. It will ONLY be used for Facebook’s Mes­sen­ger ser­vice.  This is a dubi­ous assur­ance, in light of Face­book’s past behav­ior.

” . . . . Face­book increas­ing­ly wants to be a plat­form where peo­ple buy and sell goods and ser­vices, besides con­nect­ing with friends. The com­pa­ny over the past year asked JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Wells Far­go & Co., Cit­i­group Inc. and U.S. Ban­corp to dis­cuss poten­tial offer­ings it could host for bank cus­tomers on Face­book Mes­sen­ger, said peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter. Face­book has talked about a fea­ture that would show its users their check­ing-account bal­ances, the peo­ple said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the peo­ple said. . . .”

Peter Thiel’s sur­veil­lance firm Palan­tir was appar­ent­ly deeply involved with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s gam­ing of per­son­al data har­vest­ed from Face­book in order to engi­neer an elec­toral vic­to­ry for Trump. Thiel was an ear­ly investor in Face­book, at one point was its largest share­hold­er and is still one of its largest share­hold­ers. ” . . . . It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times. The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book. ‘There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,’ said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . . The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .”

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  1. Face­book’s project to incor­po­rate brain-to-com­put­er inter­face into its oper­at­ing sys­tem: ” . . . Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er. ‘What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?’ Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute. ‘That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,’ she said. ‘Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.’ . . .”
  2. ” . . . . Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”
  3. ” . . . . Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. . . .”
  4. ” . . . . But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”
  5. ” . . . . Face­book hopes to use opti­cal neur­al imag­ing tech­nol­o­gy to scan the brain 100 times per sec­ond to detect thoughts and turn them into text. Mean­while, it’s work­ing on ‘skin-hear­ing’ that could trans­late sounds into hap­tic feed­back that peo­ple can learn to under­stand like braille. . . .”
  6. ” . . . . Wor­ry­ing­ly, Dugan even­tu­al­ly appeared frus­trat­ed in response to my inquiries about how her team thinks about safe­ty pre­cau­tions for brain inter­faces, say­ing, ‘The flip side of the ques­tion that you’re ask­ing is ‘why invent it at all?’ and I just believe that the opti­mistic per­spec­tive is that on bal­ance, tech­no­log­i­cal advances have real­ly meant good things for the world if they’re han­dled respon­si­bly.’ . . . .”
  7. Some telling obser­va­tions by Nigel Oakes, the founder of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca par­ent firm SCL: ” . . . . . . . . The pan­el has pub­lished audio records in which an exec­u­tive tied to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca dis­cuss­es how the Trump cam­paign used tech­niques used by the Nazis to tar­get vot­ers. . . .”
  8. Fur­ther expo­si­tion of Oakes’ state­ment: ” . . . . Adolf Hitler ‘didn’t have a prob­lem with the Jews at all, but peo­ple didn’t like the Jews,’ he told the aca­d­e­m­ic, Emma L. Bri­ant, a senior lec­tur­er in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex. He went on to say that Don­ald J. Trump had done the same thing by tap­ping into griev­ances toward immi­grants and Mus­lims. . . . ‘What hap­pened with Trump, you can for­get all the micro­tar­get­ing and micro­da­ta and what­ev­er, and come back to some very, very sim­ple things,’ he told Dr. Bri­ant. ‘Trump had the balls, and I mean, real­ly the balls, to say what peo­ple want­ed to hear.’ . . .”
  9. Obser­va­tions about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of Face­book’s goal of hav­ing AI gov­ern­ing the edi­to­r­i­al func­tions of its con­tent: As not­ed in a Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics arti­cle: ” . . . When the next pow­er­ful AI comes along, it will see its first look at the world by look­ing at our faces. And if we stare it in the eyes and shout ‘we’re AWFUL lol,’ the lol might be the one part it doesn’t under­stand. . . .”
  10. Microsoft­’s Tay Chat­bot offers a glimpse into this future: As one Twit­ter user not­ed, employ­ing sar­casm: “Tay went from ‘humans are super cool’ to full nazi in <24 hrs and I’m not at all con­cerned about the future of AI.”

1. The UK’s Chan­nel 4 sent an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist under­cov­er to work for one of the third-par­ty com­pa­nies Face­book pays to mod­er­ate con­tent. This inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist was trained to take a hands-off approach to far right vio­lent con­tent and fake news because that kind of con­tent engages users for longer and increas­es ad rev­enues. ” . . . . An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who went under­cov­er as a Face­book mod­er­a­tor in Ire­land says the com­pa­ny lets pages from far-right fringe groups ‘exceed dele­tion thresh­old,’ and that those pages are ‘sub­ject to dif­fer­ent treat­ment in the same cat­e­go­ry as pages belong­ing to gov­ern­ments and news orga­ni­za­tions.’ The accu­sa­tion is a damn­ing one, under­min­ing Facebook’s claims that it is active­ly try­ing to cut down on fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, hate speech, and oth­er harm­ful con­tent that may have sig­nif­i­cant real-world impact.The under­cov­er jour­nal­ist detailed his find­ings in a new doc­u­men­tary titled Inside Face­book: Secrets of the Social Net­work, that just aired on the UK’s Chan­nel 4. . . . .”

“Under­cov­er Face­book mod­er­a­tor Was Instruct­ed Not to Remove Fringe Groups or Hate Speech” by Nick Statt; The Verge; 07/17/2018

An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who went under­cov­er as a Face­book mod­er­a­tor in Ire­land says the com­pa­ny lets pages from far-right fringe groups “exceed dele­tion thresh­old,” and that those pages are “sub­ject to dif­fer­ent treat­ment in the same cat­e­go­ry as pages belong­ing to gov­ern­ments and news orga­ni­za­tions.” The accu­sa­tion is a damn­ing one, under­min­ing Facebook’s claims that it is active­ly try­ing to cut down on fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, hate speech, and oth­er harm­ful con­tent that may have sig­nif­i­cant real-world impact.The under­cov­er jour­nal­ist detailed his find­ings in a new doc­u­men­tary titled Inside Face­book: Secrets of the Social Net­work, that just aired on the UK’s Chan­nel 4. The inves­ti­ga­tion out­lines ques­tion­able prac­tices on behalf of CPL Resources, a third-par­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tor firm based in Dublin that Face­book has worked with since 2010.

Those ques­tion­able prac­tices pri­mar­i­ly involve a hands-off approach to flagged and report­ed con­tent like graph­ic vio­lence, hate speech, and racist and oth­er big­ot­ed rhetoric from far-right groups. The under­cov­er reporter says he was also instruct­ed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, which is the min­i­mum age require­ment to sign up for Face­book in accor­dance with the Child Online Pro­tec­tion Act, a 1998 pri­va­cy law passed in the US designed to pro­tect young chil­dren from exploita­tion and harm­ful and vio­lent con­tent on the inter­net. The doc­u­men­tary insin­u­ates that Face­book takes a hands-off approach to such con­tent, includ­ing bla­tant­ly false sto­ries parad­ing as truth, because it engages users for longer and dri­ves up adver­tis­ing rev­enue. . . . 

. . . . And as the Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary makes clear, that thresh­old appears to be an ever-chang­ing met­ric that has no con­sis­ten­cy across par­ti­san lines and from legit­i­mate media orga­ni­za­tions to ones that ped­dle in fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. It’s also unclear how Face­book is able to enforce its pol­i­cy with third-par­ty mod­er­a­tors all around the world, espe­cial­ly when they may be incen­tivized by any num­ber of per­for­mance met­rics and per­son­al bias­es. .  . . .

Mean­while, Face­book is ramp­ing up efforts in its arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence divi­sion, with the hope that one day algo­rithms can solve these press­ing mod­er­a­tion prob­lems with­out any human input. Ear­li­er today, the com­pa­ny said it would be accel­er­at­ing its AI research efforts to include more researchers and engi­neers, as well as new acad­e­mia part­ner­ships and expan­sions of its AI research labs in eight loca­tions around the world. . . . .The long-term goal of the company’s AI divi­sion is to cre­ate “machines that have some lev­el of com­mon sense” and that learn “how the world works by obser­va­tion, like young chil­dren do in the first few months of life.” . . . .

2. Next, we present a fright­en­ing sto­ry about Aggre­gateIQ (AIQ), the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off­shoot to which Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca out­sourced the devel­op­ment of its “Ripon” psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file soft­ware devel­op­ment, and which lat­er played a key role in the pro-Brex­it cam­paign. The arti­cle also notes that, despite Facebook’s pledge to kick Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off of its plat­form, secu­ri­ty researchers just found 13 apps avail­able for Face­book that appear to be devel­oped by AIQ. If Face­book real­ly was try­ing to kick Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca off of its plat­form, it’s not try­ing very hard. One app is even named “AIQ John­ny Scraper” and it’s reg­is­tered to AIQ.

The fol­low­ing arti­cle is also a reminder that you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need to down­load a Cam­bridge Analytica/AIQ app for them to be track­ing your infor­ma­tion and reselling it to clients. Secu­ri­ty researcher stum­bled upon a new repos­i­to­ry of curat­ed Face­book data AIQ was cre­at­ing for a client and it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble a lot of the data was scraped from pub­lic Face­book posts.

” . . . . Aggre­gateIQ, a Cana­di­an con­sul­tan­cy alleged to have links to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, col­lect­ed and stored the data of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Face­book users, accord­ing to redact­ed com­put­er files seen by the Finan­cial Times.The social net­work banned Aggre­gateIQ, a data com­pa­ny, from its plat­form as part of a clean-up oper­a­tion fol­low­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, on sus­pi­cion that the com­pa­ny could have been improp­er­ly access­ing user infor­ma­tion. How­ev­er, Chris Vick­ery, a secu­ri­ty researcher, this week found an app on the plat­form called ‘AIQ John­ny Scraper’ reg­is­tered to the com­pa­ny, rais­ing fresh ques­tions about the effec­tive­ness of Facebook’s polic­ing efforts. . . .”

Addi­tion­al­ly, the sto­ry high­lights a forms of micro-tar­get­ing com­pa­nies like AIQ make avail­able that’s fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from the algo­rith­mic micro-tar­get­ing we typ­i­cal­ly asso­ciate with social media abus­es: micro-tar­get­ing by a human who wants to specif­i­cal­ly look and see what you per­son­al­ly have said about var­i­ous top­ics on social media. A ser­vice where some­one can type you into a search engine and AIQ’s prod­uct will serve up a list of all the var­i­ous polit­i­cal posts you’ve made or the polit­i­cal­ly-rel­e­vant “Likes” you’ve made.

It’s also worth not­ing that this ser­vice would be per­fect for accom­plish­ing the right-wing’s long-stand­ing goal of purg­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment of lib­er­al employ­ees. A goal that ‘Alt-Right’ neo-Nazi troll Charles C. John­son and ‘Alt-Right’ neo-Nazi bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel report­ed­ly was help­ing the Trump team accom­plish dur­ing the tran­si­tion peri­od. An ide­o­log­i­cal purge of the State Depart­ment is report­ed­ly already under­way.  

“Aggre­gateIQ Had Data of Thou­sands of Face­book Users” by Aliya Ram and Han­nah Kuch­ler; Finan­cial Times; 06/01/2018

Aggre­gateIQ, a Cana­di­an con­sul­tan­cy alleged to have links to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, col­lect­ed and stored the data of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Face­book users, accord­ing to redact­ed com­put­er files seen by the Finan­cial Times.The social net­work banned Aggre­gateIQ, a data com­pa­ny, from its plat­form as part of a clean-up oper­a­tion fol­low­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, on sus­pi­cion that the com­pa­ny could have been improp­er­ly access­ing user infor­ma­tion. How­ev­er, Chris Vick­ery, a secu­ri­ty researcher, this week found an app on the plat­form called “AIQ John­ny Scraper” reg­is­tered to the com­pa­ny, rais­ing fresh ques­tions about the effec­tive­ness of Facebook’s polic­ing efforts.

The tech­nol­o­gy group now says it shut down the John­ny Scraper app this week along with 13 oth­ers that could be relat­ed to Aggre­gateIQ, with a total of 1,000 users.

Ime Archi­bong, vice-pres­i­dent of prod­uct part­ner­ships, said the com­pa­ny was inves­ti­gat­ing whether there had been any mis­use of data. “We have sus­pend­ed an addi­tion­al 14 apps this week, which were installed by around 1,000 peo­ple,” he said. “They were all cre­at­ed after 2014 and so did not have access to friends’ data. How­ev­er, these apps appear to be linked to Aggre­gateIQ, which was affil­i­at­ed with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. So we have sus­pend­ed them while we inves­ti­gate fur­ther.”.

Accord­ing to files seen by the Finan­cial Times, Aggre­gateIQ had stored a list of 759,934 Face­book users in a table that record­ed home address­es, phone num­bers and email address­es for some pro­files.

Jeff Sil­vester, Aggre­gateIQ chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, said the file came from soft­ware designed for a par­tic­u­lar client, which tracked which users had liked a par­tic­u­lar page or were post­ing pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive com­ments.

“I believe as part of that the client did attempt to match peo­ple who had liked their Face­book page with sup­port­ers in their vot­er file [online elec­toral records],” he said. “I believe the result of this match­ing is what you are look­ing at. This is a fair­ly com­mon task that vot­er file tools do all of the time.”

He added that the pur­pose of the John­ny Scraper app was to repli­cate Face­book posts made by one of AggregateIQ’s clients into smart­phone apps that also belonged to the client.

Aggre­gateIQ has sought to dis­tance itself from an inter­na­tion­al pri­va­cy scan­dal engulf­ing Face­book and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, despite alle­ga­tions from Christo­pher Wylie, a whistle­blow­er at the now-defunct UK firm, that it had act­ed as the Cana­di­an branch of the organ­i­sa­tion.

The files do not indi­cate whether users had giv­en per­mis­sion for their Face­book “Likes” to be tracked through third-par­ty apps, or whether they were scraped from pub­licly vis­i­ble pages. Mr Vick­ery, who analysed AggregateIQ’s files after uncov­er­ing a trove of infor­ma­tion online, said that the com­pa­ny appeared to have gath­ered data from Face­book users despite telling Cana­di­an MPs “we don’t real­ly process data on folks”.

The files also include posts that focus on polit­i­cal issues with state­ments such as: “Like if you agree with Rea­gan that ‘gov­ern­ment is the prob­lem’,” but it is not clear if this infor­ma­tion orig­i­nat­ed on Face­book. Mr Sil­vester said the soft­ware Aggre­gateIQ had designed allowed its client to browse pub­lic com­ments. “It is pos­si­ble that some of those pub­lic com­ments or posts are in the file,” he said. . . .

. . . . “The over­all theme of these com­pa­nies and the way their tools work is that every­thing is reliant on every­thing else, but has enough inde­pen­dent oper­abil­i­ty to pre­serve deni­a­bil­i­ty,” said Mr Vick­ery. “But when you com­bine all these dif­fer­ent data sources togeth­er it becomes some­thing else.” . . . .

3. Face­book is get­ting sued by an app devel­op­er for act­ing like the mafia and turn­ing access to all that user data as the key enforce­ment tool:

“Mark Zucker­berg faces alle­ga­tions that he devel­oped a ‘mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme’ to exploit vast amounts of pri­vate data to earn Face­book bil­lions and force rivals out of busi­ness. A com­pa­ny suing Face­book in a Cal­i­for­nia court claims the social network’s chief exec­u­tive ‘weaponised’ the abil­i­ty to access data from any user’s net­work of friends – the fea­ture at the heart of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal.  . . . . ‘The evi­dence uncov­ered by plain­tiff demon­strates that the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal was not the result of mere neg­li­gence on Facebook’s part but was rather the direct con­se­quence of the mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme Zucker­berg designed in 2012 to cov­er up his fail­ure to antic­i­pate the world’s tran­si­tion to smart­phones,’ legal doc­u­ments said. . . . . Six4Three alleges up to 40,000 com­pa­nies were effec­tive­ly defraud­ed in this way by Face­book. It also alleges that senior exec­u­tives includ­ing Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly devised and man­aged the scheme, indi­vid­u­al­ly decid­ing which com­pa­nies would be cut off from data or allowed pref­er­en­tial access. . . . ‘They felt that it was bet­ter not to know. I found that utter­ly hor­ri­fy­ing,’ he [for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive Sandy Parak­i­las] said. ‘If true, these alle­ga­tions show a huge betray­al of users, part­ners and reg­u­la­tors. They would also show Face­book using its monop­oly pow­er to kill com­pe­ti­tion and putting prof­its over pro­tect­ing its users.’ . . . .”

“Zucker­berg Set Up Fraud­u­lent Scheme to ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges” by Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr and Emma Gra­ham-Har­ri­son; The Guardian; 05/24/2018

Mark Zucker­berg faces alle­ga­tions that he devel­oped a “mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of pri­vate data to earn Face­book bil­lions and force rivals out of busi­ness. A com­pa­ny suing Face­book in a Cal­i­for­nia court claims the social network’s chief exec­u­tive “weaponised” the abil­i­ty to access data from any user’s net­work of friends – the fea­ture at the heart of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal.

A legal motion filed last week in the supe­ri­or court of San Mateo draws upon exten­sive con­fi­den­tial emails and mes­sages between Face­book senior exec­u­tives includ­ing Mark Zucker­berg. He is named indi­vid­u­al­ly in the case and, it is claimed, had per­son­al over­sight of the scheme.

Face­book rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dis­missed using a free speech defence.

It claims the first amend­ment pro­tects its right to make “edi­to­r­i­al deci­sions” as it sees fit. Zucker­berg and oth­er senior exec­u­tives have assert­ed that Face­book is a plat­form not a pub­lish­er, most recent­ly in tes­ti­mo­ny to Con­gress.

Heather Whit­ney, a legal schol­ar who has writ­ten about social media com­pa­nies for the Knight First Amend­ment Insti­tute at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, said, in her opin­ion, this exposed a poten­tial ten­sion for Face­book.

“Facebook’s claims in court that it is an edi­tor for first amend­ment pur­pos­es and thus free to cen­sor and alter the con­tent avail­able on its site is in ten­sion with their, espe­cial­ly recent, claims before the pub­lic and US Con­gress to be neu­tral plat­forms.”

The com­pa­ny that has filed the case, a for­mer start­up called Six4Three, is now try­ing to stop Face­book from hav­ing the case thrown out and has sub­mit­ted legal argu­ments that draw on thou­sands of emails, the details of which are cur­rent­ly redact­ed. Face­book has until next Tues­day to file a motion request­ing that the evi­dence remains sealed, oth­er­wise the doc­u­ments will be made pub­lic.

The devel­op­er alleges the cor­re­spon­dence shows Face­book paid lip ser­vice to pri­va­cy con­cerns in pub­lic but behind the scenes exploit­ed its users’ pri­vate infor­ma­tion.

It claims inter­nal emails and mes­sages reveal a cyn­i­cal and abu­sive sys­tem set up to exploit access to users’ pri­vate infor­ma­tion, along­side a raft of anti-com­pet­i­tive behav­iours. . . .

. . . . The papers sub­mit­ted to the court last week allege Face­book was not only aware of the impli­ca­tions of its pri­va­cy pol­i­cy, but active­ly exploit­ed them, inten­tion­al­ly cre­at­ing and effec­tive­ly flag­ging up the loop­hole that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca used to col­lect data on up to 87 mil­lion Amer­i­can users.

The law­suit also claims Zucker­berg mis­led the pub­lic and Con­gress about Facebook’s role in the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal by por­tray­ing it as a vic­tim of a third par­ty that had abused its rules for col­lect­ing and shar­ing data.

“The evi­dence uncov­ered by plain­tiff demon­strates that the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal was not the result of mere neg­li­gence on Facebook’s part but was rather the direct con­se­quence of the mali­cious and fraud­u­lent scheme Zucker­berg designed in 2012 to cov­er up his fail­ure to antic­i­pate the world’s tran­si­tion to smart­phones,” legal doc­u­ments said.

The law­suit claims to have uncov­ered fresh evi­dence con­cern­ing how Face­book made deci­sions about users’ pri­va­cy. It sets out alle­ga­tions that, in 2012, Facebook’s adver­tis­ing busi­ness, which focused on desk­top ads, was dev­as­tat­ed by a rapid and unex­pect­ed shift to smart­phones.

Zucker­berg respond­ed by forc­ing devel­op­ers to buy expen­sive ads on the new, under­used mobile ser­vice or risk hav­ing their access to data at the core of their busi­ness cut off, the court case alleges.

“Zucker­berg weaponised the data of one-third of the planet’s pop­u­la­tion in order to cov­er up his fail­ure to tran­si­tion Facebook’s busi­ness from desk­top com­put­ers to mobile ads before the mar­ket became aware that Facebook’s finan­cial pro­jec­tions in its 2012 IPO fil­ings were false,” one court fil­ing said.

In its lat­est fil­ing, Six4Three alleges Face­book delib­er­ate­ly used its huge amounts of valu­able and high­ly per­son­al user data to tempt devel­op­ers to cre­ate plat­forms with­in its sys­tem, imply­ing that they would have long-term access to per­son­al infor­ma­tion, includ­ing data from sub­scribers’ Face­book friends. 

Once their busi­ness­es were run­ning, and reliant on data relat­ing to “likes”, birth­days, friend lists and oth­er Face­book minu­ti­ae, the social media com­pa­ny could and did tar­get any that became too suc­cess­ful, look­ing to extract mon­ey from them, co-opt them or destroy them, the doc­u­ments claim.

Six4Three alleges up to 40,000 com­pa­nies were effec­tive­ly defraud­ed in this way by Face­book. It also alleges that senior exec­u­tives includ­ing Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly devised and man­aged the scheme, indi­vid­u­al­ly decid­ing which com­pa­nies would be cut off from data or allowed pref­er­en­tial access.

The law­suit alleges that Face­book ini­tial­ly focused on kick­start­ing its mobile adver­tis­ing plat­form, as the rapid adop­tion of smart­phones dec­i­mat­ed the desk­top adver­tis­ing busi­ness in 2012.

It lat­er used its abil­i­ty to cut off data to force rivals out of busi­ness, or coerce own­ers of apps Face­book cov­et­ed into sell­ing at below the mar­ket price, even though they were not break­ing any terms of their con­tracts, accord­ing to the doc­u­ments. . . .

. . . . David God­kin, Six4Three’s lead coun­sel said: “We believe the pub­lic has a right to see the evi­dence and are con­fi­dent the evi­dence clear­ly demon­strates the truth of our alle­ga­tions, and much more.”

Sandy Parak­i­las, a for­mer Face­book employ­ee turned whistle­blow­er who has tes­ti­fied to the UK par­lia­ment about its busi­ness prac­tices, said the alle­ga­tions were a “bomb­shell”. He claimed to MPs Facebook’s senior exec­u­tives were aware of abus­es of friends’ data back in 2011-12 and he was warned not to look into the issue.

“They felt that it was bet­ter not to know. I found that utter­ly hor­ri­fy­ing,” he said. “If true, these alle­ga­tions show a huge betray­al of users, part­ners and reg­u­la­tors. They would also show Face­book using its monop­oly pow­er to kill com­pe­ti­tion and putting prof­its over pro­tect­ing its users.” . . .

4. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is offi­cial­ly going bank­rupt, along with the elec­tions divi­sion of its par­ent com­pa­ny, SCL Group. Appar­ent­ly their bad press has dri­ven away clients.

Is this tru­ly the end of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca?

No.

They’re rebrand­ing under a new com­pa­ny, Emer­da­ta. Intrigu­ing­ly, Cam­bridge Analytica’s trans­for­ma­tion into Emer­da­ta is note­wor­thy because  the fir­m’s direc­tors include John­son Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and busi­ness part­ner of Erik Prince: ” . . . . But the company’s announce­ment left sev­er­al ques­tions unan­swered, includ­ing who would retain the company’s intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty — the so-called psy­cho­graph­ic vot­er pro­files built in part with data from Face­book — and whether Cam­bridge Analytica’s data-min­ing busi­ness would return under new aus­pices. . . . In recent months, exec­u­tives at Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and SCL Group, along with the Mer­cer fam­i­ly, have moved to cre­at­ed a new firm, Emer­da­ta, based in Britain, accord­ing to British records. The new company’s direc­tors include John­son Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and busi­ness part­ner of Erik Prince. . . . An exec­u­tive and a part own­er of SCL Group, Nigel Oakes, has pub­licly described Emer­da­ta as a way of rolling up the two com­pa­nies under one new ban­ner. . . . 

“Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to File for Bank­rupt­cy After Mis­use of Face­book Data” by Nicholas Con­fes­sore and Matthew Rosen­berg; The New York Times; 5/02/2018.

. . . . In a state­ment post­ed to its web­site, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca said the con­tro­ver­sy had dri­ven away vir­tu­al­ly all of the company’s cus­tomers, forc­ing it to file for bank­rupt­cy in both the Unit­ed States and Britain. The elec­tions divi­sion of Cambridge’s British affil­i­ate, SCL Group, will also shut down, the com­pa­ny said.

But the company’s announce­ment left sev­er­al ques­tions unan­swered, includ­ing who would retain the company’s intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty — the so-called psy­cho­graph­ic vot­er pro­files built in part with data from Face­book — and whether Cam­bridge Analytica’s data-min­ing busi­ness would return under new aus­pices. . . . 

. . . . In recent months, exec­u­tives at Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and SCL Group, along with the Mer­cer fam­i­ly, have moved to cre­at­ed a new firm, Emer­da­ta, based in Britain, accord­ing to British records. The new company’s direc­tors include John­son Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and busi­ness part­ner of Erik Prince. Mr. Prince found­ed the pri­vate secu­ri­ty firm Black­wa­ter, which was renamed Xe Ser­vices after Black­wa­ter con­trac­tors were con­vict­ed of killing Iraqi civil­ians.

Cam­bridge and SCL offi­cials pri­vate­ly raised the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Emer­da­ta could be used for a Black­wa­ter-style rebrand­ing of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and the SCL Group, accord­ing two peo­ple with knowl­edge of the com­pa­nies, who asked for anonymi­ty to describe con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions. One plan under con­sid­er­a­tion was to sell off the com­bined company’s data and intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty.

An exec­u­tive and a part own­er of SCL Group, Nigel Oakes, has pub­licly described Emer­da­ta as a way of rolling up the two com­pa­nies under one new ban­ner. . . . 

5. In the Big Data inter­net age, there’s one area of per­son­al infor­ma­tion that has yet to be incor­po­rat­ed into the pro­files on everyone–personal bank­ing infor­ma­tion.  ” . . . . If tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” Kapi­to said. It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el from tra­di­tion­al bank­ing: Data is more valu­able for tech firms that sell a range of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts than it is for banks that only sell finan­cial ser­vices, he said. . . .”

“Black­Rock Is Wor­ried Tech­nol­o­gy Firms Are About to Know ‘Every Sin­gle Thing You Do’” by John Detrix­he; Quartz; 11/02/2017

The pres­i­dent of Black­Rock, the world’s biggest asset man­ag­er, is among those who think big tech­nol­o­gy firms could invade the finan­cial industry’s turf. Google and Face­book have thrived by col­lect­ing and stor­ing data about con­sumer habits—our emails, search queries, and the videos we watch. Under­stand­ing of our finan­cial lives could be an even rich­er source of data for them to sell to adver­tis­ers.

“I wor­ry about the data,” said Black­Rock pres­i­dent Robert Kapi­to at a con­fer­ence in Lon­don today (Nov. 2). “We’re going to have some seri­ous com­peti­tors.”

If tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” Kapi­to said. It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el from tra­di­tion­al bank­ing: Data is more valu­able for tech firms that sell a range of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts than it is for banks that only sell finan­cial ser­vices, he said.

Kapi­to is wor­ried because the effort to win con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems is already underway—Apple will allow iMes­sage users to send cash to each oth­er, and Face­book is inte­grat­ing per­son-to-per­son Pay­Pal pay­ments into its Mes­sen­ger app.

As more pay­ments flow through mobile phones, banks are wor­ried they could get left behind, rel­e­gat­ed to serv­ing as low-mar­gin util­i­ties. To fight back, they’ve start­ed ini­tia­tives such as Zelle to com­pete with pay­ment ser­vices like Pay­Pal.

Bar­clays CEO Jes Sta­ley point­ed out at the con­fer­ence that banks prob­a­bly have the “rich­est data pool” of any sec­tor, and he said some 25% of the UK’s econ­o­my flows through Barl­cays’ pay­ment sys­tems. The indus­try could use that infor­ma­tion to offer bet­ter ser­vices. Com­pa­nies could alert peo­ple that they’re not sav­ing enough for retire­ment, or sug­gest ways to save mon­ey on their expens­es. The trick is access­ing that data and ana­lyz­ing it like a big tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny would.

And banks still have one thing going for them: There’s a mas­sive fortress of rules and reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing the indus­try. “No one wants to be reg­u­lat­ed like we are,” Sta­ley said.

6. Face­book is approach­ing a num­ber of big banks – JP Mor­gan, Wells Far­go, Cit­i­group, and US Ban­corp – request­ing finan­cial data includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances. Face­book is joined byIn this by Google and Ama­zon who are also try­ing to get this kind of data.

Face­book assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which will be opt-in, is to be sole­ly for offer­ing new ser­vices on Face­book mes­sen­ger. Face­book also assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which would obvi­ous­ly be invalu­able for deliv­er­ing ads, won’t be used for ads at all. It will ONLY be used for Facebook’s Mes­sen­ger ser­vice.  This is a dubi­ous assur­ance, in light of Face­book’s past behav­ior.

” . . . . Face­book increas­ing­ly wants to be a plat­form where peo­ple buy and sell goods and ser­vices, besides con­nect­ing with friends. The com­pa­ny over the past year asked JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Wells Far­go & Co., Cit­i­group Inc. and U.S. Ban­corp to dis­cuss poten­tial offer­ings it could host for bank cus­tomers on Face­book Mes­sen­ger, said peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter. Face­book has talked about a fea­ture that would show its users their check­ing-account bal­ances, the peo­ple said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the peo­ple said. . . .”

“Face­book to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users” by Emi­ly Glaz­er, Deepa Seethara­man and Anna­Maria Andri­o­tis; The Wall Street Jour­nal; 08/06/2018

Face­book Inc. wants your finan­cial data.

The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed finan­cial infor­ma­tion about their cus­tomers, includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances, as part of an effort to offer new ser­vices to users.

Face­book increas­ing­ly wants to be a plat­form where peo­ple buy and sell goods and ser­vices, besides con­nect­ing with friends. The com­pa­ny over the past year asked JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Wells Far­go & Co., Cit­i­group Inc. and U.S. Ban­corp to dis­cuss poten­tial offer­ings it could host for bank cus­tomers on Face­book Mes­sen­ger, said peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

Face­book has talked about a fea­ture that would show its users their check­ing-account bal­ances, the peo­ple said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the peo­ple said.

Data pri­va­cy is a stick­ing point in the banks’ con­ver­sa­tions with Face­book, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter. The talks are tak­ing place as Face­book faces sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions over its ties to polit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which accessed data on as many as 87 mil­lion Face­book users with­out their con­sent.

One large U.S. bank pulled away from talks due to pri­va­cy con­cerns, some of the peo­ple said.

Face­book has told banks that the addi­tion­al cus­tomer infor­ma­tion could be used to offer ser­vices that might entice users to spend more time on Mes­sen­ger, a per­son famil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said. The com­pa­ny is try­ing to deep­en user engage­ment: Investors shaved more than $120 bil­lion from its mar­ket val­ue in one day last month after it said its growth is start­ing to slow..

Face­book said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-tar­get­ing pur­pos­es or share it with third par­ties. . . .

. . . . Alpha­bet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. also have asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to pro­vide basic bank­ing ser­vices on appli­ca­tions such as Google Assis­tant and Alexa, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions. . . . 

7. In FTR #946, we exam­ined Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, its Trump and Steve Ban­non-linked tech firm that har­vest­ed Face­book data on behalf of the Trump cam­paign.

Peter Thiel’s sur­veil­lance firm Palan­tir was appar­ent­ly deeply involved with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s gam­ing of per­son­al data har­vest­ed from Face­book in order to engi­neer an elec­toral vic­to­ry for Trump. Thiel was an ear­ly investor in Face­book, at one point was its largest share­hold­er and is still one of its largest share­hold­ers. ” . . . . It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times. The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book. ‘There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,’ said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . . The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .”

“Spy Contractor’s Idea Helped Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca Har­vest Face­book Data” by NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and MATTHEW ROSENBERG; The New York Times; 03/27/2018

As a start-up called Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca sought to har­vest the Face­book data of tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans in sum­mer 2014, the com­pa­ny received help from at least one employ­ee at Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, a top Sil­i­con Val­ley con­trac­tor to Amer­i­can spy agen­cies and the Pen­ta­gon. It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times.

Cam­bridge ulti­mate­ly took a sim­i­lar approach. By ear­ly sum­mer, the com­pa­ny found a uni­ver­si­ty researcher to har­vest data using a per­son­al­i­ty ques­tion­naire and Face­book app. The researcher scraped pri­vate data from over 50 mil­lion Face­book users — and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca went into busi­ness sell­ing so-called psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­files of Amer­i­can vot­ers, set­ting itself on a col­li­sion course with reg­u­la­tors and law­mak­ers in the Unit­ed States and Britain.

The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book.

“There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,” said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . .

. . . .The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .

. . . . Doc­u­ments and inter­views indi­cate that start­ing in 2013, Mr. Chmieli­auskas began cor­re­spond­ing with Mr. Wylie and a col­league from his Gmail account. At the time, Mr. Wylie and the col­league worked for the British defense and intel­li­gence con­trac­tor SCL Group, which formed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca with Mr. Mer­cer the next year. The three shared Google doc­u­ments to brain­storm ideas about using big data to cre­ate sophis­ti­cat­ed behav­ioral pro­files, a prod­uct code-named “Big Dad­dy.”

A for­mer intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daugh­ter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s exec­u­tive chair­man — urged the com­pa­ny to link up with Palan­tir, accord­ing to Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palan­tir. Amus­ing­ly Eric Schmidt’s daugh­ter was an intern with us and is try­ing to push us towards them?” one SCL employ­ee wrote to a col­league in the email.

. . . . But he [Wylie] said some Palan­tir employ­ees helped engi­neer Cambridge’s psy­cho­graph­ic mod­els.

“There were Palan­tir staff who would come into the office and work on the data,” Mr. Wylie told law­mak­ers. “And we would go and meet with Palan­tir staff at Palan­tir.” He did not pro­vide an exact num­ber for the employ­ees or iden­ti­fy them.

Palan­tir employ­ees were impressed with Cambridge’s back­ing from Mr. Mer­cer, one of the world’s rich­est men, accord­ing to mes­sages viewed by The Times. And Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca viewed Palantir’s Sil­i­con Val­ley ties as a valu­able resource for launch­ing and expand­ing its own busi­ness.

In an inter­view this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palan­tir employ­ees were eager to learn more about using Face­book data and psy­cho­graph­ics. Those dis­cus­sions con­tin­ued through spring 2014, accord­ing to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix vis­it­ed Palantir’s Lon­don office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-secu­ri­ty office, Mr. Wylie said, with sep­a­rate rooms that could be entered only with par­tic­u­lar codes. The oth­er side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspi­ra­tional quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieli­auskas con­tin­ued to com­mu­ni­cate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cam­bridge employ­ees were locked in pro­tract­ed nego­ti­a­tions with a researcher at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty, Michal Kosin­s­ki, to obtain Face­book data through an app Mr. Kosin­s­ki had built. The data was cru­cial to effi­cient­ly scale up Cambridge’s psy­cho­met­rics prod­ucts so they could be used in elec­tions and for cor­po­rate clients. . . .

8a. Some ter­ri­fy­ing and con­sum­mate­ly impor­tant devel­op­ments tak­ing shape in the con­text of what Mr. Emory has called “tech­no­crat­ic fas­cism:”

Face­book wants to read your thoughts.

  1. ” . . . Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er. ‘What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?’ Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute. ‘That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,’ she said. ‘Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.’ . . .”
  2. ” . . . . Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”
  3. ” . . . . Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. . . .”
  4. ” . . . . But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”

Face­book Lit­er­al­ly Wants to Read Your Thoughts” by Kris­ten V. Brown; Giz­modo; 4/19/2017.

At Facebook’s annu­al devel­op­er con­fer­ence, F8, on Wednes­day, the group unveiled what may be Facebook’s most ambitious—and creepiest—proposal yet. Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er.

What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?” Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute.

“That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.”

Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone.

“Our world is both dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal,” she said. “Our goal is to cre­ate and ship new, cat­e­go­ry-defin­ing con­sumer prod­ucts that are social first, at scale.”

She also showed a video that demon­strat­ed a sec­ond tech­nol­o­gy that showed the abil­i­ty to “lis­ten” to human speech through vibra­tions on the skin. This tech has been in devel­op­ment to aid peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, work­ing a lit­tle like a Braille that you feel with your body rather than your fin­gers. Using actu­a­tors and sen­sors, a con­nect­ed arm­band was able to con­vey to a woman in the video a tac­tile vocab­u­lary of nine dif­fer­ent words.

Dugan adds that it’s also pos­si­ble to “lis­ten” to human speech by using your skin. It’s like using braille but through a sys­tem of actu­a­tors and sen­sors. Dugan showed a video exam­ple of how a woman could fig­ure out exact­ly what objects were select­ed on a touch­screen based on inputs deliv­ered through a con­nect­ed arm­band.

Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. Brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nol­o­gy is still in its infan­cy. So far, researchers have been suc­cess­ful in using it to allow peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to con­trol par­a­lyzed or pros­thet­ic limbs. But stim­u­lat­ing the brain’s motor cor­tex is a lot sim­pler than read­ing a person’s thoughts and then trans­lat­ing those thoughts into some­thing that might actu­al­ly be read by a com­put­er.

The end goal is to build an online world that feels more immer­sive and real—no doubt so that you spend more time on Face­book.

“Our brains pro­duce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every sec­ond. The prob­lem is that the best way we have to get infor­ma­tion out into the world — speech — can only trans­mit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem,” CEO Mark Zucker­berg said in a Face­book post. “We’re work­ing on a sys­tem that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Even­tu­al­ly, we want to turn it into a wear­able tech­nol­o­gy that can be man­u­fac­tured at scale. Even a sim­ple yes/no ‘brain click’ would help make things like aug­ment­ed real­i­ty feel much more nat­ur­al.”

“That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.”

Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone.

8b. More about Face­book’s brain-to-com­put­er inter­face:

  1. ” . . . . Face­book hopes to use opti­cal neur­al imag­ing tech­nol­o­gy to scan the brain 100 times per sec­ond to detect thoughts and turn them into text. Mean­while, it’s work­ing on ‘skin-hear­ing’ that could trans­late sounds into hap­tic feed­back that peo­ple can learn to under­stand like braille. . . .”
  2. ” . . . . Wor­ry­ing­ly, Dugan even­tu­al­ly appeared frus­trat­ed in response to my inquiries about how her team thinks about safe­ty pre­cau­tions for brain inter­faces, say­ing, ‘The flip side of the ques­tion that you’re ask­ing is ‘why invent it at all?’ and I just believe that the opti­mistic per­spec­tive is that on bal­ance, tech­no­log­i­cal advances have real­ly meant good things for the world if they’re han­dled respon­si­bly.’ . . . .”

“Face­book Plans Ethics Board to Mon­i­tor Its Brain-Com­put­er Inter­face Work” by Josh Con­stine; Tech Crunch; 4/19/2017.

Face­book will assem­ble an inde­pen­dent Eth­i­cal, Legal and Social Impli­ca­tions (ELSI) pan­el to over­see its devel­op­ment of a direct brain-to-com­put­er typ­ing inter­face it pre­viewed today at its F8 con­fer­ence. Facebook’s R&D depart­ment Build­ing 8’s head Regi­na Dugan tells TechCrunch, “It’s ear­ly days . . . we’re in the process of form­ing it right now.”

Mean­while, much of the work on the brain inter­face is being con­duct­ed by Facebook’s uni­ver­si­ty research part­ners like UC Berke­ley and Johns Hop­kins. Facebook’s tech­ni­cal lead on the project, Mark Chevil­let, says, “They’re all held to the same stan­dards as the NIH or oth­er gov­ern­ment bod­ies fund­ing their work, so they already are work­ing with insti­tu­tion­al review boards at these uni­ver­si­ties that are ensur­ing that those stan­dards are met.” Insti­tu­tion­al review boards ensure test sub­jects aren’t being abused and research is being done as safe­ly as pos­si­ble.

Face­book hopes to use opti­cal neur­al imag­ing tech­nol­o­gy to scan the brain 100 times per sec­ond to detect thoughts and turn them into text. Mean­while, it’s work­ing on “skin-hear­ing” that could trans­late sounds into hap­tic feed­back that peo­ple can learn to under­stand like braille. Dugan insists, “None of the work that we do that is relat­ed to this will be absent of these kinds of insti­tu­tion­al review boards.”

So at least there will be inde­pen­dent ethi­cists work­ing to min­i­mize the poten­tial for mali­cious use of Facebook’s brain-read­ing tech­nol­o­gy to steal or police people’s thoughts.

Dur­ing our inter­view, Dugan showed her cog­nizance of people’s con­cerns, repeat­ing the start of her keynote speech today say­ing, “I’ve nev­er seen a tech­nol­o­gy that you devel­oped with great impact that didn’t have unin­tend­ed con­se­quences that need­ed to be guardrailed or man­aged. In any new tech­nol­o­gy you see a lot of hype talk, some apoc­a­lyp­tic talk and then there’s seri­ous work which is real­ly focused on bring­ing suc­cess­ful out­comes to bear in a respon­si­ble way.”

In the past, she says the safe­guards have been able to keep up with the pace of inven­tion. “In the ear­ly days of the Human Genome Project there was a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about whether we’d build a super race or whether peo­ple would be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against for their genet­ic con­di­tions and so on,” Dugan explains. “Peo­ple took that very seri­ous­ly and were respon­si­ble about it, so they formed what was called a ELSI pan­el . . . By the time that we got the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to us, that frame­work, that con­trac­tu­al, eth­i­cal frame­work had already been built, so that work will be done here too. That work will have to be done.” . . . .

Wor­ry­ing­ly, Dugan even­tu­al­ly appeared frus­trat­ed in response to my inquiries about how her team thinks about safe­ty pre­cau­tions for brain inter­faces, say­ing, “The flip side of the ques­tion that you’re ask­ing is ‘why invent it at all?’ and I just believe that the opti­mistic per­spec­tive is that on bal­ance, tech­no­log­i­cal advances have real­ly meant good things for the world if they’re han­dled respon­si­bly.”

Facebook’s dom­i­na­tion of social net­work­ing and adver­tis­ing give it bil­lions in prof­it per quar­ter to pour into R&D. But its old “Move fast and break things” phi­los­o­phy is a lot more fright­en­ing when it’s build­ing brain scan­ners. Hope­ful­ly Face­book will pri­or­i­tize the assem­bly of the ELSI ethics board Dugan promised and be as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble about the devel­op­ment of this excit­ing-yet-unnerv­ing tech­nol­o­gy.…

  1. In FTR #‘s 718 and 946, we detailed the fright­en­ing, ugly real­i­ty behind Face­book. Face­book is now devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy that will per­mit the tap­ping of users thoughts by mon­i­tor­ing brain-to-com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy. Face­book’s R & D is head­ed by Regi­na Dugan, who used to head the Pen­tagon’s DARPA. Face­book’s Build­ing 8 is pat­terned after DARPA:  ” . . . Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er. ‘What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?’ Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute. ‘That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,’ she said. ‘Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.’ . . .”
  2. ” . . . . Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. . . .”
  3. ” . . . . But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”

9a. Nigel Oakes is the founder of SCL, the par­ent com­pa­ny of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. His com­ments are relat­ed in a New York Times arti­cle. ” . . . . . . . . The pan­el has pub­lished audio records in which an exec­u­tive tied to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca dis­cuss­es how the Trump cam­paign used tech­niques used by the Nazis to tar­get vot­ers. . . .”

“Face­book Gets Grilling in U.K. That It Avoid­ed in U.S.” by Adam Satar­i­ano; The New York Times [West­ern Edi­tion]; 4/27/2018; p. B3.

. . . . The pan­el has pub­lished audio records in which an exec­u­tive tied to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca dis­cuss­es how the Trump cam­paign used tech­niques used by the Nazis to tar­get vot­ers. . . .

9b. Mr. Oakes’ com­ments are relat­ed in detail in anoth­er Times arti­cle. ” . . . . Adolf Hitler ‘didn’t have a prob­lem with the Jews at all, but peo­ple didn’t like the Jews,’ he told the aca­d­e­m­ic, Emma L. Bri­ant, a senior lec­tur­er in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex. He went on to say that Don­ald J. Trump had done the same thing by tap­ping into griev­ances toward immi­grants and Mus­lims. . . . ‘What hap­pened with Trump, you can for­get all the micro­tar­get­ing and micro­da­ta and what­ev­er, and come back to some very, very sim­ple things,’ he told Dr. Bri­ant. ‘Trump had the balls, and I mean, real­ly the balls, to say what peo­ple want­ed to hear.’ . . .”

“The Ori­gins of an Ad Man’s Manip­u­la­tion Empire” by Ellen Bar­ry; The New York Times [West­ern Edi­tion]; 4/21/2018; p. A4.

. . . . Adolf Hitler “didn’t have a prob­lem with the Jews at all, but peo­ple didn’t like the Jews,” he told the aca­d­e­m­ic, Emma L. Bri­ant, a senior lec­tur­er in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex. He went on to say that Don­ald J. Trump had done the same thing by tap­ping into griev­ances toward immi­grants and Mus­lims.

This sort of cam­paign, he con­tin­ued, did not require bells and whis­tles from tech­nol­o­gy or social sci­ence.

“What hap­pened with Trump, you can for­get all the micro­tar­get­ing and micro­da­ta and what­ev­er, and come back to some very, very sim­ple things,” he told Dr. Bri­ant. “Trump had the balls, and I mean, real­ly the balls, to say what peo­ple want­ed to hear.” . . .

9c. Tak­ing a look at the future of fas­cism in the con­text of AI, Tay, a “bot” cre­at­ed by Microsoft to respond to users of Twit­ter was tak­en offline after users taught it to–in effect–become a Nazi bot. It is note­wor­thy that Tay can only respond on the basis of what she is taught. In the future, tech­no­log­i­cal­ly accom­plished and will­ful peo­ple like “weev” may be able to do more. Inevitably, Under­ground Reich ele­ments will craft a Nazi AI that will be able to do MUCH, MUCH more!

Beware! As one Twit­ter user not­ed, employ­ing sar­casm: “Tay went from “humans are super cool” to full nazi in <24 hrs and I’m not at all con­cerned about the future of AI.”

Microsoft has been forced to dunk Tay, its mil­len­ni­al-mim­ic­k­ing chat­bot, into a vat of molten steel. The com­pa­ny has ter­mi­nat­ed her after the bot start­ed tweet­ing abuse at peo­ple and went full neo-Nazi, declar­ing that “Hitler was right I hate the jews.”

@TheBigBrebowski ricky ger­vais learned total­i­tar­i­an­ism from adolf hitler, the inven­tor of athe­ism

— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 23, 2016

 Some of this appears to be “inno­cent” inso­far as Tay is not gen­er­at­ing these respons­es. Rather, if you tell her “repeat after me” she will par­rot back what­ev­er you say, allow­ing you to put words into her mouth. How­ev­er, some of the respons­es wereorgan­ic. The Guardianquotes one where, after being asked “is Ricky Ger­vais an athe­ist?”, Tay respond­ed, “ricky ger­vais learned total­i­tar­i­an­ism from adolf hitler, the inven­tor of athe­ism.” . . .

But like all teenagers, she seems to be angry with her moth­er.

Microsoft has been forced to dunk Tay, its mil­len­ni­al-mim­ic­k­ing chat­bot, into a vat of molten steel. The com­pa­ny has ter­mi­nat­ed her after the bot start­ed tweet­ing abuse at peo­ple and went full neo-Nazi, declar­ing that “Hitler was right I hate the jews.”

@TheBigBrebowski ricky ger­vais learned total­i­tar­i­an­ism from adolf hitler, the inven­tor of athe­ism

— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 23, 2016

Some of this appears to be “inno­cent” inso­far as Tay is not gen­er­at­ing these respons­es. Rather, if you tell her “repeat after me” she will par­rot back what­ev­er you say, allow­ing you to put words into her mouth. How­ev­er, some of the respons­es wereorgan­ic. The Guardian quotes one where, after being asked “is Ricky Ger­vais an athe­ist?”, Tay respond­ed, “Ricky Ger­vais learned total­i­tar­i­an­ism from Adolf Hitler, the inven­tor of athe­ism.”

In addi­tion to turn­ing the bot off, Microsoft has delet­ed many of the offend­ing tweets. But this isn’t an action to be tak­en light­ly; Red­mond would do well to remem­ber that it was humans attempt­ing to pull the plug on Skynet that proved to be the last straw, prompt­ing the sys­tem to attack Rus­sia in order to elim­i­nate its ene­mies. We’d bet­ter hope that Tay does­n’t sim­i­lar­ly retal­i­ate. . . .

9d. As not­ed in a Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics arti­cle: ” . . . When the next pow­er­ful AI comes along, it will see its first look at the world by look­ing at our faces. And if we stare it in the eyes and shout “we’re AWFUL lol,” the lol might be the one part it doesn’t under­stand. . . .”

And we keep show­ing it our very worst selves.

We all know the half-joke about the AI apoc­a­lypse. The robots learn to think, and in their cold ones-and-zeros log­ic, they decide that humans—horrific pests we are—need to be exter­mi­nated. It’s the sub­ject of count­less sci-fi sto­ries and blog posts about robots, but maybe the real dan­ger isn’t that AI comes to such a con­clu­sion on its own, but that it gets that idea from us.

Yes­ter­day Microsoft launched a fun lit­tle AI Twit­ter chat­bot that was admit­tedly sort of gim­micky from the start. “A.I fam from the inter­net that’s got zero chill,” its Twit­ter bio reads. At its start, its knowl­edge was based on pub­lic data. As Microsoft’s page for the prod­uct puts it:

Tay has been built by min­ing rel­e­vant pub­lic data and by using AI and edi­to­r­ial devel­oped by a staff includ­ing impro­vi­sa­tional come­di­ans. Pub­lic data that’s been anonymized is Tay’s pri­mary data source. That data has been mod­eled, cleaned and fil­tered by the team devel­op­ing Tay.

The real point of Tay how­ever, was to learn from humans through direct con­ver­sa­tion, most notably direct con­ver­sa­tion using humanity’s cur­rent lead­ing show­case of deprav­ity: Twit­ter. You might not be sur­prised things went off the rails, but how fast and how far is par­tic­u­larly stag­ger­ing. 

Microsoft has since delet­ed some of Tay’s most offen­sive tweets, but var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions memo­ri­al­ize some of the worst bits where Tay denied the exis­tence of the holo­caust, came out in sup­port of geno­cide, and went all kinds of racist. 

Nat­u­rally it’s hor­ri­fy­ing, and Microsoft has been try­ing to clean up the mess. Though as some on Twit­ter have point­ed out, no mat­ter how lit­tle Microsoft would like to have “Bush did 9/11″ spout­ing from a cor­po­rate spon­sored project, Tay does serve to illus­trate the most dan­ger­ous fun­da­men­tal truth of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence: It is a mir­ror. Arti­fi­cial intelligence—specifically “neur­al net­works” that learn behav­ior by ingest­ing huge amounts of data and try­ing to repli­cate it—need some sort of source mate­r­ial to get start­ed. They can only get that from us. There is no oth­er way. 

But before you give up on human­ity entire­ly, there are a few things worth not­ing. For starters, it’s not like Tay just nec­es­sar­ily picked up vir­u­lent racism by just hang­ing out and pas­sively lis­ten­ing to the buzz of the humans around it. Tay was announced in a very big way—with a press cov­er­age—and pranksters pro-active­ly went to it to see if they could teach it to be racist. 

If you take an AI and then don’t imme­di­ately intro­duce it to a whole bunch of trolls shout­ing racism at it for the cheap thrill of see­ing it learn a dirty trick, you can get some more inter­est­ing results. Endear­ing ones even! Mul­ti­ple neur­al net­works designed to pre­dict text in emails and text mes­sages have an over­whelm­ing pro­cliv­ity for say­ing “I love you” con­stantly, espe­cially when they are oth­er­wise at a loss for words.

So Tay’s racism isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a reflec­tion of actu­al, human racism so much as it is the con­se­quence of unre­strained exper­i­men­ta­tion, push­ing the enve­lope as far as it can go the very first sec­ond we get the chance. The mir­ror isn’t show­ing our real image; it’s reflect­ing the ugly faces we’re mak­ing at it for fun. And maybe that’s actu­ally worse.

Sure, Tay can’t under­stand what racism means and more than Gmail can real­ly love you. And baby’s first words being “geno­cide lol!” is admit­tedly sort of fun­ny when you aren’t talk­ing about lit­eral all-pow­er­ful SkyNet or a real human child. But AI is advanc­ing at a stag­ger­ing rate. . . .

. . . . When the next pow­er­ful AI comes along, it will see its first look at the world by look­ing at our faces. And if we stare it in the eyes and shout “we’re AWFUL lol,” the lol might be the one part it doesn’t under­stand.

 

Discussion

28 comments for “FTR #1021 FascisBook: (In Your Facebook, Part 3–A Virtual Panopticon, Part 3)”

  1. Oh look, Face­book actu­al­ly banned some­one for post­ing neo-Nazi con­tent on their plat­form. But there’s a catch: They banned Ukrain­ian activist Eduard Dolin­sky for 30 days because he was post­ing exam­ples of anti­se­mit­ic graf­fi­ti. Dolin­sky is the direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee. Accord­ing to Dolinksy, his far right oppo­nents have a his­to­ry of report­ing Dolinksy’s posts to Face­book in order to get him sus­pend­ed. And this time it worked. Dolinksy appealed the ban but to no avail.

    So that hap­pened. But first let’s take a quick look at an arti­cle from back in April that high­lights how absurd this action was. The arti­cle is about a Ukrain­ian school teacher in Lviv, Mar­jana Batjuk, who post­ed birth­day greet­ings to Adolf Hitler on her Face­book page on April 20 (Hitler’s birth­day). She also taught her stu­dents the Nazi salute and even took some of her stu­dents to meet far right activists who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in a march wear­ing the uni­form of the the 14th Waf­fen Grenadier Divi­sion of the SS.

    Batjuk, who is a mem­ber of Svo­bo­da, lat­er claimed her Face­book account was hacked, but a news orga­ni­za­tion found that she has a his­to­ry of post­ing Nazi imagery on social media net­works. And there’s no men­tion in this report of Batjuk get­ting banned from Face­book:

    Jew­ish Tele­graph Agency

    Ukrain­ian teacher alleged­ly prais­es Hitler, per­forms Nazi salute with stu­dents

    By Cnaan Liphshiz
    April 23, 2018 4:22pm

    (JTA) — A pub­lic school teacher in Ukraine alleged­ly post­ed birth­day greet­ings to Adolf Hitler on Face­book and taught her stu­dents the Nazi salute.

    Mar­jana Batjuk, who teach­es at a school in Lviv and also is a coun­cil­woman, post­ed her greet­ing on April 20, the Nazi leader’s birth­day, Eduard Dolin­sky, direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, told JTA. He called the inci­dent a “scan­dal.”

    She also took some of her stu­dents to meet far-right activists who over the week­end marched on the city’s streets while wear­ing the uni­form of the 14th Waf­fen Grenadier Divi­sion of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many eth­nic Ukraini­ans also known as the 1st Gali­cian.

    Dis­play­ing Nazi imagery is ille­gal in Ukraine, but Dolin­sky said law enforce­ment author­i­ties allowed the activists to parade on main streets.

    Batjuk had the activists explain about their repli­ca weapons, which they parad­ed ahead of a larg­er event in hon­or of the 1st Gali­cian unit planned for next week in Lviv.

    The events hon­or­ing the 1st Gali­cian SS unit in Lviv are not orga­nized by munic­i­pal author­i­ties.

    Batjuk, 28, a mem­ber of the far-right Svo­bo­da par­ty, called Hitler “a great man” and quot­ed from his book “Mein Kampf” in her Face­book post, Dolin­sky said. She lat­er claimed that her Face­book account was hacked and delet­ed the post, but the Strana news site found that she had a his­to­ry of post­ing Nazi imagery on social net­works.

    She also post­ed pic­tures of chil­dren she said were her stu­dents per­form­ing the Nazi salute with her.

    ...

    Edu­ca­tion Min­istry offi­cials have start­ed a dis­ci­pli­nary review of her con­duct, the KP news site report­ed.

    Sep­a­rate­ly, in the town of Polta­va, in east­ern Ukraine, Dolin­sky said a swasti­ka and the words “heil Hitler” were spray-paint­ed Fri­day on a mon­u­ment for Holo­caust vic­tims of the Holo­caust. The van­dals, who have not been iden­ti­fied, also wrote “Death to the kikes.”

    In Odessa, a large graf­fi­ti read­ing “Jews into the sea” was writ­ten on the beach­front wall of a hotel.

    “The com­mon fac­tor between all of these inci­dents is gov­ern­ment inac­tion, which ensures they will con­tin­ue hap­pen­ing,” Dolin­sky said.
    ———-

    “Ukrain­ian teacher alleged­ly prais­es Hitler, per­forms Nazi salute with stu­dents” by Cnaan Liphshiz; Jew­ish Tele­graph Agency; 04/23/2018

    “Mar­jana Batjuk, who teach­es at a school in Lviv and also is a coun­cil­woman, post­ed her greet­ing on April 20, the Nazi leader’s birth­day, Eduard Dolin­sky, direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, told JTA. He called the inci­dent a “scan­dal.””

    She’s not just a teacher. She’s also a coun­cil­woman. A teacher coun­cil­woman who likes to post about pos­i­tive things about Hitler on her Face­book page. And it was Eduard Dolin­sky who was talk­ing to the inter­na­tion­al media about this.

    But Batjuk does­n’t just post pro-Nazi things on her Face­book page. She also takes her stu­dents to meet the far right activists:

    ...
    She also took some of her stu­dents to meet far-right activists who over the week­end marched on the city’s streets while wear­ing the uni­form of the 14th Waf­fen Grenadier Divi­sion of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many eth­nic Ukraini­ans also known as the 1st Gali­cian.

    Dis­play­ing Nazi imagery is ille­gal in Ukraine, but Dolin­sky said law enforce­ment author­i­ties allowed the activists to parade on main streets.

    Batjuk had the activists explain about their repli­ca weapons, which they parad­ed ahead of a larg­er event in hon­or of the 1st Gali­cian unit planned for next week in Lviv.

    The events hon­or­ing the 1st Gali­cian SS unit in Lviv are not orga­nized by munic­i­pal author­i­ties.
    ...

    Batjuk lat­er claimed that her Face­book page was hacked, and yet a media orga­ni­za­tion was able to find plen­ty of pre­vi­ous exam­ples of sim­i­lar posts on social media:

    ...
    Batjuk, 28, a mem­ber of the far-right Svo­bo­da par­ty, called Hitler “a great man” and quot­ed from his book “Mein Kampf” in her Face­book post, Dolin­sky said. She lat­er claimed that her Face­book account was hacked and delet­ed the post, but the Strana news site found that she had a his­to­ry of post­ing Nazi imagery on social net­works.

    She also post­ed pic­tures of chil­dren she said were her stu­dents per­form­ing the Nazi salute with her.
    ...

    And if you look at that Strana news sum­ma­ry of her social media posts, a num­ber of them are clear­ly Face­book posts. So if Strana news orga­ni­za­tion was able to find these old posts that’s a pret­ty clear indi­ca­tion Face­book was­n’t remov­ing them.

    That was back in April. Flash for­ward to today and we find a sud­den will­ing­ness to ban peo­ple for post Nazi con­tent...except it’s Eduard Dolin­sky get­ting banned for mak­ing peo­ple aware of the pro-Nazi graf­fi­ti that has become ram­pant in Ukraine:

    The Jerusalem Post

    Jew­ish activist: Face­book banned me for post­ing anti­se­mit­ic graf­fi­ti
    “I use my Face­book account for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion about anti­se­mit­ic inci­dents, hate speech and hate crimes in Ukraine,” said the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish activist.

    By Seth J. Frantz­man
    August 21, 2018 16:39

    Eduard Dolinksy, a promi­nent Ukrain­ian Jew­ish activist, was banned from post­ing on Face­book Mon­day night for a post about anti­se­mit­ic graf­fi­ti in Odessa.

    Dolin­sky, the direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, said he was blocked by the social media giant for post­ing a pho­to. “I had post­ed the pho­to which says in Ukrain­ian ‘kill the yid’ about a month ago,” he says. “I use my Face­book account for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion about anti­se­mit­ic inci­dents and hate speech and hate crimes in Ukraine.”

    Now Dolinsky’s account has dis­abled him from post­ing for thir­ty days, which means media, law enforce­ment and the local com­mu­ni­ty who rely on his social media posts will receive no updates.

    Dolin­sky tweet­ed Mon­day that his account had been blocked and sent The Jerusalem Post a screen­shot of the image he post­ed which shows a bad­ly drawn swasti­ka and Ukrain­ian writ­ing. “You recent­ly post­ed some­thing that vio­lates Face­book poli­cies, so you’re tem­porar­i­ly blocked from using this fea­ture,” Face­book informs him when he logs in. “The block will be active for 29 days and 17 hours,” it says. “To keep from get­ting blocked again, please make sure you’ve read and under­stand Facebook’s Com­mu­ni­ty Stan­dards.”

    Dolinksy says that he has been tar­get­ed in the past by nation­al­ists and anti-semi­tes who oppose his work. Face­book has banned him tem­porar­i­ly in the past also, but nev­er for thir­ty days. “The last time I was blocked, the media also report­ed this and I felt some relief.

    It was as if they stopped ban­ning me. But now I don’t know – and this has again hap­pened. They are ban­ning the one who is try­ing to fight anti­semitism. They are ban­ning me for the very thing I do.”

    Based on Dolinsky’s work the police have opened crim­i­nal files against per­pe­tra­tors of anti­se­mit­ic crimes, in Odessa and oth­er places.

    He says that some locals are try­ing to silence him because he is crit­i­cal of the way Ukraine has com­mem­o­rat­ed his­tor­i­cal nation­al­ist fig­ures, “which is actu­al­ly deny­ing the Holo­caust and try­ing to white­wash the actions of nation­al­ists dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.”

    Dolinksy has been wide­ly quot­ed, and his work, includ­ing posts on Face­book, has been ref­er­enced by media in the past. “These inci­dents are hap­pen­ing and these crimes and the police should react.

    The soci­ety also. But their goal is to cut me off.”

    Iron­i­cal­ly, the activist oppos­ing anti­semitism is being tar­get­ed by anti­semites who label the anti­se­mit­ic exam­ples he reveals as hate speech. “They are specif­i­cal­ly com­plain­ing to Face­book for the con­tent, and they are com­plain­ing that I am vio­lat­ing the rules of Face­book and spread­ing hate speech. So Face­book, as I under­stand [it, doesn’t] look at this; they are ban­ning me and block­ing me and delet­ing these posts.”

    He says he tried to appeal the ban but has not been suc­cess­ful.

    “I use my Face­book exclu­sive­ly for this, so this is my work­ing tool as direc­tor of Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee.”

    Face­book has been under scruti­ny recent­ly for who it bans and why. In July founder Mark Zucker­berg made con­tro­ver­sial remarks appear­ing to accept Holo­caust denial on the site. “I find it offen­sive, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe our plat­form should take that down because I think there are things that dif­fer­ent peo­ple get wrong. I don’t think they’re doing it inten­tion­al­ly.” In late July, Face­book banned US con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist Alex Jones for bul­ly­ing and hate speech.

    In a sim­i­lar inci­dent to Dolin­sky, Iran­ian sec­u­lar activist Armin Nav­abi was banned from Face­book for thir­ty days for post­ing the death threats that he receives. “This is ridicu­lous. My account is blocked for 30 days because I post the death threats I’m get­ting? I’m not the one mak­ing the threat!” he tweet­ed.

    ...

    ———

    “Jew­ish activist: Face­book banned me for post­ing anti­se­mit­ic graf­fi­ti” by Seth J. Frantz­man; The Jerusalem Post; 08/21/2018

    “Dolin­sky, the direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, said he was blocked by the social media giant for post­ing a pho­to. “I had post­ed the pho­to which says in Ukrain­ian ‘kill the yid’ about a month ago,” he says. “I use my Face­book account for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion about anti­se­mit­ic inci­dents and hate speech and hate crimes in Ukraine.”

    The direc­tor of the Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee gets banned for post anti­se­mit­ic con­tent. That’s some world class trolling by Face­book.

    And while it’s only a 30 day ban, that’s 30 days where Ukraine’s media and law enforce­ment won’t be get­ting Dolin­sky’s updates. So it’s not just a moral­ly absurd ban­ning, it’s also actu­al­ly going to be pro­mot­ing pro-Nazi graf­fi­ti in Ukraine by silenc­ing one of the key fig­ures cov­er­ing it:

    ...
    Now Dolinsky’s account has dis­abled him from post­ing for thir­ty days, which means media, law enforce­ment and the local com­mu­ni­ty who rely on his social media posts will receive no updates.

    Dolin­sky tweet­ed Mon­day that his account had been blocked and sent The Jerusalem Post a screen­shot of the image he post­ed which shows a bad­ly drawn swasti­ka and Ukrain­ian writ­ing. “You recent­ly post­ed some­thing that vio­lates Face­book poli­cies, so you’re tem­porar­i­ly blocked from using this fea­ture,” Face­book informs him when he logs in. “The block will be active for 29 days and 17 hours,” it says. “To keep from get­ting blocked again, please make sure you’ve read and under­stand Facebook’s Com­mu­ni­ty Stan­dards.”
    ...

    And this isn’t the first time Dolin­sky has been banned from Face­book for post­ing this kind of con­tent. But it’s the longest he’s been banned. And the fact that this isn’t the first time he’s been banned sug­gest this isn’t just an ‘oops!’ gen­uine mis­take:

    ...
    Dolinksy says that he has been tar­get­ed in the past by nation­al­ists and anti-semi­tes who oppose his work. Face­book has banned him tem­porar­i­ly in the past also, but nev­er for thir­ty days. “The last time I was blocked, the media also report­ed this and I felt some relief.

    It was as if they stopped ban­ning me. But now I don’t know – and this has again hap­pened. They are ban­ning the one who is try­ing to fight anti­semitism. They are ban­ning me for the very thing I do.”

    Based on Dolinsky’s work the police have opened crim­i­nal files against per­pe­tra­tors of anti­se­mit­ic crimes, in Odessa and oth­er places.
    ...

    Dolin­sky also notes that he has peo­ple try­ing to silence him pre­cise­ly because of the job he does high­light­ing Ukraine’s offi­cial embrace of Nazi col­lab­o­rat­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures:

    ...
    He says that some locals are try­ing to silence him because he is crit­i­cal of the way Ukraine has com­mem­o­rat­ed his­tor­i­cal nation­al­ist fig­ures, “which is actu­al­ly deny­ing the Holo­caust and try­ing to white­wash the actions of nation­al­ists dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.”

    Dolinksy has been wide­ly quot­ed, and his work, includ­ing posts on Face­book, has been ref­er­enced by media in the past. “These inci­dents are hap­pen­ing and these crimes and the police should react.

    The soci­ety also. But their goal is to cut me off.”

    Iron­i­cal­ly, the activist oppos­ing anti­semitism is being tar­get­ed by anti­semites who label the anti­se­mit­ic exam­ples he reveals as hate speech. “They are specif­i­cal­ly com­plain­ing to Face­book for the con­tent, and they are com­plain­ing that I am vio­lat­ing the rules of Face­book and spread­ing hate speech. So Face­book, as I under­stand [it, doesn’t] look at this; they are ban­ning me and block­ing me and delet­ing these posts.”
    ...

    So we like­ly have a sit­u­a­tion where anti­semites suc­cess­ful­ly got Dolinksy silence, with Face­book ‘play­ing dumb’ the whole time. And as a con­se­quence Ukraine is fac­ing a month with­out Dolin­sky’s reports. Except it’s not even clear that Dolinksy is going to be allowed to clar­i­fy the sit­u­a­tion and con­tin­ue post­ing updates of Nazi graf­fi­ti after this month long ban is up. Because he says he’s been try­ing to appeal the ban, but with no suc­cess:

    ...
    He says he tried to appeal the ban but has not been suc­cess­ful.

    “I use my Face­book exclu­sive­ly for this, so this is my work­ing tool as direc­tor of Ukrain­ian Jew­ish Com­mit­tee.”
    ...

    Giv­en Dolin­sky’s pow­er­ful crit­i­cisms of Ukraine’s embrace and his­toric white­wash­ing of the far right, it would be inter­est­ing to learn if the deci­sion to ban Dolin­sky orig­i­nal­ly came from the Atlantic Coun­cil, which is one of the main orga­ni­za­tion Face­book out­sourced its troll-hunt­ing duties to.

    So for all we know, Dolin­sky is effec­tive­ly going to be banned per­ma­nent­ly from using Face­book to make Ukraine and the rest of the world aware of the epi­dem­ic of pro-Nazi anti­se­mit­ic graf­fi­ti in Ukraine. Maybe if he sets up a pro-Nazi Face­book per­sona he’ll be allowed to keep doing his work.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 23, 2018, 12:49 pm
  2. It looks like we’re in for anoth­er round of right-wing com­plaints about Big Tech polit­i­cal bias designed to pres­sure com­pa­nies into push­ing right-wing con­tent onto users. Recall how com­plaints about Face­book sup­press­ing con­ser­v­a­tives in the Face­book News Feed result­ed in a change in pol­i­cy in 2016 that unleashed a flood of far right dis­in­for­ma­tion on the plat­form. This time, it’s Google’s turn to face the right-wing faux-out­rage machine and it’s Pres­i­dent Trump lead­ing it:

    Trump just accused Google of bias­ing the search results in its search engine to give neg­a­tive sto­ries about him. Appar­ent­ly he googled him­self and did­n’t like the results. His tweet came after a Fox Busi­ness report on Mon­day evening that made the claim that 96 per­cent of Google News results for “Trump” came from the “nation­al left-wing media.” The report was based on some ‘analy­sis’ by right-wing media out­let PJ Media.

    Lat­er, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence, Trump declared that Google, Face­book, and Twit­ter “are tread­ing on very, very trou­bled ter­ri­to­ry,” and his eco­nom­ic advi­sor Lar­ry Kud­low told the press that the issue is being inves­ti­gat­ing by the White House. And as Face­book already demon­strat­ed, while it seems high­ly unlike­ly that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion will actu­al­ly take some sort of gov­ern­ment action to force Google to pro­mote pos­i­tive sto­ries about Trump, it’s not like loud­ly com­plain­ing can’t get the job done:

    Bloomberg

    Trump Warns Tech Giants to ‘Be Care­ful,’ Claim­ing They Rig Search­es

    By Kath­leen Hunter and Ben Brody
    August 28, 2018, 4:58 AM CDT Updat­ed on August 28, 2018, 2:17 PM CDT

    * Pres­i­dent tweets con­ser­v­a­tive media being blocked by Google
    * Com­pa­ny denies any polit­i­cal agen­da in its search results

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump warned Alpha­bet Inc.’s Google, Face­book Inc. and Twit­ter Inc. “bet­ter be care­ful” after he accused the search engine ear­li­er in the day of rig­ging results to give pref­er­ence to neg­a­tive news sto­ries about him.

    Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tues­day that the three tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies “are tread­ing on very, very trou­bled ter­ri­to­ry,” as he added his voice to a grow­ing cho­rus of con­ser­v­a­tives who claim inter­net com­pa­nies favor lib­er­al view­points.

    “This is a very seri­ous sit­u­a­tion-will be addressed!” Trump said in a tweet ear­li­er Tues­day. The President’s com­ments came the morn­ing after a Fox Busi­ness TV seg­ment that said Google favored lib­er­al news out­lets in search results about Trump. Trump pro­vid­ed no sub­stan­ti­a­tion for his claim.

    “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In oth­er words, they have it RIGGED, for me & oth­ers, so that almost all sto­ries & news is BAD,” Trump said. “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Ille­gal.”

    The alle­ga­tion, dis­missed by online search experts, fol­lows the president’s Aug. 24 claim that social media “giants” are “silenc­ing mil­lions of peo­ple.” Such accu­sa­tions — along with asser­tions that the news media and Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia med­dling probe are biased against him — have been a chief Trump talk­ing point meant to appeal to the president’s base.

    Google issued a state­ment say­ing its search­es are designed to give users rel­e­vant answers.

    “Search is not used to set a polit­i­cal agen­da and we don’t bias our results toward any polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy,” the state­ment said. “Every year, we issue hun­dreds of improve­ments to our algo­rithms to ensure they sur­face high-qual­i­ty con­tent in response to users’ queries. We con­tin­u­al­ly work to improve Google Search and we nev­er rank search results to manip­u­late polit­i­cal sen­ti­ment.”

    Yonatan Zunger, an engi­neer who worked at Google for almost a decade, went fur­ther. “Users can ver­i­fy that his claim is spe­cious by sim­ply read­ing a wide range of news sources them­selves,” he said. “The ‘bias’ is that the news is all bad for him, for which he has only him­self to blame.”

    Google’s news search soft­ware doesn’t work the way the pres­i­dent says it does, accord­ing to Mark Irvine, senior data sci­en­tist at Word­Stream, a com­pa­ny that helps firms get web­sites and oth­er online con­tent to show up high­er in search results. The Google News sys­tem gives weight to how many times a sto­ry has been linked to, as well as to how promi­nent­ly the terms peo­ple are search­ing for show up in the sto­ries, Irvine said.

    “The Google search algo­rithm is a fair­ly agnos­tic and apa­thet­ic algo­rithm towards what people’s polit­i­cal feel­ings are,” he said.

    “Their job is essen­tial­ly to mod­el the world as it is,” said Pete Mey­ers, a mar­ket­ing sci­en­tist at Moz, which builds tools to help com­pa­nies improve how they show up in search results. “If enough peo­ple are link­ing to a site and talk­ing about a site, they’re going to show that site.”

    Trump’s con­cern is that search results about him appear neg­a­tive, but that’s because the major­i­ty of sto­ries about him are neg­a­tive, Mey­ers said. “He woke up and watched his par­tic­u­lar fla­vor and what Google had didn’t match that.”

    Com­plaints that social-media ser­vices cen­sor con­ser­v­a­tives have increased as com­pa­nies such as Face­book Inc. and Twit­ter Inc. try to curb the reach of con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists, dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, for­eign polit­i­cal med­dling and abu­sive posters.

    Google News rank­ings have some­times high­light­ed uncon­firmed and erro­neous reports in the ear­ly min­utes of tragedies when there’s lit­tle infor­ma­tion to fill its search results. After the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shoot­ing, for instance, sev­er­al accounts seemed to coor­di­nate an effort to smear a man misiden­ti­fied as the shoot­er with false claims about his polit­i­cal ties.

    Google has since tight­ened require­ments for inclu­sion in news rank­ings, block­ing out­lets that “con­ceal their coun­try of ori­gin” and rely­ing more on author­i­ta­tive sources, although the moves have led to charges of cen­sor­ship from less estab­lished out­lets. Google cur­rent­ly says it ranks news based on “fresh­ness” and “diver­si­ty” of the sto­ries. Trump-favored out­lets such as Fox News rou­tine­ly appear in results.

    Google’s search results have been the focus of com­plaints for more than a decade. The crit­i­cism has become more polit­i­cal as the pow­er and reach of online ser­vices has increased in recent years.

    Eric Schmidt, Alphabet’s for­mer chair­man, sup­port­ed Hillary Clin­ton against Trump dur­ing the last elec­tion. There have been unsub­stan­ti­at­ed claims the com­pa­ny buried neg­a­tive search results about her dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. Scores of Google employ­ees entered gov­ern­ment to work under Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma.

    White House eco­nom­ic advis­er Lar­ry Kud­low, respond­ing to a ques­tion about the tweets, said that the admin­is­tra­tion is going to do “inves­ti­ga­tions and analy­sis” into the issue but stressed they’re “just look­ing into it.”

    Trump’s com­ment fol­lowed a report on Fox Busi­ness on Mon­day evening that said 96 per­cent of Google News results for “Trump” came from the “nation­al left-wing media.” The seg­ment cit­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive PJ Media site, which said its analy­sis sug­gest­ed “a pat­tern of bias against right-lean­ing con­tent.”

    The PJ Media analy­sis “is in no way sci­en­tif­ic,” said Joshua New, a senior pol­i­cy ana­lyst with the Cen­ter for Data Inno­va­tion.

    “This fre­quen­cy of appear­ance in an arbi­trary search at one time is in no way indi­cat­ing a bias or a slant,” New said. His non-par­ti­san pol­i­cy group is affil­i­at­ed with the Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy and Inno­va­tion Foun­da­tion, which in turn has exec­u­tives from Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies, includ­ing Google, on its board of direc­tors.

    Ser­vices such as Google or Face­book “have a busi­ness incen­tive not to low­er the rank­ing of a cer­tain pub­li­ca­tion because of news bias. Because that low­ers the val­ue as a news plat­form,” New said.

    News search rank­ings use fac­tors includ­ing “use time­li­ness, accu­ra­cy, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of a sto­ry, a users’ per­son­al search his­to­ry, their loca­tion, qual­i­ty of con­tent, a website’s rep­u­ta­tion — a huge amount of dif­fer­ent fac­tors,” New said.

    Google is not the first tech stal­wart to receive crit­i­cism from Trump. He has alleged Amazon.com Inc. has a sweet­heart deal with the U.S. Postal Ser­vice and slammed founder Jeff Bezos’s own­er­ship of what Trump calls “the Ama­zon Wash­ing­ton Post.”

    Google is due to face law­mak­ers at a hear­ing on Russ­ian elec­tion med­dling on Sept. 5. The com­pa­ny intend­ed to send Senior Vice Pres­i­dent for Glob­al Affairs Kent Walk­er to tes­ti­fy, but the panel’s chair­man, Sen­a­tor Richard Burr, who want­ed Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Sun­dar Pichai, has reject­ed Walk­er.

    Despite Trump’s com­ments, it’s unclear what he or Con­gress could do to influ­ence how inter­net com­pa­nies dis­trib­ute online news. The indus­try trea­sures an exemp­tion from lia­bil­i­ty for the con­tent users post. Some top mem­bers of Con­gress have sug­gest­ed lim­it­ing the pro­tec­tion as a response to alleged bias and oth­er mis­deeds, although there have been few moves to do so since Con­gress curbed the shield for some cas­es of sex traf­fick­ing ear­li­er in the year.

    The gov­ern­ment has lit­tle abil­i­ty to dic­tate to pub­lish­ers and online cura­tors what news to present despite the president’s occa­sion­al threats to use the pow­er of the gov­ern­ment to curb cov­er­age he dis­likes and his ten­den­cy to com­plain that news about him is over­ly neg­a­tive.

    Trump has talked about expand­ing libel laws and mused about rein­stat­ing long-end­ed rules requir­ing equal time for oppos­ing views, which didn’t apply to the inter­net. Nei­ther has result­ed in a seri­ous pol­i­cy push..

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump Warns Tech Giants to ‘Be Care­ful,’ Claim­ing They Rig Search­es” by Kath­leen Hunter and Ben Brody; Bloomberg; 08/28/2018

    “Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tues­day that the three tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies “are tread­ing on very, very trou­bled ter­ri­to­ry,” as he added his voice to a grow­ing cho­rus of con­ser­v­a­tives who claim inter­net com­pa­nies favor lib­er­al view­points.”

    The Trumpian warn­ing shots have been fired: feed the pub­lic pos­i­tive news about Trump, or else...

    ...
    “This is a very seri­ous sit­u­a­tion-will be addressed!” Trump said in a tweet ear­li­er Tues­day. The President’s com­ments came the morn­ing after a Fox Busi­ness TV seg­ment that said Google favored lib­er­al news out­lets in search results about Trump. Trump pro­vid­ed no sub­stan­ti­a­tion for his claim.

    “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In oth­er words, they have it RIGGED, for me & oth­ers, so that almost all sto­ries & news is BAD,” Trump said. “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Ille­gal.”

    The alle­ga­tion, dis­missed by online search experts, fol­lows the president’s Aug. 24 claim that social media “giants” are “silenc­ing mil­lions of peo­ple.” Such accu­sa­tions — along with asser­tions that the news media and Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia med­dling probe are biased against him — have been a chief Trump talk­ing point meant to appeal to the president’s base.
    ...

    “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Ille­gal.”

    And he lit­er­al­ly charged Google with ille­gal­i­ty over alleged­ly shut­ting out “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media.” Which is, of course, an absurd charge for any­one famil­iar with Google’s news por­tal. But that was part of what made the tweet so poten­tial­ly threat­en­ing to these com­pa­nies since it implied there was a role the gov­ern­ment should be play­ing to cor­rect this per­ceived law-break­ing.

    At the same time, it’s unclear what, legal­ly speak­ing, Trump could actu­al­ly do. But that did­n’t stop him from issue such threats, as he’s done in the past:

    ...
    Despite Trump’s com­ments, it’s unclear what he or Con­gress could do to influ­ence how inter­net com­pa­nies dis­trib­ute online news. The indus­try trea­sures an exemp­tion from lia­bil­i­ty for the con­tent users post. Some top mem­bers of Con­gress have sug­gest­ed lim­it­ing the pro­tec­tion as a response to alleged bias and oth­er mis­deeds, although there have been few moves to do so since Con­gress curbed the shield for some cas­es of sex traf­fick­ing ear­li­er in the year.

    The gov­ern­ment has lit­tle abil­i­ty to dic­tate to pub­lish­ers and online cura­tors what news to present despite the president’s occa­sion­al threats to use the pow­er of the gov­ern­ment to curb cov­er­age he dis­likes and his ten­den­cy to com­plain that news about him is over­ly neg­a­tive.

    Trump has talked about expand­ing libel laws and mused about rein­stat­ing long-end­ed rules requir­ing equal time for oppos­ing views, which didn’t apply to the inter­net. Nei­ther has result­ed in a seri­ous pol­i­cy push..
    ...

    Iron­i­cal­ly, when Trump mus­es about rein­stat­ing long-end­ed rules requir­ing equal time for oppos­ing views (the “Fair­ness Doc­trine” over­turned by Rea­gan in 1987), he’s mus­ing about doing some­thing that would effec­tive­ly destroy the right-wing media mod­el, a mod­el that is pred­i­cat­ed on feed­ing the audi­ence exclu­sive­ly right-wing con­tent. As many have not­ed, the demise of the Fair­ness Doc­trine — which led to the explo­sion of right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Lim­baugh — prob­a­bly played a big role in intel­lec­tu­al­ly neu­ter­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic, paving the way for some­one like Trump to even­tu­al­ly come along.

    And yet, as unhinged as this lat­est threat may be, the admin­is­tra­tion is actu­al­ly going to do “inves­ti­ga­tions and analy­sis” into the issue accord­ing to Lar­ry Kud­low:

    ...
    White House eco­nom­ic advis­er Lar­ry Kud­low, respond­ing to a ques­tion about the tweets, said that the admin­is­tra­tion is going to do “inves­ti­ga­tions and analy­sis” into the issue but stressed they’re “just look­ing into it.”
    ...

    And as we should expect, this all appears to have been trig­gered by a Fox Busi­ness piece on Mon­day night that cov­ered an ‘study’ done by PJ Media (a right-wing media out­let) that found 96 per­cent of Google News results for “Trump” come from the “nation­al left-wing media”:

    ...
    Trump’s com­ment fol­lowed a report on Fox Busi­ness on Mon­day evening that said 96 per­cent of Google News results for “Trump” came from the “nation­al left-wing media.” The seg­ment cit­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive PJ Media site, which said its analy­sis sug­gest­ed “a pat­tern of bias against right-lean­ing con­tent.”

    The PJ Media analy­sis “is in no way sci­en­tif­ic,” said Joshua New, a senior pol­i­cy ana­lyst with the Cen­ter for Data Inno­va­tion.

    “This fre­quen­cy of appear­ance in an arbi­trary search at one time is in no way indi­cat­ing a bias or a slant,” New said. His non-par­ti­san pol­i­cy group is affil­i­at­ed with the Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy and Inno­va­tion Foun­da­tion, which in turn has exec­u­tives from Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies, includ­ing Google, on its board of direc­tors.

    Ser­vices such as Google or Face­book “have a busi­ness incen­tive not to low­er the rank­ing of a cer­tain pub­li­ca­tion because of news bias. Because that low­ers the val­ue as a news plat­form,” New said.

    News search rank­ings use fac­tors includ­ing “use time­li­ness, accu­ra­cy, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of a sto­ry, a users’ per­son­al search his­to­ry, their loca­tion, qual­i­ty of con­tent, a website’s rep­u­ta­tion — a huge amount of dif­fer­ent fac­tors,” New said.
    ...

    Putting aside the gen­er­al ques­tions of the sci­en­tif­ic verac­i­ty of this PJ Media ‘study’, it’s kind of amus­ing to real­ize that it was study con­duct­ed specif­i­cal­ly on a search for “Trump” on Google News. And if you had to choose a sin­gle top­ic that is going to inevitably have an abun­dance of neg­a­tive news writ­ten about it, that would be the top­ic of “Trump”. In oth­er words, if you were to actu­al­ly con­duct a real study that attempts to assess the polit­i­cal bias of Google News’s search results, you almost could­n’t have picked a worse search term to test that the­o­ry on than “Trump”.

    Google not sur­pris­ing­ly refutes these charges. But it’s the peo­ple who work for com­pa­nies ded­i­cat­ed to improv­ing how their clients who give the most con­vinc­ing respons­es since their busi­ness­es are lit­er­al­ly depen­dents on them under­stand­ing Google’s algo­rithms:

    ...
    Google’s news search soft­ware doesn’t work the way the pres­i­dent says it does, accord­ing to Mark Irvine, senior data sci­en­tist at Word­Stream, a com­pa­ny that helps firms get web­sites and oth­er online con­tent to show up high­er in search results. The Google News sys­tem gives weight to how many times a sto­ry has been linked to, as well as to how promi­nent­ly the terms peo­ple are search­ing for show up in the sto­ries, Irvine said.

    “The Google search algo­rithm is a fair­ly agnos­tic and apa­thet­ic algo­rithm towards what people’s polit­i­cal feel­ings are,” he said.

    “Their job is essen­tial­ly to mod­el the world as it is,” said Pete Mey­ers, a mar­ket­ing sci­en­tist at Moz, which builds tools to help com­pa­nies improve how they show up in search results. “If enough peo­ple are link­ing to a site and talk­ing about a site, they’re going to show that site.”

    Trump’s con­cern is that search results about him appear neg­a­tive, but that’s because the major­i­ty of sto­ries about him are neg­a­tive, Mey­ers said. “He woke up and watched his par­tic­u­lar fla­vor and what Google had didn’t match that.”
    ...

    All that said, it’s not like the top­ic of the black­box nature of the algo­rithms behind things like Google’s search engine aren’t a legit­i­mate top­ic of pub­lic inter­est. And that’s part of why these far­ci­cal tweets are so dan­ger­ous: the Big Tech giants like Google, Face­book, and Twit­ter know that it’s not impos­si­ble that they’ll be sub­ject to algo­rith­mic reg­u­la­tion some­day. And they’re going to want to push that day off for a long as pos­si­ble. So when Trump makes these kinds of com­plaints, it’s not at all incon­ceiv­able that he’s going to get the response from these com­pa­nies that he wants as these com­pa­nies attempt to pla­cate him. It’s also high­ly like­ly that if these com­pa­nies do decide to pla­cate him, they’re not going to pub­licly announce this. Instead they’ll just start rig­ging their algo­rithms to serve up more pro-Trump con­tent and more right-wing con­tent in gen­er­al.

    Also keep in mind that, despite the rep­u­ta­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley as being run by a bunch of lib­er­als, the real­i­ty is Sil­i­con Val­ley has a strong right-wing lib­er­tar­i­an fac­tion, and there’s going to be no short­age of peo­ple at these com­pa­nies that would love to inject a right-wing bias into their ser­vices. Trump’s stunt gives that right-wing fac­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley lead­er­ship an excuse to do exact­ly that from a busi­ness stand­point.

    So if you use Google News to see what the lat­est the news is on “Trump” and you sud­den­ly find that it’s most­ly good news, keep in mind that that’s actu­al­ly real­ly, real­ly bad news because it means this stunt worked.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 28, 2018, 3:55 pm
  3. The New York Times pub­lished a big piece on the inner work­ings of Face­book’s response to the array of scan­dals that have enveloped the com­pa­ny in recent years, from the charges of Russ­ian oper­a­tives using the plat­form to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion to the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal. Much of the sto­ry focus on the actions of Sheryl Sand­berg, who appears to be top per­son at Face­book who was over­see­ing the com­pa­ny’s response to these scan­dals. It describes a gen­er­al pat­tern of Face­book’s exec­u­tives first ignor­ing prob­lems and then using var­i­ous pub­lic rela­tions strate­gies to deal with the prob­lems when they are no longer able to ignore them. And it’s the choice of pub­lic rela­tions firms that is per­haps the biggest scan­dal revealed in this sto­ry: In Octo­ber of 2017, Face­book hired Defin­ers Pub­lic Affair, a DC-based firm found­ed by vet­er­ans of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics that spe­cial­ized in apply­ing the tac­tics of polit­i­cal races to cor­po­rate pub­lic rela­tions.

    And one of the polit­i­cal strate­gies employed by Defin­ers was sim­ply putting out arti­cles that put their clients in a pos­i­tive light while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly attack­ing their clients’ ene­mies. That’s what Defin­ers did for Face­book, with Defin­ers uti­liz­ing an affil­i­at­ed con­ser­v­a­tive news site, NTK Net­work. NTK shares offices and stiff with Defin­ers and many NTK sto­ries are writ­ten by Defin­ers staff and are basi­cal­ly attack ads on Defin­ers’ clients’ ene­mies. So how does NTK get any­one to read their pro­pa­gan­da arti­cles? By get­ting them picked up by oth­er pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets, includ­ing Bre­it­bart.

    Per­haps most con­tro­ver­sial­ly, Face­book had Defin­ers attempt to tie var­i­ous groups that are crit­i­cal of Face­book to George Soros, implic­it­ly har­ness­ing the exist­ing right-wing meme that George Soros is a super wealthy Jew who secret­ly con­trols almost every­thing. This attack by Defin­ers cen­tered around the Free­dom from Face­book coali­tion. Back in July, The group had crashed the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee hear­ings when a Face­book exec­u­tive was tes­ti­fy­ing, hold­ing up signs depict­ing Sheryl Sand­berg and Mark Zucker­berg as two heads of an octo­pus stretch­ing around the globe. The group claimed the sign was a ref­er­ence to old car­toons about the Stan­dard Oil monop­oly. But such imagery also evokes clas­sic anti-Semit­ic tropes, made more acute by the fact that both Sand­berg and Zucker­berg are Jew­ish. So Face­book enlist­ed the ADL to con­demn Free­dom from Face­book over the imagery.

    But charg­ing Free­dom from Face­book with anti-Semi­tism isn’t the only strat­e­gy Face­book used to address its crit­ics. After the protest in con­gress, Face­book had Defin­ers basi­cal­ly accuse the groups behind Free­dom from Face­book of being pup­pets of George Soros and encour­aged reporters to inves­ti­gate the finan­cial ties of the groups with Soros. And this was part of broad­er push by Defin­ers to cast Soros as the man behind all of the anti-Face­book sen­ti­ments that have popped up in recent years. This, of course, is play­ing right into the grow­ing right-wing meme that Soros, a bil­lion­aire Jew, is behind almost every­thing bad in the world. And it’s a meme that also hap­pens to be excep­tion­al­ly pop­u­lar with the ‘Alt Right’ neo-Nazi wing of con­tem­po­rary con­ser­vatism. So Face­book dealt with its crit­ics by first charg­ing them with indi­rect anti-Semi­tism and then used their hired Repub­li­can pub­lic rela­tions firm to make an indi­rect anti-Semit­ic attacks on those same crit­ics:

    The New York Times

    Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Lead­ers Fought Through Cri­sis

    By Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Con­fes­sore, Cecil­ia Kang, Matthew Rosen­berg and Jack Nicas

    Nov. 14, 2018

    Sheryl Sand­berg was seething.

    Inside Facebook’s Men­lo Park, Calif., head­quar­ters, top exec­u­tives gath­ered in the glass-walled con­fer­ence room of its founder, Mark Zucker­berg. It was Sep­tem­ber 2017, more than a year after Face­book engi­neers dis­cov­ered sus­pi­cious Rus­sia-linked activ­i­ty on its site, an ear­ly warn­ing of the Krem­lin cam­paign to dis­rupt the 2016 Amer­i­can elec­tion. Con­gres­sion­al and fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors were clos­ing in on evi­dence that would impli­cate the com­pa­ny.

    But it wasn’t the loom­ing dis­as­ter at Face­book that angered Ms. Sand­berg. It was the social network’s secu­ri­ty chief, Alex Sta­mos, who had informed com­pa­ny board mem­bers the day before that Face­book had yet to con­tain the Russ­ian infes­ta­tion. Mr. Stamos’s brief­ing had prompt­ed a humil­i­at­ing board­room inter­ro­ga­tion of Ms. Sand­berg, Facebook’s chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, and her bil­lion­aire boss. She appeared to regard the admis­sion as a betray­al.

    “You threw us under the bus!” she yelled at Mr. Sta­mos, accord­ing to peo­ple who were present.

    The clash that day would set off a reck­on­ing — for Mr. Zucker­berg, for Ms. Sand­berg and for the busi­ness they had built togeth­er. In just over a decade, Face­book has con­nect­ed more than 2.2 bil­lion peo­ple, a glob­al nation unto itself that reshaped polit­i­cal cam­paigns, the adver­tis­ing busi­ness and dai­ly life around the world. Along the way, Face­book accu­mu­lat­ed one of the largest-ever repos­i­to­ries of per­son­al data, a trea­sure trove of pho­tos, mes­sages and likes that pro­pelled the com­pa­ny into the For­tune 500.

    But as evi­dence accu­mu­lat­ed that Facebook’s pow­er could also be exploit­ed to dis­rupt elec­tions, broad­cast viral pro­pa­gan­da and inspire dead­ly cam­paigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg stum­bled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warn­ing signs and then sought to con­ceal them from pub­lic view. At crit­i­cal moments over the last three years, they were dis­tract­ed by per­son­al projects, and passed off secu­ri­ty and pol­i­cy deci­sions to sub­or­di­nates, accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer exec­u­tives.

    When Face­book users learned last spring that the com­pa­ny had com­pro­mised their pri­va­cy in its rush to expand, allow­ing access to the per­son­al infor­ma­tion of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple to a polit­i­cal data firm linked to Pres­i­dent Trump, Face­book sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the prob­lem.

    And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plum­met­ed and it faced a con­sumer back­lash — Face­book went on the attack.

    While Mr. Zucker­berg has con­duct­ed a pub­lic apol­o­gy tour in the last year, Ms. Sand­berg has over­seen an aggres­sive lob­by­ing cam­paign to com­bat Facebook’s crit­ics, shift pub­lic anger toward rival com­pa­nies and ward off dam­ag­ing reg­u­la­tion. Face­book employed a Repub­li­can oppo­si­tion-research firm to dis­cred­it activist pro­test­ers, in part by link­ing them to the lib­er­al financier George Soros. It also tapped its busi­ness rela­tion­ships, lob­by­ing a Jew­ish civ­il rights group to cast some crit­i­cism of the com­pa­ny as anti-Semit­ic.

    In Wash­ing­ton, allies of Face­book, includ­ing Sen­a­tor Chuck Schumer, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate leader, inter­vened on its behalf. And Ms. Sand­berg wooed or cajoled hos­tile law­mak­ers, while try­ing to dis­pel Facebook’s rep­u­ta­tion as a bas­tion of Bay Area lib­er­al­ism.

    This account of how Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg nav­i­gat­ed Facebook’s cas­cad­ing crises, much of which has not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, is based on inter­views with more than 50 peo­ple. They include cur­rent and for­mer Face­book exec­u­tives and oth­er employ­ees, law­mak­ers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, lob­by­ists and con­gres­sion­al staff mem­bers. Most spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they had signed con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ments, were not autho­rized to speak to reporters or feared retal­i­a­tion.

    ...

    Even so, trust in the social net­work has sunk, while its pell-mell growth has slowed. Reg­u­la­tors and law enforce­ment offi­cials in the Unit­ed States and Europe are inves­ti­gat­ing Facebook’s con­duct with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a polit­i­cal data firm that worked with Mr. Trump’s 2016 cam­paign, open­ing up the com­pa­ny to fines and oth­er lia­bil­i­ty. Both the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and law­mak­ers have begun craft­ing pro­pos­als for a nation­al pri­va­cy law, set­ting up a years­long strug­gle over the future of Facebook’s data-hun­gry busi­ness mod­el.

    “We failed to look and try to imag­ine what was hid­ing behind cor­ners,” Elliot Schrage, for­mer vice pres­i­dent for glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions, mar­ket­ing and pub­lic pol­i­cy at Face­book, said in an inter­view.

    Mr. Zucker­berg, 34, and Ms. Sand­berg, 49, remain at the company’s helm, while Mr. Sta­mos and oth­er high-pro­file exec­u­tives have left after dis­putes over Facebook’s pri­or­i­ties. Mr. Zucker­berg, who con­trols the social net­work with 60 per­cent of the vot­ing shares and who approved many of its direc­tors, has been asked repeat­ed­ly in the last year whether he should step down as chief exec­u­tive.

    His answer each time: a resound­ing “No.”

    ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’

    Three years ago, Mr. Zucker­berg, who found­ed Face­book in 2004 while attend­ing Har­vard, was cel­e­brat­ed for the company’s extra­or­di­nary suc­cess. Ms. Sand­berg, a for­mer Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial and Google vet­er­an, had become a fem­i­nist icon with the pub­li­ca­tion of her empow­er­ment man­i­festo, “Lean In,” in 2013.

    Like oth­er tech­nol­o­gy exec­u­tives, Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg cast their com­pa­ny as a force for social good. Facebook’s lofty aims were embla­zoned even on secu­ri­ties fil­ings: “Our mis­sion is to make the world more open and con­nect­ed.”

    But as Face­book grew, so did the hate speech, bul­ly­ing and oth­er tox­ic con­tent on the plat­form. When researchers and activists in Myan­mar, India, Ger­many and else­where warned that Face­book had become an instru­ment of gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da and eth­nic cleans­ing, the com­pa­ny large­ly ignored them. Face­book had posi­tioned itself as a plat­form, not a pub­lish­er. Tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for what users post­ed, or act­ing to cen­sor it, was expen­sive and com­pli­cat­ed. Many Face­book exec­u­tives wor­ried that any such efforts would back­fire.

    Then Don­ald J. Trump ran for pres­i­dent. He described Mus­lim immi­grants and refugees as a dan­ger to Amer­i­ca, and in Decem­ber 2015 post­ed a state­ment on Face­book call­ing for a “total and com­plete shut­down” on Mus­lims enter­ing the Unit­ed States. Mr. Trump’s call to arms — wide­ly con­demned by Democ­rats and some promi­nent Repub­li­cans — was shared more than 15,000 times on Face­book, an illus­tra­tion of the site’s pow­er to spread racist sen­ti­ment.

    Mr. Zucker­berg, who had helped found a non­prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to immi­gra­tion reform, was appalled, said employ­ees who spoke to him or were famil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion. He asked Ms. Sand­berg and oth­er exec­u­tives if Mr. Trump had vio­lat­ed Facebook’s terms of ser­vice.

    The ques­tion was unusu­al. Mr. Zucker­berg typ­i­cal­ly focused on broad­er tech­nol­o­gy issues; pol­i­tics was Ms. Sandberg’s domain. In 2010, Ms. Sand­berg, a Demo­c­rat, had recruit­ed a friend and fel­low Clin­ton alum, Marne Levine, as Facebook’s chief Wash­ing­ton rep­re­sen­ta­tive. A year lat­er, after Repub­li­cans seized con­trol of the House, Ms. Sand­berg installed anoth­er friend, a well-con­nect­ed Repub­li­can: Joel Kaplan, who had attend­ed Har­vard with Ms. Sand­berg and lat­er served in the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion.

    Some at Face­book viewed Mr. Trump’s 2015 attack on Mus­lims as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to final­ly take a stand against the hate speech cours­ing through its plat­form. But Ms. Sand­berg, who was edg­ing back to work after the death of her hus­band sev­er­al months ear­li­er, del­e­gat­ed the mat­ter to Mr. Schrage and Moni­ka Bick­ert, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor whom Ms. Sand­berg had recruit­ed as the company’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment. Ms. Sand­berg also turned to the Wash­ing­ton office — par­tic­u­lar­ly to Mr. Kaplan, said peo­ple who par­tic­i­pat­ed in or were briefed on the dis­cus­sions.

    In video con­fer­ence calls between the Sil­i­con Val­ley head­quar­ters and Wash­ing­ton, the three offi­cials con­strued their task nar­row­ly. They parsed the company’s terms of ser­vice to see if the post, or Mr. Trump’s account, vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules.

    Mr. Kaplan argued that Mr. Trump was an impor­tant pub­lic fig­ure and that shut­ting down his account or remov­ing the state­ment could be seen as obstruct­ing free speech, said three employ­ees who knew of the dis­cus­sions. He said it could also stoke a con­ser­v­a­tive back­lash.

    “Don’t poke the bear,” Mr. Kaplan warned.

    Mr. Zucker­berg did not par­tic­i­pate in the debate. Ms. Sand­berg attend­ed some of the video meet­ings but rarely spoke.

    Mr. Schrage con­clud­ed that Mr. Trump’s lan­guage had not vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules and that the candidate’s views had pub­lic val­ue. “We were try­ing to make a deci­sion based on all the legal and tech­ni­cal evi­dence before us,” he said in an inter­view.

    In the end, Mr. Trump’s state­ment and account remained on the site. When Mr. Trump won elec­tion the next fall, giv­ing Repub­li­cans con­trol of the White House as well as Con­gress, Mr. Kaplan was empow­ered to plan accord­ing­ly. The com­pa­ny hired a for­mer aide to Mr. Trump’s new attor­ney gen­er­al, Jeff Ses­sions, along with lob­by­ing firms linked to Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who had juris­dic­tion over inter­net com­pa­nies.

    But inside Face­book, new trou­bles were brew­ing.

    Min­i­miz­ing Russia’s Role

    In the final months of Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Russ­ian agents esca­lat­ed a year­long effort to hack and harass his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents, cul­mi­nat­ing in the release of thou­sands of emails stolen from promi­nent Democ­rats and par­ty offi­cials.

    Face­book had said noth­ing pub­licly about any prob­lems on its own plat­form. But in the spring of 2016, a com­pa­ny expert on Russ­ian cyber­war­fare spot­ted some­thing wor­ri­some. He reached out to his boss, Mr. Sta­mos.

    Mr. Stamos’s team dis­cov­ered that Russ­ian hack­ers appeared to be prob­ing Face­book accounts for peo­ple con­nect­ed to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, said two employ­ees. Months lat­er, as Mr. Trump bat­tled Hillary Clin­ton in the gen­er­al elec­tion, the team also found Face­book accounts linked to Russ­ian hack­ers who were mes­sag­ing jour­nal­ists to share infor­ma­tion from the stolen emails.

    Mr. Sta­mos, 39, told Col­in Stretch, Facebook’s gen­er­al coun­sel, about the find­ings, said two peo­ple involved in the con­ver­sa­tions. At the time, Face­book had no pol­i­cy on dis­in­for­ma­tion or any resources ded­i­cat­ed to search­ing for it.

    Mr. Sta­mos, act­ing on his own, then direct­ed a team to scru­ti­nize the extent of Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book. In Decem­ber 2016, after Mr. Zucker­berg pub­licly scoffed at the idea that fake news on Face­book had helped elect Mr. Trump, Mr. Sta­mos — alarmed that the company’s chief exec­u­tive seemed unaware of his team’s find­ings — met with Mr. Zucker­berg, Ms. Sand­berg and oth­er top Face­book lead­ers.

    Ms. Sand­berg was angry. Look­ing into the Russ­ian activ­i­ty with­out approval, she said, had left the com­pa­ny exposed legal­ly. Oth­er exec­u­tives asked Mr. Sta­mos why they had not been told soon­er.

    Still, Ms. Sand­berg and Mr. Zucker­berg decid­ed to expand on Mr. Stamos’s work, cre­at­ing a group called Project P, for “pro­pa­gan­da,” to study false news on the site, accord­ing to peo­ple involved in the dis­cus­sions. By Jan­u­ary 2017, the group knew that Mr. Stamos’s orig­i­nal team had only scratched the sur­face of Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book, and pressed to issue a pub­lic paper about their find­ings.

    But Mr. Kaplan and oth­er Face­book exec­u­tives object­ed. Wash­ing­ton was already reel­ing from an offi­cial find­ing by Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russ­ian pres­i­dent, had per­son­al­ly ordered an influ­ence cam­paign aimed at help­ing elect Mr. Trump.

    If Face­book impli­cat­ed Rus­sia fur­ther, Mr. Kaplan said, Repub­li­cans would accuse the com­pa­ny of sid­ing with Democ­rats. And if Face­book pulled down the Rus­sians’ fake pages, reg­u­lar Face­book users might also react with out­rage at hav­ing been deceived: His own moth­er-in-law, Mr. Kaplan said, had fol­lowed a Face­book page cre­at­ed by Russ­ian trolls.

    Ms. Sand­berg sided with Mr. Kaplan, recalled four peo­ple involved. Mr. Zucker­berg — who spent much of 2017 on a nation­al “lis­ten­ing tour,” feed­ing cows in Wis­con­sin and eat­ing din­ner with Soma­li refugees in Min­neso­ta — did not par­tic­i­pate in the con­ver­sa­tions about the pub­lic paper. When it was pub­lished that April, the word “Rus­sia” nev­er appeared.

    ...

    A Polit­i­cal Play­book

    The com­bined rev­e­la­tions infu­ri­at­ed Democ­rats, final­ly frac­tur­ing the polit­i­cal con­sen­sus that had pro­tect­ed Face­book and oth­er big tech com­pa­nies from Belt­way inter­fer­ence. Repub­li­cans, already con­cerned that the plat­form was cen­sor­ing con­ser­v­a­tive views, accused Face­book of fuel­ing what they claimed were mer­it­less con­spir­a­cy charges against Mr. Trump and Rus­sia. Democ­rats, long allied with Sil­i­con Val­ley on issues includ­ing immi­gra­tion and gay rights, now blamed Mr. Trump’s win part­ly on Facebook’s tol­er­ance for fraud and dis­in­for­ma­tion.

    After stalling for weeks, Face­book even­tu­al­ly agreed to hand over the Russ­ian posts to Con­gress. Twice in Octo­ber 2017, Face­book was forced to revise its pub­lic state­ments, final­ly acknowl­edg­ing that close to 126 mil­lion peo­ple had seen the Russ­ian posts.

    The same month, Mr. Warn­er and Sen­a­tor Amy Klobuchar, the Min­neso­ta Demo­c­rat, intro­duced leg­is­la­tion to com­pel Face­book and oth­er inter­net firms to dis­close who bought polit­i­cal ads on their sites — a sig­nif­i­cant expan­sion of fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion over tech com­pa­nies.

    “It’s time for Face­book to let all of us see the ads bought by Rus­sians *and paid for in Rubles* dur­ing the last elec­tion,” Ms. Klobuchar wrote on her own Face­book page.

    Face­book gird­ed for bat­tle. Days after the bill was unveiled, Face­book hired Mr. Warner’s for­mer chief of staff, Luke Albee, to lob­by on it. Mr. Kaplan’s team took a larg­er role in man­ag­ing the company’s Wash­ing­ton response, rou­tine­ly review­ing Face­book news releas­es for words or phras­es that might rile con­ser­v­a­tives.

    Ms. Sand­berg also reached out to Ms. Klobuchar. She had been friend­ly with the sen­a­tor, who is fea­tured on the web­site for Lean In, Ms. Sandberg’s empow­er­ment ini­tia­tive. Ms. Sand­berg had con­tributed a blurb to Ms. Klobuchar’s 2015 mem­oir, and the senator’s chief of staff had pre­vi­ous­ly worked at Ms. Sandberg’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion.

    But in a tense con­ver­sa­tion short­ly after the ad leg­is­la­tion was intro­duced, Ms. Sand­berg com­plained about Ms. Klobuchar’s attacks on the com­pa­ny, said a per­son who was briefed on the call. Ms. Klobuchar did not back down on her leg­is­la­tion. But she dialed down her crit­i­cism in at least one venue impor­tant to the com­pa­ny: After blast­ing Face­book repeat­ed­ly that fall on her own Face­book page, Ms. Klobuchar hard­ly men­tioned the com­pa­ny in posts between Novem­ber and Feb­ru­ary.

    A spokesman for Ms. Klobuchar said in a state­ment that Facebook’s lob­by­ing had not less­ened her com­mit­ment to hold­ing the com­pa­ny account­able. “Face­book was push­ing to exclude issue ads from the Hon­est Ads Act, and Sen­a­tor Klobuchar stren­u­ous­ly dis­agreed and refused to change the bill,” he said.

    In Octo­ber 2017, Face­book also expand­ed its work with a Wash­ing­ton-based con­sul­tant, Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, that had orig­i­nal­ly been hired to mon­i­tor press cov­er­age of the com­pa­ny. Found­ed by vet­er­ans of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, Defin­ers spe­cial­ized in apply­ing polit­i­cal cam­paign tac­tics to cor­po­rate pub­lic rela­tions — an approach long employed in Wash­ing­ton by big telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms and activist hedge fund man­agers, but less com­mon in tech.

    Defin­ers had estab­lished a Sil­i­con Val­ley out­post ear­li­er that year, led by Tim Miller, a for­mer spokesman for Jeb Bush who preached the virtues of cam­paign-style oppo­si­tion research. For tech firms, he argued in one inter­view, a goal should be to “have pos­i­tive con­tent pushed out about your com­pa­ny and neg­a­tive con­tent that’s being pushed out about your com­peti­tor.”

    Face­book quick­ly adopt­ed that strat­e­gy. In Novem­ber 2017, the social net­work came out in favor of a bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traf­fick­ers Act, which made inter­net com­pa­nies respon­si­ble for sex traf­fick­ing ads on their sites.

    Google and oth­ers had fought the bill for months, wor­ry­ing it would set a cum­ber­some prece­dent. But the sex traf­fick­ing bill was cham­pi­oned by Sen­a­tor John Thune, a Repub­li­can of South Dako­ta who had pum­meled Face­book over accu­sa­tions that it cen­sored con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent, and Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal, a Con­necti­cut Demo­c­rat and senior com­merce com­mit­tee mem­ber who was a fre­quent crit­ic of Face­book.

    Face­book broke ranks with oth­er tech com­pa­nies, hop­ing the move would help repair rela­tions on both sides of the aisle, said two con­gres­sion­al staffers and three tech indus­try offi­cials.

    When the bill came to a vote in the House in Feb­ru­ary, Ms. Sand­berg offered pub­lic sup­port online, urg­ing Con­gress to “make sure we pass mean­ing­ful and strong leg­is­la­tion to stop sex traf­fick­ing.”

    Oppo­si­tion Research

    In March, The Times, The Observ­er of Lon­don and The Guardian pre­pared to pub­lish a joint inves­ti­ga­tion into how Face­book user data had been appro­pri­at­ed by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to pro­file Amer­i­can vot­ers. A few days before pub­li­ca­tion, The Times pre­sent­ed Face­book with evi­dence that copies of improp­er­ly acquired Face­book data still exist­ed, despite ear­li­er promis­es by Cam­bridge exec­u­tives and oth­ers to delete it.

    Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg met with their lieu­tenants to deter­mine a response. They decid­ed to pre-empt the sto­ries, say­ing in a state­ment pub­lished late on a Fri­day night that Face­book had sus­pend­ed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca from its plat­form. The exec­u­tives fig­ured that get­ting ahead of the news would soft­en its blow, accord­ing to peo­ple in the dis­cus­sions.

    They were wrong. The sto­ry drew world­wide out­rage, prompt­ing law­suits and offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tions in Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don and Brus­sels. For days, Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg remained out of sight, mulling how to respond. While the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion had devolved into an increas­ing­ly par­ti­san bat­tle, the Cam­bridge scan­dal set off Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans alike. And in Sil­i­con Val­ley, oth­er tech firms began exploit­ing the out­cry to bur­nish their own brands.

    “We’re not going to traf­fic in your per­son­al life,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief exec­u­tive, said in an MSNBC inter­view. “Pri­va­cy to us is a human right. It’s a civ­il lib­er­ty.” (Mr. Cook’s crit­i­cisms infu­ri­at­ed Mr. Zucker­berg, who lat­er ordered his man­age­ment team to use only Android phones — argu­ing that the oper­at­ing sys­tem had far more users than Apple’s.)

    Face­book scram­bled anew. Exec­u­tives qui­et­ly shelved an inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paign, called “We Get It,” meant to assure employ­ees that the com­pa­ny was com­mit­ted to get­ting back on track in 2018.

    Then Face­book went on the offen­sive. Mr. Kaplan pre­vailed on Ms. Sand­berg to pro­mote Kevin Mar­tin, a for­mer Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion chair­man and fel­low Bush admin­is­tra­tion vet­er­an, to lead the company’s Amer­i­can lob­by­ing efforts. Face­book also expand­ed its work with Defin­ers.

    On a con­ser­v­a­tive news site called the NTK Net­work, dozens of arti­cles blast­ed Google and Apple for unsa­vory busi­ness prac­tices. One sto­ry called Mr. Cook hyp­o­crit­i­cal for chid­ing Face­book over pri­va­cy, not­ing that Apple also col­lects reams of data from users. Anoth­er played down the impact of the Rus­sians’ use of Face­book.

    The rash of news cov­er­age was no acci­dent: NTK is an affil­i­ate of Defin­ers, shar­ing offices and staff with the pub­lic rela­tions firm in Arling­ton, Va. Many NTK Net­work sto­ries are writ­ten by staff mem­bers at Defin­ers or Amer­i­ca Ris­ing, the company’s polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion-research arm, to attack their clients’ ene­mies. While the NTK Net­work does not have a large audi­ence of its own, its con­tent is fre­quent­ly picked up by pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets, includ­ing Bre­it­bart.

    Mr. Miller acknowl­edged that Face­book and Apple do not direct­ly com­pete. Defin­ers’ work on Apple is fund­ed by a third tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny, he said, but Face­book has pushed back against Apple because Mr. Cook’s crit­i­cism upset Face­book.

    If the pri­va­cy issue comes up, Face­book is hap­py to “mud­dy the waters,” Mr. Miller said over drinks at an Oak­land, Calif., bar last month.

    On Thurs­day, after this arti­cle was pub­lished, Face­book said that it had end­ed its rela­tion­ship with Defin­ers, with­out cit­ing a rea­son.

    ...

    Per­son­al Appeals in Wash­ing­ton

    Ms. Sand­berg had said lit­tle pub­licly about the company’s prob­lems. But inside Face­book, her approach had begun to draw crit­i­cism.

    ...

    Face­book also con­tin­ued to look for ways to deflect crit­i­cism to rivals. In June, after The Times report­ed on Facebook’s pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed deals to share user data with device mak­ers — part­ner­ships Face­book had failed to dis­close to law­mak­ers — exec­u­tives ordered up focus groups in Wash­ing­ton.

    In sep­a­rate ses­sions with lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives, about a dozen at a time, Face­book pre­viewed mes­sages to law­mak­ers. Among the approach­es it test­ed was bring­ing YouTube and oth­er social media plat­forms into the con­tro­ver­sy, while argu­ing that Google struck sim­i­lar data-shar­ing deals.

    Deflect­ing Crit­i­cism

    By then, some of the harsh­est crit­i­cism of Face­book was com­ing from the polit­i­cal left, where activists and pol­i­cy experts had begun call­ing for the com­pa­ny to be bro­ken up.

    In July, orga­niz­ers with a coali­tion called Free­dom from Face­book crashed a hear­ing of the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, where a com­pa­ny exec­u­tive was tes­ti­fy­ing about its poli­cies. As the exec­u­tive spoke, the orga­niz­ers held aloft signs depict­ing Ms. Sand­berg and Mr. Zucker­berg, who are both Jew­ish, as two heads of an octo­pus stretch­ing around the globe.

    Eddie Vale, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pub­lic rela­tions strate­gist who led the protest, lat­er said the image was meant to evoke old car­toons of Stan­dard Oil, the Gild­ed Age monop­oly. But a Face­book offi­cial quick­ly called the Anti-Defama­tion League, a lead­ing Jew­ish civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion, to flag the sign. Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies had part­nered with the civ­il rights group since late 2017 on an ini­tia­tive to com­bat anti-Semi­tism and hate speech online.

    That after­noon, the A.D.L. issued a warn­ing from its Twit­ter account.

    “Depict­ing Jews as an octo­pus encir­cling the globe is a clas­sic anti-Semit­ic trope,” the orga­ni­za­tion wrote. “Protest Face­book — or any­one — all you want, but pick a dif­fer­ent image.” The crit­i­cism was soon echoed in con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets includ­ing The Wash­ing­ton Free Bea­con, which has sought to tie Free­dom from Face­book to what the pub­li­ca­tion calls “extreme anti-Israel groups.”

    An A.D.L. spokes­woman, Bet­sai­da Alcan­tara, said the group rou­tine­ly field­ed reports of anti-Semit­ic slurs from jour­nal­ists, syn­a­gogues and oth­ers. “Our experts eval­u­ate each one based on our years of expe­ri­ence, and we respond appro­pri­ate­ly,” Ms. Alcan­tara said. (The group has at times sharply crit­i­cized Face­book, includ­ing when Mr. Zucker­berg sug­gest­ed that his com­pa­ny should not cen­sor Holo­caust deniers.)

    Face­book also used Defin­ers to take on big­ger oppo­nents, such as Mr. Soros, a long­time boogey­man to main­stream con­ser­v­a­tives and the tar­get of intense anti-Semit­ic smears on the far right. A research doc­u­ment cir­cu­lat­ed by Defin­ers to reporters this sum­mer, just a month after the House hear­ing, cast Mr. Soros as the unac­knowl­edged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Face­book move­ment.

    He was a nat­ur­al tar­get. In a speech at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Jan­u­ary, he had attacked Face­book and Google, describ­ing them as a monop­o­list “men­ace” with “nei­ther the will nor the incli­na­tion to pro­tect soci­ety against the con­se­quences of their actions.”

    Defin­ers pressed reporters to explore the finan­cial con­nec­tions between Mr. Soros’s fam­i­ly or phil­an­thropies and groups that were mem­bers of Free­dom from Face­book, such as Col­or of Change, an online racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion, as well as a pro­gres­sive group found­ed by Mr. Soros’s son. (An offi­cial at Mr. Soros’s Open Soci­ety Foun­da­tions said the phil­an­thropy had sup­port­ed both mem­ber groups, but not Free­dom from Face­book, and had made no grants to sup­port cam­paigns against Face­book.)

    ...

    ———-

    “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Lead­ers Fought Through Cri­sis” by Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Con­fes­sore, Cecil­ia Kang, Matthew Rosen­berg and Jack Nicas; The New York Times; 11/14/2018

    “While Mr. Zucker­berg has con­duct­ed a pub­lic apol­o­gy tour in the last year, Ms. Sand­berg has over­seen an aggres­sive lob­by­ing cam­paign to com­bat Facebook’s crit­ics, shift pub­lic anger toward rival com­pa­nies and ward off dam­ag­ing reg­u­la­tion. Face­book employed a Repub­li­can oppo­si­tion-research firm to dis­cred­it activist pro­test­ers, in part by link­ing them to the lib­er­al financier George Soros. It also tapped its busi­ness rela­tion­ships, lob­by­ing a Jew­ish civ­il rights group to cast some crit­i­cism of the com­pa­ny as anti-Semit­ic.”

    Imag­ine if your job was to han­dle Face­book’s bad press. That was appar­ent­ly Sheryl Sand­berg’s job behind the scenes while Mark Zucker­berg was act­ing as the apolo­getic pub­lic face of Face­book.

    But both Zucker­berg and Sand­berg appeared to have large­ly the same response to the scan­dals involv­ing Face­book’s grow­ing use as a plat­form for spread­ing hate and extrem­ism: keep Face­book out of those dis­putes by argu­ing that it’s just a plat­form, not a pub­lish­er:

    ...
    ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’

    Three years ago, Mr. Zucker­berg, who found­ed Face­book in 2004 while attend­ing Har­vard, was cel­e­brat­ed for the company’s extra­or­di­nary suc­cess. Ms. Sand­berg, a for­mer Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial and Google vet­er­an, had become a fem­i­nist icon with the pub­li­ca­tion of her empow­er­ment man­i­festo, “Lean In,” in 2013.

    Like oth­er tech­nol­o­gy exec­u­tives, Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg cast their com­pa­ny as a force for social good. Facebook’s lofty aims were embla­zoned even on secu­ri­ties fil­ings: “Our mis­sion is to make the world more open and con­nect­ed.”

    But as Face­book grew, so did the hate speech, bul­ly­ing and oth­er tox­ic con­tent on the plat­form. When researchers and activists in Myan­mar, India, Ger­many and else­where warned that Face­book had become an instru­ment of gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da and eth­nic cleans­ing, the com­pa­ny large­ly ignored them. Face­book had posi­tioned itself as a plat­form, not a pub­lish­er. Tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for what users post­ed, or act­ing to cen­sor it, was expen­sive and com­pli­cat­ed. Many Face­book exec­u­tives wor­ried that any such efforts would back­fire.
    ...

    Sand­berg also appears to have increas­ing­ly relied on Joel Kaplan, Face­book’s vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pub­lic pol­i­cy, for advice on how to han­dle these issues and scan­dal. Kaplan pre­vi­ous­ly served in the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion. When Don­ald Trump first ran for pres­i­dent in 2015 and announced his plan for a “total and com­plete shut­down” on Mus­lims enter­ing the Unit­ed States and that mes­sage was shared more than 15,000 times on Face­book, the ques­tion was raised by Zucker­berg of whether or not Trump vio­lat­ed the plat­for­m’s terms of ser­vice. Sand­berg turned to Kaplan for advice. Kaplan, unsur­pris­ing­ly, rec­om­mend­ed that any sort of crack­down on Trump’s use of Face­book would be seen as obstruct­ing free speech and prompt a con­ser­v­a­tive back­lash. Kaplan’s advice was tak­en:

    ...
    Then Don­ald J. Trump ran for pres­i­dent. He described Mus­lim immi­grants and refugees as a dan­ger to Amer­i­ca, and in Decem­ber 2015 post­ed a state­ment on Face­book call­ing for a “total and com­plete shut­down” on Mus­lims enter­ing the Unit­ed States. Mr. Trump’s call to arms — wide­ly con­demned by Democ­rats and some promi­nent Repub­li­cans — was shared more than 15,000 times on Face­book, an illus­tra­tion of the site’s pow­er to spread racist sen­ti­ment.

    Mr. Zucker­berg, who had helped found a non­prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to immi­gra­tion reform, was appalled, said employ­ees who spoke to him or were famil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion. He asked Ms. Sand­berg and oth­er exec­u­tives if Mr. Trump had vio­lat­ed Facebook’s terms of ser­vice.

    The ques­tion was unusu­al. Mr. Zucker­berg typ­i­cal­ly focused on broad­er tech­nol­o­gy issues; pol­i­tics was Ms. Sandberg’s domain. In 2010, Ms. Sand­berg, a Demo­c­rat, had recruit­ed a friend and fel­low Clin­ton alum, Marne Levine, as Facebook’s chief Wash­ing­ton rep­re­sen­ta­tive. A year lat­er, after Repub­li­cans seized con­trol of the House, Ms. Sand­berg installed anoth­er friend, a well-con­nect­ed Repub­li­can: Joel Kaplan, who had attend­ed Har­vard with Ms. Sand­berg and lat­er served in the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion.

    Some at Face­book viewed Mr. Trump’s 2015 attack on Mus­lims as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to final­ly take a stand against the hate speech cours­ing through its plat­form. But Ms. Sand­berg, who was edg­ing back to work after the death of her hus­band sev­er­al months ear­li­er, del­e­gat­ed the mat­ter to Mr. Schrage and Moni­ka Bick­ert, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor whom Ms. Sand­berg had recruit­ed as the company’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment. Ms. Sand­berg also turned to the Wash­ing­ton office — par­tic­u­lar­ly to Mr. Kaplan, said peo­ple who par­tic­i­pat­ed in or were briefed on the dis­cus­sions.

    In video con­fer­ence calls between the Sil­i­con Val­ley head­quar­ters and Wash­ing­ton, the three offi­cials con­strued their task nar­row­ly. They parsed the company’s terms of ser­vice to see if the post, or Mr. Trump’s account, vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules.

    Mr. Kaplan argued that Mr. Trump was an impor­tant pub­lic fig­ure and that shut­ting down his account or remov­ing the state­ment could be seen as obstruct­ing free speech, said three employ­ees who knew of the dis­cus­sions. He said it could also stoke a con­ser­v­a­tive back­lash.

    “Don’t poke the bear,” Mr. Kaplan warned.

    Mr. Zucker­berg did not par­tic­i­pate in the debate. Ms. Sand­berg attend­ed some of the video meet­ings but rarely spoke.

    Mr. Schrage con­clud­ed that Mr. Trump’s lan­guage had not vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules and that the candidate’s views had pub­lic val­ue. “We were try­ing to make a deci­sion based on all the legal and tech­ni­cal evi­dence before us,” he said in an inter­view.
    ...

    And note how, after Trump won, Face­book hired a for­mer aide to Jeff Ses­sions and lob­by­ing firms linked to Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who had juris­dic­tion over inter­net com­pa­nies. Face­book was mak­ing pleas­ing Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton a top pri­or­i­ty:

    ...
    In the end, Mr. Trump’s state­ment and account remained on the site. When Mr. Trump won elec­tion the next fall, giv­ing Repub­li­cans con­trol of the White House as well as Con­gress, Mr. Kaplan was empow­ered to plan accord­ing­ly. The com­pa­ny hired a for­mer aide to Mr. Trump’s new attor­ney gen­er­al, Jeff Ses­sions, along with lob­by­ing firms linked to Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who had juris­dic­tion over inter­net com­pa­nies.
    ...

    Kaplan also encour­aged Face­book to avoid inves­ti­gat­ing too close­ly the alleged Russ­ian troll cam­paigns. This was his advice even in 2016, while the cam­paign was ongo­ing, and after the cam­paign in 2017. Inter­est­ing­ly, Face­book appar­ent­ly found accounts linked to ‘Russ­ian hack­ers’ that were using Face­book to look up infor­ma­tion on pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. This was in the spring of 2016. Keep in mind that the ini­tial reports of the hacked emails did­n’t start until mid June of 2016. Sum­mer tech­ni­cal­ly start­ed about a week lat­er. So how did Face­book’s inter­nal team know these accounts were asso­ci­at­ed with Russ­ian hack­ers before the ‘Russ­ian hack­er’ scan­dal erupt­ed? That’s unclear. But the arti­cle goes on to say that this same team also found accounts linked with the Russ­ian hack­ers mes­sag­ing jour­nal­ists to share con­tents of the hacked emails. Was “Guc­cifer 2.0” using Face­book to talk with jour­nal­ists? that’s also unclear. But it sounds like Face­book was indeed active­ly observ­ing what it thought were Russ­ian hack­ers using the plat­form:

    ...
    Min­i­miz­ing Russia’s Role

    In the final months of Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Russ­ian agents esca­lat­ed a year­long effort to hack and harass his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents, cul­mi­nat­ing in the release of thou­sands of emails stolen from promi­nent Democ­rats and par­ty offi­cials.

    Face­book had said noth­ing pub­licly about any prob­lems on its own plat­form. But in the spring of 2016, a com­pa­ny expert on Russ­ian cyber­war­fare spot­ted some­thing wor­ri­some. He reached out to his boss, Mr. Sta­mos.

    Mr. Stamos’s team dis­cov­ered that Russ­ian hack­ers appeared to be prob­ing Face­book accounts for peo­ple con­nect­ed to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, said two employ­ees. Months lat­er, as Mr. Trump bat­tled Hillary Clin­ton in the gen­er­al elec­tion, the team also found Face­book accounts linked to Russ­ian hack­ers who were mes­sag­ing jour­nal­ists to share infor­ma­tion from the stolen emails.

    Mr. Sta­mos, 39, told Col­in Stretch, Facebook’s gen­er­al coun­sel, about the find­ings, said two peo­ple involved in the con­ver­sa­tions. At the time, Face­book had no pol­i­cy on dis­in­for­ma­tion or any resources ded­i­cat­ed to search­ing for it.
    ...

    Alex Sta­mos, Face­book’s head of secu­ri­ty, direct­ed a team to exam­ine the Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book. And yet Zucker­berg and Sand­berg appar­ent­ly nev­er learned about their find­ings until Decem­ber of 2016, after the elec­tion. And when they did learn, Sand­berg got angry as Sta­mos for not get­ting approval before look­ing into this because it could leave the com­pa­ny legal­ly exposed, high­light­ing again how not know­ing about the abus­es on its plat­form is a legal strat­e­gy of the com­pa­ny. By Jan­u­ary of 2017, Sta­mos want­ed to issue a pub­lic paper on their find­ings, but Joel Kaplan shot down the idea, argu­ing that doing so would cause Repub­li­cans to turn on the com­pa­ny. Sand­berg again agreed with Kaplan:

    ...
    Mr. Sta­mos, act­ing on his own, then direct­ed a team to scru­ti­nize the extent of Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book. In Decem­ber 2016, after Mr. Zucker­berg pub­licly scoffed at the idea that fake news on Face­book had helped elect Mr. Trump, Mr. Sta­mos — alarmed that the company’s chief exec­u­tive seemed unaware of his team’s find­ings — met with Mr. Zucker­berg, Ms. Sand­berg and oth­er top Face­book lead­ers.

    Ms. Sand­berg was angry. Look­ing into the Russ­ian activ­i­ty with­out approval, she said, had left the com­pa­ny exposed legal­ly. Oth­er exec­u­tives asked Mr. Sta­mos why they had not been told soon­er.

    Still, Ms. Sand­berg and Mr. Zucker­berg decid­ed to expand on Mr. Stamos’s work, cre­at­ing a group called Project P, for “pro­pa­gan­da,” to study false news on the site, accord­ing to peo­ple involved in the dis­cus­sions. By Jan­u­ary 2017, the group knew that Mr. Stamos’s orig­i­nal team had only scratched the sur­face of Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book, and pressed to issue a pub­lic paper about their find­ings.

    But Mr. Kaplan and oth­er Face­book exec­u­tives object­ed. Wash­ing­ton was already reel­ing from an offi­cial find­ing by Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russ­ian pres­i­dent, had per­son­al­ly ordered an influ­ence cam­paign aimed at help­ing elect Mr. Trump.

    If Face­book impli­cat­ed Rus­sia fur­ther, Mr. Kaplan said, Repub­li­cans would accuse the com­pa­ny of sid­ing with Democ­rats. And if Face­book pulled down the Rus­sians’ fake pages, reg­u­lar Face­book users might also react with out­rage at hav­ing been deceived: His own moth­er-in-law, Mr. Kaplan said, had fol­lowed a Face­book page cre­at­ed by Russ­ian trolls.

    Ms. Sand­berg sided with Mr. Kaplan, recalled four peo­ple involved. Mr. Zucker­berg — who spent much of 2017 on a nation­al “lis­ten­ing tour,” feed­ing cows in Wis­con­sin and eat­ing din­ner with Soma­li refugees in Min­neso­ta — did not par­tic­i­pate in the con­ver­sa­tions about the pub­lic paper. When it was pub­lished that April, the word “Rus­sia” nev­er appeared.
    ...

    “Mr. Sta­mos, act­ing on his own, then direct­ed a team to scru­ti­nize the extent of Russ­ian activ­i­ty on Face­book. In Decem­ber 2016, after Mr. Zucker­berg pub­licly scoffed at the idea that fake news on Face­book had helped elect Mr. Trump, Mr. Sta­mos — alarmed that the company’s chief exec­u­tive seemed unaware of his team’s find­ings — met with Mr. Zucker­berg, Ms. Sand­berg and oth­er top Face­book lead­ers.”

    Both Zucker­berg and Sand­berg were appar­ent­ly unaware of the find­ings of Sta­mos’s team that had been look­ing into Russ­ian activ­i­ty since the spring of 2016 and found ear­ly signs of the ‘Russ­ian hack­ing teams’ set­ting up Face­book pages to dis­trib­ute the emails. Huh.

    And then we get to Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, the com­pa­ny found­ed by Repub­li­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tives and spe­cial­iz­ing in bring polit­i­cal tac­tics to cor­po­rate pub­lic rela­tions. In Octo­ber of 2017, Face­book appears to have decid­ed to dou­ble down on the Defin­ers strat­e­gy. A strat­e­gy that appears to revolve around the strat­e­gy of simul­ta­ne­ous­ly push­ing out pos­i­tive Face­book cov­er­age while attack­ing Face­book­s’s oppo­nents and crit­ics to mud­dy the waters:

    ...
    In Octo­ber 2017, Face­book also expand­ed its work with a Wash­ing­ton-based con­sul­tant, Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, that had orig­i­nal­ly been hired to mon­i­tor press cov­er­age of the com­pa­ny. Found­ed by vet­er­ans of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, Defin­ers spe­cial­ized in apply­ing polit­i­cal cam­paign tac­tics to cor­po­rate pub­lic rela­tions — an approach long employed in Wash­ing­ton by big telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms and activist hedge fund man­agers, but less com­mon in tech.

    Defin­ers had estab­lished a Sil­i­con Val­ley out­post ear­li­er that year, led by Tim Miller, a for­mer spokesman for Jeb Bush who preached the virtues of cam­paign-style oppo­si­tion research. For tech firms, he argued in one inter­view, a goal should be to “have pos­i­tive con­tent pushed out about your com­pa­ny and neg­a­tive con­tent that’s being pushed out about your com­peti­tor.”

    Face­book quick­ly adopt­ed that strat­e­gy. In Novem­ber 2017, the social net­work came out in favor of a bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traf­fick­ers Act, which made inter­net com­pa­nies respon­si­ble for sex traf­fick­ing ads on their sites.

    Google and oth­ers had fought the bill for months, wor­ry­ing it would set a cum­ber­some prece­dent. But the sex traf­fick­ing bill was cham­pi­oned by Sen­a­tor John Thune, a Repub­li­can of South Dako­ta who had pum­meled Face­book over accu­sa­tions that it cen­sored con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent, and Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal, a Con­necti­cut Demo­c­rat and senior com­merce com­mit­tee mem­ber who was a fre­quent crit­ic of Face­book.

    Face­book broke ranks with oth­er tech com­pa­nies, hop­ing the move would help repair rela­tions on both sides of the aisle, said two con­gres­sion­al staffers and three tech indus­try offi­cials.

    When the bill came to a vote in the House in Feb­ru­ary, Ms. Sand­berg offered pub­lic sup­port online, urg­ing Con­gress to “make sure we pass mean­ing­ful and strong leg­is­la­tion to stop sex traf­fick­ing.”
    ...

    Then, in March of this year, the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal blew open. In response, Kaplan con­vinced Sand­berg to pro­mote anoth­er Repub­li­can to help deal with the dam­age. Kevin Mar­tin, a for­mer FCC chair­man and a Bush admin­is­tra­tion vet­er­an, was cho­sen to lead Face­book’s US lob­by­ing efforts. Defin­ers was also tapped to deal with the scan­dal. And as part of that response, Defin­ers used its affil­i­at­ed NTK net­work to pump out waves of arti­cles slam­ming Google and Apple for var­i­ous rea­sons:

    ...
    Oppo­si­tion Research

    In March, The Times, The Observ­er of Lon­don and The Guardian pre­pared to pub­lish a joint inves­ti­ga­tion into how Face­book user data had been appro­pri­at­ed by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to pro­file Amer­i­can vot­ers. A few days before pub­li­ca­tion, The Times pre­sent­ed Face­book with evi­dence that copies of improp­er­ly acquired Face­book data still exist­ed, despite ear­li­er promis­es by Cam­bridge exec­u­tives and oth­ers to delete it.

    Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg met with their lieu­tenants to deter­mine a response. They decid­ed to pre-empt the sto­ries, say­ing in a state­ment pub­lished late on a Fri­day night that Face­book had sus­pend­ed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca from its plat­form. The exec­u­tives fig­ured that get­ting ahead of the news would soft­en its blow, accord­ing to peo­ple in the dis­cus­sions.

    They were wrong. The sto­ry drew world­wide out­rage, prompt­ing law­suits and offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tions in Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don and Brus­sels. For days, Mr. Zucker­berg and Ms. Sand­berg remained out of sight, mulling how to respond. While the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion had devolved into an increas­ing­ly par­ti­san bat­tle, the Cam­bridge scan­dal set off Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans alike. And in Sil­i­con Val­ley, oth­er tech firms began exploit­ing the out­cry to bur­nish their own brands.

    “We’re not going to traf­fic in your per­son­al life,” Tim Cook, Apple’s chief exec­u­tive, said in an MSNBC inter­view. “Pri­va­cy to us is a human right. It’s a civ­il lib­er­ty.” (Mr. Cook’s crit­i­cisms infu­ri­at­ed Mr. Zucker­berg, who lat­er ordered his man­age­ment team to use only Android phones — argu­ing that the oper­at­ing sys­tem had far more users than Apple’s.)

    Face­book scram­bled anew. Exec­u­tives qui­et­ly shelved an inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paign, called “We Get It,” meant to assure employ­ees that the com­pa­ny was com­mit­ted to get­ting back on track in 2018.

    Then Face­book went on the offen­sive. Mr. Kaplan pre­vailed on Ms. Sand­berg to pro­mote Kevin Mar­tin, a for­mer Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion chair­man and fel­low Bush admin­is­tra­tion vet­er­an, to lead the company’s Amer­i­can lob­by­ing efforts. Face­book also expand­ed its work with Defin­ers.

    On a con­ser­v­a­tive news site called the NTK Net­work, dozens of arti­cles blast­ed Google and Apple for unsa­vory busi­ness prac­tices. One sto­ry called Mr. Cook hyp­o­crit­i­cal for chid­ing Face­book over pri­va­cy, not­ing that Apple also col­lects reams of data from users. Anoth­er played down the impact of the Rus­sians’ use of Face­book.

    The rash of news cov­er­age was no acci­dent: NTK is an affil­i­ate of Defin­ers, shar­ing offices and staff with the pub­lic rela­tions firm in Arling­ton, Va. Many NTK Net­work sto­ries are writ­ten by staff mem­bers at Defin­ers or Amer­i­ca Ris­ing, the company’s polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion-research arm, to attack their clients’ ene­mies. While the NTK Net­work does not have a large audi­ence of its own, its con­tent is fre­quent­ly picked up by pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets, includ­ing Bre­it­bart.
    ...

    Final­ly, in July of this year, we find Face­book accus­ing its crit­ics of anti-Semi­tism at the same time Defin­ers uses an arguably anti-Semit­ic attack on these exact same crit­ics as part of a gen­er­al strat­e­gy by Defin­ers to define Face­book’s crit­ics as pup­pets of George Soros:

    ...
    Deflect­ing Crit­i­cism

    By then, some of the harsh­est crit­i­cism of Face­book was com­ing from the polit­i­cal left, where activists and pol­i­cy experts had begun call­ing for the com­pa­ny to be bro­ken up.

    In July, orga­niz­ers with a coali­tion called Free­dom from Face­book crashed a hear­ing of the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, where a com­pa­ny exec­u­tive was tes­ti­fy­ing about its poli­cies. As the exec­u­tive spoke, the orga­niz­ers held aloft signs depict­ing Ms. Sand­berg and Mr. Zucker­berg, who are both Jew­ish, as two heads of an octo­pus stretch­ing around the globe.

    Eddie Vale, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pub­lic rela­tions strate­gist who led the protest, lat­er said the image was meant to evoke old car­toons of Stan­dard Oil, the Gild­ed Age monop­oly. But a Face­book offi­cial quick­ly called the Anti-Defama­tion League, a lead­ing Jew­ish civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion, to flag the sign. Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies had part­nered with the civ­il rights group since late 2017 on an ini­tia­tive to com­bat anti-Semi­tism and hate speech online.

    That after­noon, the A.D.L. issued a warn­ing from its Twit­ter account.

    “Depict­ing Jews as an octo­pus encir­cling the globe is a clas­sic anti-Semit­ic trope,” the orga­ni­za­tion wrote. “Protest Face­book — or any­one — all you want, but pick a dif­fer­ent image.” The crit­i­cism was soon echoed in con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets includ­ing The Wash­ing­ton Free Bea­con, which has sought to tie Free­dom from Face­book to what the pub­li­ca­tion calls “extreme anti-Israel groups.”

    An A.D.L. spokes­woman, Bet­sai­da Alcan­tara, said the group rou­tine­ly field­ed reports of anti-Semit­ic slurs from jour­nal­ists, syn­a­gogues and oth­ers. “Our experts eval­u­ate each one based on our years of expe­ri­ence, and we respond appro­pri­ate­ly,” Ms. Alcan­tara said. (The group has at times sharply crit­i­cized Face­book, includ­ing when Mr. Zucker­berg sug­gest­ed that his com­pa­ny should not cen­sor Holo­caust deniers.)

    Face­book also used Defin­ers to take on big­ger oppo­nents, such as Mr. Soros, a long­time boogey­man to main­stream con­ser­v­a­tives and the tar­get of intense anti-Semit­ic smears on the far right. A research doc­u­ment cir­cu­lat­ed by Defin­ers to reporters this sum­mer, just a month after the House hear­ing, cast Mr. Soros as the unac­knowl­edged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Face­book move­ment.

    He was a nat­ur­al tar­get. In a speech at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Jan­u­ary, he had attacked Face­book and Google, describ­ing them as a monop­o­list “men­ace” with “nei­ther the will nor the incli­na­tion to pro­tect soci­ety against the con­se­quences of their actions.”

    Defin­ers pressed reporters to explore the finan­cial con­nec­tions between Mr. Soros’s fam­i­ly or phil­an­thropies and groups that were mem­bers of Free­dom from Face­book, such as Col­or of Change, an online racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion, as well as a pro­gres­sive group found­ed by Mr. Soros’s son. (An offi­cial at Mr. Soros’s Open Soci­ety Foun­da­tions said the phil­an­thropy had sup­port­ed both mem­ber groups, but not Free­dom from Face­book, and had made no grants to sup­port cam­paigns against Face­book.)
    ...

    So as we can see, Face­book’s response to scan­dals appears to fall into the fol­low­ing pat­tern:

    1. Inten­tion­al­ly ignore the scan­dal.

    2. When it’s no longer pos­si­ble to ignore, try to get ahead of it by going pub­lic with a watered down admis­sion of the prob­lem.

    3. When get­ting ahead of the sto­ry does­n’t work, attack Face­book’s crit­ics (like sug­gest­ing they are all pawns of George Soros)

    4. Don’t piss off Repub­li­cans.

    Also, regard­ing the dis­cov­ery of Russ­ian hack­ers set­ting up Face­book accounts in the spring of 2016 to dis­trib­ute the hacked emails, here’s a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle from Sep­tem­ber of 2017 that talks about this. And accord­ing to the arti­cle, Face­book dis­cov­ered these alleged Russ­ian hack­er accounts in June of 2016 (tech­ni­cal­ly still spring) and prompt­ly informed the FBI. The Face­book cyber­se­cu­ri­ty team was report­ed­ly track­ing APT28 (Fan­cy Bear) as just part of their nor­mal work and dis­cov­ered this activ­i­ty as part of that work. They told the FBI, and then short­ly after­wards they dis­cov­ered that pages for Guc­cifer 2.0 and DCLeaks were being set up to pro­mote the stolen emails. And recall in the above arti­cle that the Face­book team appar­ent­ly dis­cov­ered mes­sage from these account to jour­nal­ists.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, while the arti­cle says this was in June of 2016, it does­n’t say when in June of 2016. And that tim­ing is rather impor­tant since the first Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle on the hack of the DNC hap­pened on June 14, and Guc­cifer 2.0 popped up and went pub­lic just a day lat­er. So did Face­book dis­cov­er this activ­i­ty before the reports about the hacked emails? That’s remains unclear, but it sounds like Face­book knows how to track APT28/Fancy Bear’s activ­i­ty on its plat­form and just rou­tine­ly does this and that’s how they dis­cov­ered the email hack­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion oper­a­tion. And that implies that if APT28/Fancy Bear real­ly did run this oper­a­tion, they did it in a man­ner that allowed cyber­se­cu­ri­ty researchers to track their activ­i­ty all over the web and on sites like Face­book, which would be one more exam­ple of the inex­plic­a­bly poor oper­a­tion secu­ri­ty by these elite Russ­ian hack­ers:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Oba­ma tried to give Zucker­berg a wake-up call over fake news on Face­book

    By Adam Entous, Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin and Craig Tim­berg
    Sep­tem­ber 24, 2017

    This sto­ry has been updat­ed with an addi­tion­al response from Face­book.

    Nine days after Face­book chief exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg dis­missed as “crazy” the idea that fake news on his com­pa­ny’s social net­work played a key role in the U.S. elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma pulled the youth­ful tech bil­lion­aire aside and deliv­ered what he hoped would be a wake-up call.

    ...

    A Russ­ian oper­a­tion

    It turned out that Face­book, with­out real­iz­ing it, had stum­bled into the Russ­ian oper­a­tion as it was get­ting under­way in June 2016.

    At the time, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty experts at the com­pa­ny were track­ing a Russ­ian hack­er group known as APT28, or Fan­cy Bear, which U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials con­sid­ered an arm of the Russ­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence ser­vice, the GRU, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with Face­book’s activ­i­ties.

    Mem­bers of the Russ­ian hack­er group were best known for steal­ing mil­i­tary plans and data from polit­i­cal tar­gets, so the secu­ri­ty experts assumed that they were plan­ning some sort of espi­onage oper­a­tion — not a far-reach­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign designed to shape the out­come of the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race.

    Face­book exec­u­tives shared with the FBI their sus­pi­cions that a Russ­ian espi­onage oper­a­tion was in the works, a per­son famil­iar with the mat­ter said. An FBI spokesper­son had no com­ment.

    Soon there­after, Face­book’s cyber experts found evi­dence that mem­bers of APT28 were set­ting up a series of shad­owy accounts — includ­ing a per­sona known as Guc­cifer 2.0 and a Face­book page called DCLeaks — to pro­mote stolen emails and oth­er doc­u­ments dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. Face­book offi­cials once again con­tact­ed the FBI to share what they had seen.

    After the Novem­ber elec­tion, Face­book began to look more broad­ly at the accounts that had been cre­at­ed dur­ing the cam­paign.

    A review by the com­pa­ny found that most of the groups behind the prob­lem­at­ic pages had clear finan­cial motives, which sug­gest­ed that they weren’t work­ing for a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

    But amid the mass of data the com­pa­ny was ana­lyz­ing, the secu­ri­ty team did not find clear evi­dence of Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion or ad pur­chas­es by Russ­ian-linked accounts.

    Nor did any U.S. law enforce­ment or intel­li­gence offi­cials vis­it the com­pa­ny to lay out what they knew, said peo­ple famil­iar with the effort, even after the nation’s top intel­li­gence offi­cial, James R. Clap­per Jr., tes­ti­fied on Capi­tol Hill in Jan­u­ary that the Rus­sians had waged a mas­sive pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign online.

    ...
    ———-

    “Oba­ma tried to give Zucker­berg a wake-up call over fake news on Face­book” by Adam Entous, Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin and Craig Tim­berg; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 09/24/2017

    “It turned out that Face­book, with­out real­iz­ing it, had stum­bled into the Russ­ian oper­a­tion as it was get­ting under­way in June 2016.”

    It’s kind of an amaz­ing sto­ry. Just by acci­dent, Face­book’s cyber­se­cu­ri­ty experts were already track­ing APT28 some­how and noticed a bunch of activ­i­ty by the group on Face­book. They alert the FBI. This is in June of 2016. “Soon there­after”, Face­book finds evi­dence that mem­bers of APT28 were set­ting up accounts for Guc­cifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. Face­book again informed the FBI:

    ...
    At the time, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty experts at the com­pa­ny were track­ing a Russ­ian hack­er group known as APT28, or Fan­cy Bear, which U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials con­sid­ered an arm of the Russ­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence ser­vice, the GRU, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with Face­book’s activ­i­ties.

    Mem­bers of the Russ­ian hack­er group were best known for steal­ing mil­i­tary plans and data from polit­i­cal tar­gets, so the secu­ri­ty experts assumed that they were plan­ning some sort of espi­onage oper­a­tion — not a far-reach­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign designed to shape the out­come of the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race.

    Face­book exec­u­tives shared with the FBI their sus­pi­cions that a Russ­ian espi­onage oper­a­tion was in the works, a per­son famil­iar with the mat­ter said. An FBI spokesper­son had no com­ment.

    Soon there­after, Face­book’s cyber experts found evi­dence that mem­bers of APT28 were set­ting up a series of shad­owy accounts — includ­ing a per­sona known as Guc­cifer 2.0 and a Face­book page called DCLeaks — to pro­mote stolen emails and oth­er doc­u­ments dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. Face­book offi­cials once again con­tact­ed the FBI to share what they had seen.
    ...

    So Face­book alleged­ly detect­ed APT28/Fancy Bear activ­i­ty in the spring of 2016. It’s unclear how they knew these were APT28/Fancy Bear hack­ers and unclear how they were track­ing their activ­i­ty. And then they dis­cov­ered these APT28 hack­ers were set­ting pages for Guc­cifer 2.0 and DC Leaks. And as we saw in the above arti­cle, they also found mes­sages from these accounts to jour­nal­ists dis­cussing the emails.

    It’s a remark­able sto­ry, in part because it’s almost nev­er told. We learn that Face­book appar­ent­ly has the abil­i­ty to track exact­ly the same Russ­ian hack­er group that’s accused of car­ry­ing out these hacks, and we learn that Face­book watched these same hack­ers set up the Face­book pages for Guc­cifer 2.0 and DC Leaks. And yet this is almost nev­er men­tioned as evi­dence that Russ­ian gov­ern­ment hack­ers were indeed behind the hacks. Thus far, the attri­bu­tion of these hacks on APT28/Fancy Bear has relied on Crowd­strike and the US gov­ern­ment and the direct inves­ti­ga­tion of the hacks Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty servers. But here we’re learn­ing that Face­book appar­ent­ly has it’s own pool of evi­dence that can tie APT28 to Face­book accounts set up for Guc­cifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. A pool of evi­dence that’s almost nev­er men­tioned.

    And, again, as we saw in the above arti­cle, Face­book’s chief of secu­ri­ty, Alex Sta­mos, was alarmed in Decem­ber of 2016 that Mark Zucker­berg and Sheryl Sand­berg did­n’t know about the find­ings of his team look­ing into this alleged ‘Russ­ian’ activ­i­ty. So Face­book dis­cov­ered Guc­cifer 2.0 and DCLeaks accounts get­ting set up and Zucker­berg and Sand­berg did­n’t know or care about this dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion sea­son. It all high­lights how one of the meta-prob­lems fac­ing Face­book. A meta-prob­lem we saw on dis­play with the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal and the charges by for­mer exec­u­tive Sandy Parak­i­las that Face­book’s man­age­ment warned him not to look into prob­lems because they deter­mined that know­ing about a prob­lem could make the com­pa­ny liable if the prob­lem is explosed. So it’s a meta-prob­lem of an appar­ent desire of top man­age­ment to not face prob­lems. Or at least pre­tend to not face prob­lems while they know­ing­ly ignore them and then unleash com­pa­nies like Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs to clean up the mess after the fact.

    And in relat­ed news, both Zucker­berg and Sand­berg claim they had no idea who at Face­book even hired Defin­ers and both had no idea the com­pa­ny even hired Defin­ers at all until that New York Times report. In oth­er words, Face­book’s upper man­age­ment is claim­ing they had no idea about this lat­est scan­dal. Of course.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 19, 2018, 5:02 pm
  4. Now that the UK par­lia­men­t’s seizure of inter­nal Face­book doc­u­ments from the Six4Three law­suit threat­ens to expose what Six4Three argues was an app devel­op­er extor­tion scheme that was per­son­al­ly man­aged by Mark Zucker­berga bait-and-switch scheme that enticed app devel­op­ers with offers of a wealth of access to user infor­ma­tion and then extort­ed the most suc­cess­ful apps with threats of cut­ting off access to the user data unless they give Face­book a big­ger cut of their prof­its — the ques­tion of just how many high-lev­el Face­book scan­dals have yet to be revealed to the pub­lic is now a much more top­i­cal ques­tion. Because based on what we know so far about Face­book’s out of con­trol behav­ior that appears to have been sanc­tioned by the com­pa­ny’s exec­u­tives there’s no rea­son to assume there isn’t plen­ty of scan­dalous behav­ior yet to be revealed.

    So in the spir­it of spec­u­lat­ing about just how cor­rupt Mark Zucker­berg might tru­ly be, here’s an arti­cle that gives us some insight into the kinds of his­toric Zucker­berg spends time think­ing about: Sur­prise! He real­ly looks up to Cae­sar August, the Roman emper­or who took “a real­ly harsh approach” and “had to do cer­tain things” to achieve his grand goals:

    The Guardian

    What’s behind Mark Zucker­berg’s man-crush on Emper­or Augus­tus?

    Char­lotte Hig­gins
    Wed 12 Sep 2018 11.45 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Thu 13 Sep 2018 05.23 EDT

    The Face­book founder’s bro­man­tic hero was a can­ny oper­a­tor who was obsessed with pow­er and over­rode democ­ra­cy

    Pow­er­ful men do love a tran­shis­tor­i­cal man-crush – fix­at­ing on an ances­tor fig­ure, who can be ven­er­at­ed, per­haps sur­passed. Facebook’s Mark Zucker­berg has told the New York­er about his par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion with the Roman emper­or, Augus­tus – he and his wife, Priscil­la Chan, have even called one of their chil­dren August.

    “Basi­cal­ly, through a real­ly harsh approach, he estab­lished 200 years of world peace,” Zucker­berg explained. He pon­dered, “What are the trade-offs in that? On the one hand, world peace is a long-term goal that peo­ple talk about today ...” On the oth­er hand, he said, “that didn’t come for free, and he had to do cer­tain things”.

    Zucker­berg loved Latin at school (“very much like cod­ing”, he said). His sis­ter, Don­na, got her clas­sics PhD at Prince­ton, is edi­tor of the excel­lent Eidolon online clas­sics mag­a­zine, and has just writ­ten a book on how “alt-right”, misog­y­nist online com­mu­ni­ties invoke clas­si­cal his­to­ry.

    I’m not sure whether the appeal­ing clas­sics nerdi­ness of Zuckerberg’s back­ground makes his san­guine euphemisms more or less alarm­ing. “He had to do cer­tain things” and “a real­ly harsh approach” are, let’s say, a relaxed way of describ­ing Augus­tus’ bru­tal and sys­tem­at­ic elim­i­na­tion of polit­i­cal oppo­nents. And “200 years of world peace”? Well yes, if that’s what you want to call cen­turies of bru­tal con­quest. Even the Roman his­to­ri­an Tac­i­tus had some­thing to say about that: “soli­tudinem faci­unt, pacem appel­lant”. They make a desert and call it peace.

    ...

    It’s true that his reign has been recon­sid­ered time and again: it is one of those extra­or­di­nary junc­tions in his­to­ry – when Rome’s repub­lic teetered, crum­bled, and reformed as the empire – that looks dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the moment from which he is exam­ined. It is per­fect­ly true to say that Augus­tus end­ed the civ­il strife that over­whelmed Rome in the late first cen­tu­ry BC, and ush­ered in a peri­od of sta­bil­i­ty and, in some ways, renew­al, by the time of his death in 14 AD. That’s how I was taught about Augus­tus at school, I sus­pect not unco­in­ci­den­tal­ly by some­one brought up dur­ing the sec­ond world war. But in 1939 Ronald Syme had pub­lished his bril­liant account of the peri­od, The Roman Rev­o­lu­tion – a rev­o­lu­tion­ary book in itself, chal­leng­ing Augustus’s then large­ly pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion by por­tray­ing him as a sin­is­ter fig­ure who emerged on the tides of his­to­ry out of the increas­ing­ly ungovern­able Roman repub­lic, to wield auto­crat­ic pow­er.

    Part of the fas­ci­na­tion of the man is that he was a mas­ter of pro­pa­gan­da and a superb polit­i­cal oper­a­tor. In our own era of obfus­ca­tion, deceit and fake news it’s inter­est­ing to try to unpick what was real­ly going on. Take his brief auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Res Ges­tae Divi Augusti. (Things Done By the Dei­fied Augus­tus – no mess­ing about here, title-wise).

    The text, while heavy­go­ing, is a fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ment, list­ing his polit­i­cal appoint­ments, his mil­i­tary achieve­ments, the infra­struc­ture projects he fund­ed. But it can, with oth­er con­tem­po­rary evi­dence, also be inter­pret­ed as a por­trait of a man who insti­tut­ed an autoc­ra­cy that clev­er­ly mim­ic­ked the forms and tra­di­tions of Rome’s qua­si-demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic.

    Under the guise of restor­ing Rome to great­ness, he hol­lowed out its con­sti­tu­tion and loaded pow­er into his own hands. Some­thing there for Zucker­berg to think about, per­haps. Par­tic­u­lar­ly con­sid­er­ing the New Yorker’s head­line for its pro­file: “Can Mark Zucker­berg fix Face­book before it breaks democ­ra­cy?”

    ———-

    “What’s behind Mark Zucker­berg’s man-crush on Emper­or Augus­tus?” by Char­lotte Hig­gins; The Guardian; 09/12/2018

    “Pow­er­ful men do love a tran­shis­tor­i­cal man-crush – fix­at­ing on an ances­tor fig­ure, who can be ven­er­at­ed, per­haps sur­passed. Facebook’s Mark Zucker­berg has told the New York­er about his par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion with the Roman emper­or, Augus­tus – he and his wife, Priscil­la Chan, have even called one of their chil­dren August.”

    He lit­er­al­ly named his daugh­ter after the Roman emper­or. That hints at more than just a casu­al his­tor­i­cal inter­est.

    So what is it about Cae­sar Augus­tus’s rule that Zucker­berg is so enam­ored with? Well, based on Zucker­berg’s own words, it sounds like it was the way Augus­tus took a “real­ly harsh approach” to mak­ing deci­sions with dif­fi­cult trade-offs in order to achieve Pax Romana, 200 years of peace for the Roman empire:

    ...
    “Basi­cal­ly, through a real­ly harsh approach, he estab­lished 200 years of world peace,” Zucker­berg explained. He pon­dered, “What are the trade-offs in that? On the one hand, world peace is a long-term goal that peo­ple talk about today ...” On the oth­er hand, he said, “that didn’t come for free, and he had to do cer­tain things”.
    ...

    And while focus­ing a 200 years of peace puts an obses­sion with Augus­tus in the most pos­i­tive pos­si­ble light, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Augus­tus was still a mas­ter of pro­pa­gan­da and the man who saw the end of the Roman Repub­lic and the impo­si­tion of an impe­r­i­al mod­el of gov­ern­ment:

    ...
    Part of the fas­ci­na­tion of the man is that he was a mas­ter of pro­pa­gan­da and a superb polit­i­cal oper­a­tor. In our own era of obfus­ca­tion, deceit and fake news it’s inter­est­ing to try to unpick what was real­ly going on. Take his brief auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Res Ges­tae Divi Augusti. (Things Done By the Dei­fied Augus­tus – no mess­ing about here, title-wise).

    The text, while heavy­go­ing, is a fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ment, list­ing his polit­i­cal appoint­ments, his mil­i­tary achieve­ments, the infra­struc­ture projects he fund­ed. But it can, with oth­er con­tem­po­rary evi­dence, also be inter­pret­ed as a por­trait of a man who insti­tut­ed an autoc­ra­cy that clev­er­ly mim­ic­ked the forms and tra­di­tions of Rome’s qua­si-demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic.

    Under the guise of restor­ing Rome to great­ness, he hol­lowed out its con­sti­tu­tion and loaded pow­er into his own hands. Some­thing there for Zucker­berg to think about, per­haps. Par­tic­u­lar­ly con­sid­er­ing the New Yorker’s head­line for its pro­file: “Can Mark Zucker­berg fix Face­book before it breaks democ­ra­cy?”

    And that’s a lit­tle peek into Mark Zucker­berg’s mind that gives us a sense of what he spends time think­ing about: his­toric fig­ures who did a lot of harsh things to achieve his­toric ‘great­ness’. That’s not a scary red flag or any­thing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 26, 2018, 12:43 pm
  5. Here’s a new rea­son to hate Face­book: if you hate Face­book on Face­book, Face­book might put you on its “Be on the look­out” (BOLO) list and start using its loca­tion track­ing tech­nol­o­gy to track your loca­tion. That’s accord­ing to a new report based on a num­ber of cur­rent and for­mer Face­book employ­ees who dis­cussed how the com­pa­ny’s BOLO list pol­i­cy works. And accord­ing to secu­ri­ty experts, while Face­book isn’t unique in hav­ing a BOLO list for com­pa­ny threats, it is high­ly unusu­al in that it can use its own tech­nol­o­gy to track the peo­ple on the BOLO list. Face­book can track BOLO users’ loca­tions using their IP address or the smart­phone’s loca­tion data col­lect­ed through the Face­book app.

    So how does one end up on this BOLO list? Well, there are the rea­son­able ways, like if some­one posts posts on one of Face­book’s social media plat­forms a spe­cif­ic threat against Face­book or one of its employ­ees. But it sounds like the stan­dards are a lot more sub­jec­tive and peo­ple are placed on the BOLO for sim­ply post­ing things like “F— you, Mark,” “F— Face­book”. Anoth­er group rou­tine­ly put on the list is for­mer employ­ees and con­trac­tors. Again, it does­n’t sound like it takes much to get on the list. Sim­ply get­ting emo­tion­al if your con­tract isn’t extend­ed appears to be enough. Giv­en those stan­dards, it’s almost sur­pris­ing that it sounds like the BOLO list is only hun­dreds of peo­ple long and not thou­sands of peo­ple:

    CNBC

    Face­book uses its apps to track users it thinks could threat­en employ­ees and offices

    * Face­book main­tains a list of indi­vid­u­als that its secu­ri­ty guards must “be on look­out” for that is com­prised of users who’ve made threat­en­ing state­ments against the com­pa­ny on its social net­work as well as numer­ous for­mer employ­ees.
    * The com­pa­ny’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team is capa­ble of track­ing these indi­vid­u­als’ where­abouts using the loca­tion data they pro­vide through Face­book’s apps and web­sites.
    * More than a dozen for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ees described the com­pa­ny’s tac­tics to CNBC, with sev­er­al ques­tion­ing the ethics of the com­pa­ny’s prac­tices.

    Sal­vador Rodriguez
    Pub­lished 02/17/2019 Updat­ed

    In ear­ly 2018, a Face­book user made a pub­lic threat on the social net­work against one of the com­pa­ny’s offices in Europe.

    Face­book picked up the threat, pulled the user’s data and deter­mined he was in the same coun­try as the office he was tar­get­ing. The com­pa­ny informed the author­i­ties about the threat and direct­ed its secu­ri­ty offi­cers to be on the look­out for the user.

    “He made a veiled threat that ‘Tomor­row every­one is going to pay’ or some­thing to that effect,” a for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ee told CNBC.

    The inci­dent is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the steps Face­book takes to keep its offices, exec­u­tives and employ­ees pro­tect­ed, accord­ing to more than a dozen for­mer Face­book employ­ees who spoke with CNBC. The com­pa­ny mines its social net­work for threat­en­ing com­ments, and in some cas­es uses its prod­ucts to track the loca­tion of peo­ple it believes present a cred­i­ble threat.

    Sev­er­al of the for­mer employ­ees ques­tioned the ethics of Face­book’s secu­ri­ty strate­gies, with one of them call­ing the tac­tics “very Big Broth­er-esque.”

    Oth­er for­mer employ­ees argue these secu­ri­ty mea­sures are jus­ti­fied by Face­book’s reach and the intense emo­tions it can inspire. The com­pa­ny has 2.7 bil­lion users across its ser­vices. That means that if just 0.01 per­cent of users make a threat, Face­book is still deal­ing with 270,000 poten­tial secu­ri­ty risks.

    “Our phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty team exists to keep Face­book employ­ees safe,” a Face­book spokesman said in a state­ment. “They use indus­try-stan­dard mea­sures to assess and address cred­i­ble threats of vio­lence against our employ­ees and our com­pa­ny, and refer these threats to law enforce­ment when nec­es­sary. We have strict process­es designed to pro­tect peo­ple’s pri­va­cy and adhere to all data pri­va­cy laws and Face­book’s terms of ser­vice. Any sug­ges­tion our onsite phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty team has over­stepped is absolute­ly false.”

    Face­book is unique in the way it uses its own prod­uct to mine data for threats and loca­tions of poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als, said Tim Bradley, senior con­sul­tant with Inci­dent Man­age­ment Group, a cor­po­rate secu­ri­ty con­sult­ing firm that deals with employ­ee safe­ty issues. How­ev­er, the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion’s gen­er­al duty clause says that com­pa­nies have to pro­vide their employ­ees with a work­place free of haz­ards that could cause death or seri­ous phys­i­cal harm, Bradley said.

    “If they know there’s a threat against them, they have to take steps,” Bradley said. “How they got the infor­ma­tion is sec­ondary to the fact that they have a duty to pro­tect employ­ees.”

    Mak­ing the list

    One of the tools Face­book uses to mon­i­tor threats is a “be on look­out” or “BOLO” list, which is updat­ed approx­i­mate­ly once a week. The list was cre­at­ed in 2008, an ear­ly employ­ee in Face­book’s phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty group told CNBC. It now con­tains hun­dreds of peo­ple, accord­ing to four for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ees who have left the com­pa­ny since 2016.

    Face­book noti­fies its secu­ri­ty pro­fes­sion­als any­time a new per­son is added to the BOLO list, send­ing out a report that includes infor­ma­tion about the per­son, such as their name, pho­to, their gen­er­al loca­tion and a short descrip­tion of why they were added.

    In recent years, the secu­ri­ty team even had a large mon­i­tor that dis­played the faces of peo­ple on the list, accord­ing to a pho­to CNBC has seen and two peo­ple famil­iar, although Face­book says it no longer oper­ates this mon­i­tor.

    Oth­er com­pa­nies keep sim­i­lar lists of threats, Bradley and oth­er sources said. But Face­book is unique because it can use its own prod­ucts to iden­ti­fy these threats and track the loca­tion of peo­ple on the list.

    Users who pub­licly threat­en the com­pa­ny, its offices or employ­ees — includ­ing post­ing threat­en­ing com­ments in response to posts from exec­u­tives like CEO Mark Zucker­berg and COO Sheryl Sand­berg — are often added to the list. These users are typ­i­cal­ly described as mak­ing “improp­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion” or “threat­en­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees.

    The bar can be pret­ty low. While some users end up on the list after repeat­ed appear­ances on com­pa­ny prop­er­ty or long email threats, oth­ers might find them­selves on the BOLO list for say­ing some­thing as sim­ple as “F— you, Mark,” “F— Face­book” or “I’m gonna go kick your a–,” accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee who worked with the exec­u­tive pro­tec­tion team. A dif­fer­ent for­mer employ­ee who was on the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty team said there were no clear­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed stan­dards to deter­mine what kinds of actions could land some­body on the list, and that deci­sions were often made on a case-by-case basis.

    The Face­book spokesman dis­put­ed this, say­ing that peo­ple were only added after a “rig­or­ous review to deter­mine the valid­i­ty of the threat.”

    Awk­ward sit­u­a­tions

    Most peo­ple on the list do not know they’re on it. This some­times leads to tense sit­u­a­tions.

    Sev­er­al years ago, one Face­book user dis­cov­ered he was on the BOLO list when he showed up to Face­book’s Men­lo Park cam­pus for lunch with a friend who worked there, accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee who wit­nessed the inci­dent.

    The user checked in with secu­ri­ty to reg­is­ter as a guest. His name popped up right away, alert­ing secu­ri­ty. He was on the list. His issue had to do with mes­sages he had sent to Zucker­berg, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the cir­cum­stances.

    Soon, more secu­ri­ty guards showed up in the entrance area where the guest had tried to reg­is­ter. No one grabbed the indi­vid­ual, but secu­ri­ty guards stood at his sides and at each of the doors lead­ing in and out of that entrance area.

    Even­tu­al­ly, the employ­ee showed up mad and demand­ed that his friend be removed from the BOLO list. After the employ­ee met with Face­book’s glob­al secu­ri­ty intel­li­gence and inves­ti­ga­tions team, the friend was removed from the list — a rare occur­rence.

    “No per­son would be on BOLO with­out cred­i­ble cause,” the Face­book spokesman said in regard to this inci­dent.

    It’s not just users who find them­selves on Face­book’s BOLO list. Many of the peo­ple on the list are for­mer Face­book employ­ees and con­trac­tors, whose col­leagues ask to add them when they leave the com­pa­ny.

    Some for­mer employ­ees are list­ed for hav­ing a track record of poor behav­ior, such as steal­ing com­pa­ny equip­ment. But in many cas­es, there is no rea­son list­ed on the BOLO descrip­tion. Three peo­ple famil­iar said that almost every Face­book employ­ee who gets fired is added to the list, and one called the process “real­ly sub­jec­tive.” Anoth­er said that con­trac­tors are added if they get emo­tion­al when their con­tracts are not extend­ed.

    The Face­book spokesman coun­tered that the process is more rig­or­ous than these peo­ple claim. “For­mer employ­ees are only added under very spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances, after review by legal and HR, includ­ing threats of vio­lence or harass­ment.”

    The prac­tice of adding for­mer employ­ees to the BOLO list has occa­sion­al­ly cre­at­ed awk­ward sit­u­a­tions for the com­pa­ny’s recruiters, who often reach out to for­mer employ­ees to fill open­ings. Ex-employ­ees have showed up for job inter­views only to find out that they could­n’t enter because they were on the BOLO list, said a for­mer secu­ri­ty employ­ee who left the com­pa­ny last year.

    “It becomes a whole big embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion,” this per­son said.

    Tracked by spe­cial request

    Face­book has the capa­bil­i­ty to track BOLO users’ where­abouts by using their smart­phone’s loca­tion data col­lect­ed through the Face­book app, or their IP address col­lect­ed through the com­pa­ny’s web­site.

    Face­book only tracks BOLO-list­ed users when their threats are deemed cred­i­ble, accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee with first­hand knowl­edge of the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures. This could include a detailed threat with an exact loca­tion and tim­ing of an attack, or a threat from an indi­vid­ual who makes a habit of attend­ing com­pa­ny events, such as the Face­book share­hold­ers’ meet­ing. This for­mer employ­ee empha­sized Face­book could not look up users’ loca­tions with­out cause.

    When a cred­i­ble threat is detect­ed, the glob­al secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions cen­ter and the glob­al secu­ri­ty intel­li­gence and inves­ti­ga­tions units make a spe­cial request to the com­pa­ny’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team, which has the capa­bil­i­ties to track users’ loca­tion infor­ma­tion. In some cas­es, the track­ing does­n’t go very far — for instance, if a BOLO user made a threat about a spe­cif­ic loca­tion but their cur­rent loca­tion shows them nowhere close, the track­ing might end there.

    But if the BOLO user is near­by, the infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team can con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor their loca­tion peri­od­i­cal­ly and keep oth­er secu­ri­ty teams on alert.

    Depend­ing on the threat, Face­book’s secu­ri­ty teams can take oth­er actions, such as sta­tion­ing secu­ri­ty guards, escort­ing a BOLO user off cam­pus or alert­ing law enforce­ment.

    Face­book’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team has tracked users’ loca­tions in oth­er safe­ty-relat­ed instances, too.

    In 2017, a Face­book man­ag­er alert­ed the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty teams when a group of interns she was man­ag­ing did not log into the com­pa­ny’s sys­tems to work from home. They had been on a camp­ing trip, accord­ing to a for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ee, and the man­ag­er was con­cerned about their safe­ty.

    Face­book’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team became involved in the sit­u­a­tion and used the interns’ loca­tion data to try and find out if they were safe. “They call it ‘ping­ing them’, ping­ing their Face­book accounts,” the for­mer secu­ri­ty employ­ee recalled.

    After the loca­tion data did not turn up any­thing use­ful, the infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team then kept dig­ging and learned that the interns had exchanged mes­sages sug­gest­ing they nev­er intend­ed to come into work that day — essen­tial­ly, they had lied to the man­ag­er. The infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team gave the man­ag­er a sum­ma­ry of what they had found.

    “There was legit con­cern about the safe­ty of these indi­vid­u­als,” the Face­book spokesman said. “In each iso­lat­ed case, these employ­ees were unre­spon­sive on all com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels. There’s a set of pro­to­cols guid­ing when and how we access employ­ee data when an employ­ee goes miss­ing.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Face­book uses its apps to track users it thinks could threat­en employ­ees and offices” by Sal­vador Rodriguez; CNBC; 02/17/2019

    “Sev­er­al of the for­mer employ­ees ques­tioned the ethics of Face­book’s secu­ri­ty strate­gies, with one of them call­ing the tac­tics “very Big Broth­er-esque.””

    Yeah, “very Big Broth­er-esque” sounds like a pret­ty good descrip­tion of the sit­u­a­tion. In part because Face­book is doing the track­ing with its own tech­nol­o­gy:

    ...
    Face­book is unique in the way it uses its own prod­uct to mine data for threats and loca­tions of poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als, said Tim Bradley, senior con­sul­tant with Inci­dent Man­age­ment Group, a cor­po­rate secu­ri­ty con­sult­ing firm that deals with employ­ee safe­ty issues. How­ev­er, the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion’s gen­er­al duty clause says that com­pa­nies have to pro­vide their employ­ees with a work­place free of haz­ards that could cause death or seri­ous phys­i­cal harm, Bradley said.

    “If they know there’s a threat against them, they have to take steps,” Bradley said. “How they got the infor­ma­tion is sec­ondary to the fact that they have a duty to pro­tect employ­ees.”

    ...

    Oth­er com­pa­nies keep sim­i­lar lists of threats, Bradley and oth­er sources said. But Face­book is unique because it can use its own prod­ucts to iden­ti­fy these threats and track the loca­tion of peo­ple on the list.

    ...

    Tracked by spe­cial request

    Face­book has the capa­bil­i­ty to track BOLO users’ where­abouts by using their smart­phone’s loca­tion data col­lect­ed through the Face­book app, or their IP address col­lect­ed through the com­pa­ny’s web­site.

    Face­book only tracks BOLO-list­ed users when their threats are deemed cred­i­ble, accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee with first­hand knowl­edge of the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures. This could include a detailed threat with an exact loca­tion and tim­ing of an attack, or a threat from an indi­vid­ual who makes a habit of attend­ing com­pa­ny events, such as the Face­book share­hold­ers’ meet­ing. This for­mer employ­ee empha­sized Face­book could not look up users’ loca­tions with­out cause.

    When a cred­i­ble threat is detect­ed, the glob­al secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions cen­ter and the glob­al secu­ri­ty intel­li­gence and inves­ti­ga­tions units make a spe­cial request to the com­pa­ny’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team, which has the capa­bil­i­ties to track users’ loca­tion infor­ma­tion. In some cas­es, the track­ing does­n’t go very far — for instance, if a BOLO user made a threat about a spe­cif­ic loca­tion but their cur­rent loca­tion shows them nowhere close, the track­ing might end there.

    But if the BOLO user is near­by, the infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team can con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor their loca­tion peri­od­i­cal­ly and keep oth­er secu­ri­ty teams on alert.

    Depend­ing on the threat, Face­book’s secu­ri­ty teams can take oth­er actions, such as sta­tion­ing secu­ri­ty guards, escort­ing a BOLO user off cam­pus or alert­ing law enforce­ment.
    ...

    Get­ting on the list also sounds shock­ing­ly easy. A sim­ple “F— you, Mark,” or “F— Face­book” post on Face­book is all it appar­ent­ly takes. Giv­en that, it’s almost unbe­liev­able that the list only con­tains hun­dreds of peo­ple. Although it sounds like that “hun­dreds of peo­ple” esti­mate is based on for­mer secu­ri­ty employ­ees who left the com­pa­ny since 2016. You have to won­der how much longer the BOLO list could be today com­pared to 2016 sim­ply giv­en the amount of bad press Face­book has received just in the last year alone:

    ...
    Mak­ing the list

    One of the tools Face­book uses to mon­i­tor threats is a “be on look­out” or “BOLO” list, which is updat­ed approx­i­mate­ly once a week. The list was cre­at­ed in 2008, an ear­ly employ­ee in Face­book’s phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty group told CNBC. It now con­tains hun­dreds of peo­ple, accord­ing to four for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ees who have left the com­pa­ny since 2016.

    Face­book noti­fies its secu­ri­ty pro­fes­sion­als any­time a new per­son is added to the BOLO list, send­ing out a report that includes infor­ma­tion about the per­son, such as their name, pho­to, their gen­er­al loca­tion and a short descrip­tion of why they were added.

    In recent years, the secu­ri­ty team even had a large mon­i­tor that dis­played the faces of peo­ple on the list, accord­ing to a pho­to CNBC has seen and two peo­ple famil­iar, although Face­book says it no longer oper­ates this mon­i­tor.

    ...

    Users who pub­licly threat­en the com­pa­ny, its offices or employ­ees — includ­ing post­ing threat­en­ing com­ments in response to posts from exec­u­tives like CEO Mark Zucker­berg and COO Sheryl Sand­berg — are often added to the list. These users are typ­i­cal­ly described as mak­ing “improp­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion” or “threat­en­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees.

    The bar can be pret­ty low. While some users end up on the list after repeat­ed appear­ances on com­pa­ny prop­er­ty or long email threats, oth­ers might find them­selves on the BOLO list for say­ing some­thing as sim­ple as “F— you, Mark,” “F— Face­book” or “I’m gonna go kick your a–,” accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee who worked with the exec­u­tive pro­tec­tion team. A dif­fer­ent for­mer employ­ee who was on the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty team said there were no clear­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed stan­dards to deter­mine what kinds of actions could land some­body on the list, and that deci­sions were often made on a case-by-case basis.

    The Face­book spokesman dis­put­ed this, say­ing that peo­ple were only added after a “rig­or­ous review to deter­mine the valid­i­ty of the threat.”
    ...

    And it sounds like for­mer employ­ees and con­trac­tors can get thrown on the list for basi­cal­ly no rea­son at all. If you’re fired from Face­book, don’t get emo­tion­al. Or the com­pa­ny will track your loca­tion indef­i­nite­ly:

    ...
    Awk­ward sit­u­a­tions

    Most peo­ple on the list do not know they’re on it. This some­times leads to tense sit­u­a­tions.

    Sev­er­al years ago, one Face­book user dis­cov­ered he was on the BOLO list when he showed up to Face­book’s Men­lo Park cam­pus for lunch with a friend who worked there, accord­ing to a for­mer employ­ee who wit­nessed the inci­dent.

    The user checked in with secu­ri­ty to reg­is­ter as a guest. His name popped up right away, alert­ing secu­ri­ty. He was on the list. His issue had to do with mes­sages he had sent to Zucker­berg, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the cir­cum­stances.

    Soon, more secu­ri­ty guards showed up in the entrance area where the guest had tried to reg­is­ter. No one grabbed the indi­vid­ual, but secu­ri­ty guards stood at his sides and at each of the doors lead­ing in and out of that entrance area.

    Even­tu­al­ly, the employ­ee showed up mad and demand­ed that his friend be removed from the BOLO list. After the employ­ee met with Face­book’s glob­al secu­ri­ty intel­li­gence and inves­ti­ga­tions team, the friend was removed from the list — a rare occur­rence.

    “No per­son would be on BOLO with­out cred­i­ble cause,” the Face­book spokesman said in regard to this inci­dent.

    It’s not just users who find them­selves on Face­book’s BOLO list. Many of the peo­ple on the list are for­mer Face­book employ­ees and con­trac­tors, whose col­leagues ask to add them when they leave the com­pa­ny.

    Some for­mer employ­ees are list­ed for hav­ing a track record of poor behav­ior, such as steal­ing com­pa­ny equip­ment. But in many cas­es, there is no rea­son list­ed on the BOLO descrip­tion. Three peo­ple famil­iar said that almost every Face­book employ­ee who gets fired is added to the list, and one called the process “real­ly sub­jec­tive.” Anoth­er said that con­trac­tors are added if they get emo­tion­al when their con­tracts are not extend­ed.

    The Face­book spokesman coun­tered that the process is more rig­or­ous than these peo­ple claim. “For­mer employ­ees are only added under very spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances, after review by legal and HR, includ­ing threats of vio­lence or harass­ment.”

    The prac­tice of adding for­mer employ­ees to the BOLO list has occa­sion­al­ly cre­at­ed awk­ward sit­u­a­tions for the com­pa­ny’s recruiters, who often reach out to for­mer employ­ees to fill open­ings. Ex-employ­ees have showed up for job inter­views only to find out that they could­n’t enter because they were on the BOLO list, said a for­mer secu­ri­ty employ­ee who left the com­pa­ny last year.

    “It becomes a whole big embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion,” this per­son said.
    ...

    And as Face­book itself makes clear with its anec­dote about how it tracked the loca­tion of a team of interns after the com­pa­ny became con­cerned about their safe­ty on a camp­ing trip, the BOLO list is just one rea­son the com­pa­ny might decide to track the loca­tions of spe­cif­ic peo­ple. Employ­ees being unre­spon­sive to emails is anoth­er rea­son for the poten­tial track­ing. Giv­en that Face­book is using its own in-house loca­tion track­ing capa­bil­i­ties to do this there are prob­a­bly all sorts of dif­fer­ent excus­es for using the tech­nol­o­gy:

    ...
    Face­book’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team has tracked users’ loca­tions in oth­er safe­ty-relat­ed instances, too.

    In 2017, a Face­book man­ag­er alert­ed the com­pa­ny’s secu­ri­ty teams when a group of interns she was man­ag­ing did not log into the com­pa­ny’s sys­tems to work from home. They had been on a camp­ing trip, accord­ing to a for­mer Face­book secu­ri­ty employ­ee, and the man­ag­er was con­cerned about their safe­ty.

    Face­book’s infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team became involved in the sit­u­a­tion and used the interns’ loca­tion data to try and find out if they were safe. “They call it ‘ping­ing them’, ping­ing their Face­book accounts,” the for­mer secu­ri­ty employ­ee recalled.

    After the loca­tion data did not turn up any­thing use­ful, the infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team then kept dig­ging and learned that the interns had exchanged mes­sages sug­gest­ing they nev­er intend­ed to come into work that day — essen­tial­ly, they had lied to the man­ag­er. The infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty team gave the man­ag­er a sum­ma­ry of what they had found.

    “There was legit con­cern about the safe­ty of these indi­vid­u­als,” the Face­book spokesman said. “In each iso­lat­ed case, these employ­ees were unre­spon­sive on all com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels. There’s a set of pro­to­cols guid­ing when and how we access employ­ee data when an employ­ee goes miss­ing.”
    ...

    So now you know, if you’re a for­mer Face­book employee/contractor and/or have ever writ­ten a nasty thing about Face­book on Face­book’s plat­forms, Face­book is watch­ing you.

    Of course, Face­book is track­ing the loca­tions and every­thing else it can track about every­one to the great­est extent pos­si­ble any­way. Track­ing every­one is Face­book’s busi­ness mod­el. So the dis­tinc­tion is real­ly just whether or not Face­book’s secu­ri­ty team is specif­i­cal­ly watch­ing you. Face­book the com­pa­ny is watch­ing you whether or not you’re on the list or not.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 18, 2019, 10:28 am
  6. So remem­ber those reports from 2017 about how Face­book’s ad tar­get­ing options allowed users to tar­get ads for Face­book users who have expressed an inter­est in top­ics like “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “His­to­ry of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”? And remem­ber how Face­book explained that this was an acci­dent cause by their algo­rithms that auto-gen­er­ate user inter­est groups and the com­pa­ny promised that they’ll have humans review­ing these auto-gen­er­at­ed top­ics going for­ward? Sur­prise! It turns out the human review­ers are still allow­ing ads tar­get­ing user inter­est­ed in top­ics like “Joseph Goebbels,” “Josef Men­gele,” “Hein­rich Himm­ler,” and the neo-nazi punk band Skrew­driv­er:

    The Los Ange­les Times

    Face­book decid­ed which users are inter­est­ed in Nazis — and let adver­tis­ers tar­get them direct­ly

    By Sam Dean
    Feb 21, 2019 | 5:00 AM

    Face­book makes mon­ey by charg­ing adver­tis­ers to reach just the right audi­ence for their mes­sage — even when that audi­ence is made up of peo­ple inter­est­ed in the per­pe­tra­tors of the Holo­caust or explic­it­ly neo-Nazi music.

    Despite promis­es of greater over­sight fol­low­ing past adver­tis­ing scan­dals, a Times review shows that Face­book has con­tin­ued to allow adver­tis­ers to tar­get hun­dreds of thou­sands of users the social media firm believes are curi­ous about top­ics such as “Joseph Goebbels,” “Josef Men­gele,” “Hein­rich Himm­ler,” the neo-nazi punk band Skrew­driv­er and Ben­i­to Mussolini’s long-defunct Nation­al Fas­cist Par­ty.

    Experts say that this prac­tice runs counter to the company’s stat­ed prin­ci­ples and can help fuel rad­i­cal­iza­tion online.

    “What you’re describ­ing, where a clear hate­ful idea or nar­ra­tive can be ampli­fied to reach more peo­ple, is exact­ly what they said they don’t want to do and what they need to be held account­able for,” said Oren Segal, direc­tor of the Anti-Defama­tion League’s cen­ter on extrem­ism.

    After being con­tact­ed by The Times, Face­book said that it would remove many of the audi­ence group­ings from its ad plat­form.

    “Most of these tar­get­ing options are against our poli­cies and should have been caught and removed soon­er,” said Face­book spokesman Joe Osborne. “While we have an ongo­ing review of our tar­get­ing options, we clear­ly need to do more, so we’re tak­ing a broad­er look at our poli­cies and detec­tion meth­ods.”

    Approved by Face­book

    Facebook’s broad reach and sophis­ti­cat­ed adver­tis­ing tools brought in a record $55 bil­lion in ad rev­enue in 2018.

    Prof­it mar­gins stayed above 40%, thanks to a high degree of automa­tion, with algo­rithms sort­ing users into mar­ketable sub­sets based on their behav­ior — then choos­ing which ads to show them.

    But the lack of human over­sight has also brought the com­pa­ny con­tro­ver­sy.

    In 2017, Pro Pub­li­ca found that the com­pa­ny sold ads based on any user-gen­er­at­ed phrase, includ­ing “Jew hater” and “Hitler did noth­ing wrong.” Fol­low­ing the mur­der of 11 con­gre­gants at a syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh in 2018, the Inter­cept found that Face­book gave adver­tis­ers the abil­i­ty to tar­get users inter­est­ed in the anti-Semit­ic “white geno­cide con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry,” which the sus­pect­ed killer cit­ed as inspi­ra­tion before the attacks.

    This month, the Guardian high­light­ed the ways that YouTube and Face­book boost anti-vac­cine con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, lead­ing Rep. Adam Schiff (D‑Burbank) to ques­tion whether the com­pa­ny was pro­mot­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    Face­book has promised since 2017 that humans review every ad tar­get­ing cat­e­go­ry. It announced last fall the removal of 5,000 audi­ence cat­e­gories that risked enabling abuse or dis­crim­i­na­tion.

    The Times decid­ed to test the effec­tive­ness of the company’s efforts by see­ing if Face­book would allow the sale of ads direct­ed to cer­tain seg­ments of users.

    Face­book allowed The Times to tar­get ads to users Face­book has deter­mined are inter­est­ed in Goebbels, the Third Reich’s chief pro­pa­gan­dist, Himm­ler, the archi­tect of the Holo­caust and leader of the SS, and Men­gele, the infa­mous con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­tor who per­formed human exper­i­ments on pris­on­ers. Each cat­e­go­ry includ­ed hun­dreds of thou­sands of users.

    The com­pa­ny also approved an ad tar­get­ed to fans of Skrew­driv­er, a noto­ri­ous white suprema­cist punk band — and auto­mat­i­cal­ly sug­gest­ed a series of top­ics relat­ed to Euro­pean far-right move­ments to bol­ster the ad’s reach.

    Col­lec­tive­ly, the ads were seen by 4,153 users in 24 hours, with The Times pay­ing only $25 to fuel the push.

    Face­book admits its human mod­er­a­tors should have removed the Nazi-affil­i­at­ed demo­graph­ic cat­e­gories. But it says the “ads” them­selves — which con­sist­ed of the word “test” or The Times’ logo and linked back to the newspaper’s home­page — would not have raised red flags for the sep­a­rate team that looks over ad con­tent.

    Upon review, the com­pa­ny said the ad cat­e­gories were sel­dom used. The few ads pur­chased linked to his­tor­i­cal con­tent, Face­book said, but the com­pa­ny would not pro­vide more detail on their ori­gin.

    ‘Why is it my job to police their plat­form?’

    The Times was tipped off by a Los Ange­les musi­cian who asked to remain anony­mous for fear of retal­i­a­tion from hate groups.

    Ear­li­er this year, he tried to pro­mote a con­cert fea­tur­ing his hard­core punk group and a black met­al band on Face­book. When he typed “black met­al” into Facebook’s ad por­tal, he said he was dis­turbed to dis­cov­er that the com­pa­ny sug­gest­ed he also pay to tar­get users inter­est­ed in “Nation­al Social­ist black met­al” — a poten­tial audi­ence num­ber­ing in the hun­dreds of thou­sands.

    The punk and met­al music scenes, and black met­al in par­tic­u­lar, have a long grap­pled with white suprema­cist under­cur­rents. Black met­al grew out of the ear­ly Nor­we­gian met­al scene, which saw promi­nent mem­bers con­vict­ed of burn­ing down church­es, mur­der­ing fel­low musi­cians and plot­ting bomb­ings. Some bands and their fans have since com­bined anti-Semi­tism, neo-pagan­ism, and the pro­mo­tion of vio­lence into the dis­tinct sub­genre of Nation­al Social­ist black met­al, which the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter described as a dan­ger­ous white suprema­cist recruit­ing tool near­ly 20 years ago.

    But punk and met­al fans have long pushed back against hate. In 1981, the Dead Kennedys released “Nazi Punks F— Off”; last month 15 met­al bands played at an anti-fas­cist fes­ti­val in Brook­lyn.

    The musi­cian saw him­self as a part of that same tra­di­tion.

    ...

    Face­book sub­se­quent­ly removed the group­ing from the plat­form, but the musi­cian remains incred­u­lous that “Nation­al Social­ist black met­al” was a cat­e­go­ry in the first place — let alone one the com­pa­ny specif­i­cal­ly prompt­ed him to pur­sue.

    “Why is it my job to police their plat­form?” he said.

    A rab­bit hole of hate

    After review­ing screen­shots ver­i­fy­ing the musician’s sto­ry, The Times inves­ti­gat­ed whether Face­book would allow adver­tis­ers to tar­get explic­it­ly neo-Nazi bands or oth­er terms asso­ci­at­ed with hate groups.

    We start­ed with Skrew­driv­er, a British band with a song called “White Pow­er” and an album named after a Hitler Youth mot­to. Since the band only had 2,120 users iden­ti­fied as fans, Face­book informed us that we would need to add more tar­get demo­graph­ics to pub­lish the ad.

    The prompt led us down a rab­bit hole of terms it thought were relat­ed to white suprema­cist ide­ol­o­gy.

    First, it rec­om­mend­ed “Thor Steinar,” a cloth­ing brand that has been out­lawed in the Ger­man par­lia­ment for its asso­ci­a­tion with neo-Nazism. Then, it rec­om­mend­ed “NPD Group,” the name of both a promi­nent Amer­i­can mar­ket research firm and a far-right Ger­man polit­i­cal par­ty asso­ci­at­ed with neo-Nazism. Among the next rec­om­mend­ed terms were “Flüchtlinge,” the Ger­man word for “refugees,” and “Nation­al­ism.”

    Face­book said the cat­e­gories “Flüchtlinge,” “Nation­al­ism,” and “NPD Group” are in line with its poli­cies and will not be removed despite appear­ing as auto-sug­ges­tions fol­low­ing neo-Nazi terms. (Face­book said it had found that the users inter­est­ed in NPD Group were actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in the Amer­i­can mar­ket research firm.)

    In the wake of past con­tro­ver­sies, Face­book has blocked ads aimed at those inter­est­ed in the most obvi­ous terms affil­i­at­ed with hate groups. “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “white suprema­cy” and “Holo­caust” all yield noth­ing in the ad plat­form. But adver­tis­ers could tar­get more than a mil­lion users with inter­est in Goebbels or the Nation­al Fas­cist Par­ty, which dis­solved in 1943. Himm­ler had near­ly 95,000 con­stituents. Men­gele had 117,150 inter­est­ed users — a num­ber that increased over the dura­tion of our report­ing, to 127,010.

    Face­book said these cat­e­gories were auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed based on user activ­i­ty — lik­ing or com­ment­ing on ads, or join­ing cer­tain groups. But it would not pro­vide spe­cif­ic details about how it deter­mined a user’s inter­est in top­ics linked to Nazis.

    ‘Expand­ing the orbit’

    The ads end­ed up being served with­in Instant Arti­cles — which are host­ed with­in Face­book, rather than link­ing out to a publisher’s own web­site — pub­lished by the Face­book pages of a wide swath of media out­lets.

    These includ­ed arti­cles by the Dai­ly Wire, CNN, Huff­Post, Moth­er Jones, Bre­it­bart, the BBC and ABC News. They also includ­ed arti­cles by viral pages with names like Pup­per Dog­go, I Love Movies and Right Health Today — a seem­ing­ly defunct media com­pa­ny whose only Face­book post was a link to a now-delet­ed arti­cle titled “What Is The Ben­e­fits Of Eat­ing Apple Every­day.”

    Segal, the ADL direc­tor, said Face­book might wind up fuel­ing the recruit­ment of new extrem­ists by serv­ing up such ads on the types of pages an ordi­nary news read­er might vis­it.

    “Being able to reach so many peo­ple with extrem­ist con­tent, exist­ing lit­er­al­ly in the same space as legit­i­mate news or non-hate­ful con­tent, is the biggest dan­ger,” he said. “What you’re doing is expand­ing the orbit.”

    ...

    ————-

    “Face­book decid­ed which users are inter­est­ed in Nazis — and let adver­tis­ers tar­get them direct­ly” By Sam Dean; The Los Ange­les Times; 02/21/2019

    ” Despite promis­es of greater over­sight fol­low­ing past adver­tis­ing scan­dals, a Times review shows that Face­book has con­tin­ued to allow adver­tis­ers to tar­get hun­dreds of thou­sands of users the social media firm believes are curi­ous about top­ics such as “Joseph Goebbels,” “Josef Men­gele,” “Hein­rich Himm­ler,” the neo-nazi punk band Skrew­driv­er and Ben­i­to Mussolini’s long-defunct Nation­al Fas­cist Par­ty.

    Yes, despite Face­book’s promis­es of greater over­sight fol­low­ing the pre­vi­ous reports of Nazi ad tar­get­ing cat­e­gories, the Nazi ad tar­get­ing con­tin­ues. And these ad cat­e­gories don’t have just a hand­ful of Face­book users. Each of the cat­e­gories the LA Times test­ed had hun­dreds of thou­sands of users. And with just a $25 pur­chase, over 4,000 users saw the test ad in 24 hours, demon­strat­ing that Face­book remains a remark­ably cost-effec­tive plat­form for direct­ly reach­ing out to peo­ple with Nazi sym­pa­thies:

    ...
    The Times decid­ed to test the effec­tive­ness of the company’s efforts by see­ing if Face­book would allow the sale of ads direct­ed to cer­tain seg­ments of users.

    Face­book allowed The Times to tar­get ads to users Face­book has deter­mined are inter­est­ed in Goebbels, the Third Reich’s chief pro­pa­gan­dist, Himm­ler, the archi­tect of the Holo­caust and leader of the SS, and Men­gele, the infa­mous con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­tor who per­formed human exper­i­ments on pris­on­ers. Each cat­e­go­ry includ­ed hun­dreds of thou­sands of users.

    The com­pa­ny also approved an ad tar­get­ed to fans of Skrew­driv­er, a noto­ri­ous white suprema­cist punk band — and auto­mat­i­cal­ly sug­gest­ed a series of top­ics relat­ed to Euro­pean far-right move­ments to bol­ster the ad’s reach.

    Col­lec­tive­ly, the ads were seen by 4,153 users in 24 hours, with The Times pay­ing only $25 to fuel the push.

    ...

    And these ads show up in as Instant Arti­cles, so they would show up in the same part of the Face­book page where arti­cles from sites like CNN and BBC might show up:

    ...
    ‘Expand­ing the orbit’

    The ads end­ed up being served with­in Instant Arti­cles — which are host­ed with­in Face­book, rather than link­ing out to a publisher’s own web­site — pub­lished by the Face­book pages of a wide swath of media out­lets.

    These includ­ed arti­cles by the Dai­ly Wire, CNN, Huff­Post, Moth­er Jones, Bre­it­bart, the BBC and ABC News. They also includ­ed arti­cles by viral pages with names like Pup­per Dog­go, I Love Movies and Right Health Today — a seem­ing­ly defunct media com­pa­ny whose only Face­book post was a link to a now-delet­ed arti­cle titled “What Is The Ben­e­fits Of Eat­ing Apple Every­day.”

    Segal, the ADL direc­tor, said Face­book might wind up fuel­ing the recruit­ment of new extrem­ists by serv­ing up such ads on the types of pages an ordi­nary news read­er might vis­it.

    “Being able to reach so many peo­ple with extrem­ist con­tent, exist­ing lit­er­al­ly in the same space as legit­i­mate news or non-hate­ful con­tent, is the biggest dan­ger,” he said. “What you’re doing is expand­ing the orbit.”
    ...

    Of course, Face­book pledged to remove these neo-Nazi ad categories...just like they did before:

    ...
    After being con­tact­ed by The Times, Face­book said that it would remove many of the audi­ence group­ings from its ad plat­form.

    “Most of these tar­get­ing options are against our poli­cies and should have been caught and removed soon­er,” said Face­book spokesman Joe Osborne. “While we have an ongo­ing review of our tar­get­ing options, we clear­ly need to do more, so we’re tak­ing a broad­er look at our poli­cies and detec­tion meth­ods.”

    ...

    Face­book has promised since 2017 that humans review every ad tar­get­ing cat­e­go­ry. It announced last fall the removal of 5,000 audi­ence cat­e­gories that risked enabling abuse or dis­crim­i­na­tion.
    ...

    So how con­fi­dent should we be that Face­book is actu­al­ly going to purge its sys­tem of neo-Nazi ad cat­e­gories? Well, as the arti­cle notes, Face­book’s cur­rent ad sys­tem earned the com­pa­ny a record $55 bil­lion in ad rev­enue in 2018 with over 40% prof­it mar­gins. And a big rea­son for those big prof­it mar­gins is the lack of human over­sight and the high degree of automa­tion in the run­ning of this sys­tem. In oth­er words, Face­book’s record prof­its depends on exact­ly the kind of lack of human over­sight that allowed for these neo-Nazi ad cat­e­gories to pro­lif­er­ate:

    ...
    Approved by Face­book

    Facebook’s broad reach and sophis­ti­cat­ed adver­tis­ing tools brought in a record $55 bil­lion in ad rev­enue in 2018.

    Prof­it mar­gins stayed above 40%, thanks to a high degree of automa­tion, with algo­rithms sort­ing users into mar­ketable sub­sets based on their behav­ior — then choos­ing which ads to show them.

    But the lack of human over­sight has also brought the com­pa­ny con­tro­ver­sy.

    ...

    Of course, we should­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly assume that Face­book’s ongo­ing prob­lems with Nazi ad cat­e­gories is sim­ply due to a lack of human over­sight. It’s also quite pos­si­ble that Face­book sim­ply sees the pro­mo­tion of extrem­ism as a great source of rev­enue. After all, the LA Times reporters dis­cov­ered that the num­ber of users Face­book cat­e­go­rized as hav­ing an inter­est in Joseph Men­gele actu­al­ly grew from 117,l150 users to 127,010 users dur­ing their inves­ti­ga­tion. That’s a growth of over 8%! So the extrem­ist ad mar­ket might sim­ply be seen as a lucra­tive growth mar­ket that the com­pa­ny can’t resist:

    ...
    In the wake of past con­tro­ver­sies, Face­book has blocked ads aimed at those inter­est­ed in the most obvi­ous terms affil­i­at­ed with hate groups. “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “white suprema­cy” and “Holo­caust” all yield noth­ing in the ad plat­form. But adver­tis­ers could tar­get more than a mil­lion users with inter­est in Goebbels or the Nation­al Fas­cist Par­ty, which dis­solved in 1943. Himm­ler had near­ly 95,000 con­stituents. Men­gele had 117,150 inter­est­ed users — a num­ber that increased over the dura­tion of our report­ing, to 127,010.

    Face­book said these cat­e­gories were auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed based on user activ­i­ty — lik­ing or com­ment­ing on ads, or join­ing cer­tain groups. But it would not pro­vide spe­cif­ic details about how it deter­mined a user’s inter­est in top­ics linked to Nazis.
    ...

    Could it be that the explo­sive growth of extrem­ism is sim­ply mak­ing the hate demo­graph­ic irre­sistible? Per­haps, although as we’ve seen with vir­tu­al­ly all of the major social media plat­forms like Twit­ter and YouTube, when it comes to social media plat­forms prof­it­ing off of extrem­ism it’s very much a ‘chick­en & egg’ sit­u­a­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 22, 2019, 11:57 am
  7. Oh look at that: A new Wall Street Jour­nal study dis­cov­ered that sev­er­al smart­phone apps are send­ing sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion to Face­book with­out get­ting user con­sent. This includ­ed “Flo Health”, an app for women to track their peri­ods and ovu­la­tion. Face­book was lit­er­al­ly col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion on users ovu­la­tion sta­tus. Anoth­er app, Instant Heart Rate: HR Mon­i­tor, was also send­ing Face­book data, along with the real-estate app Realtor.com. This is all hap­pen­ing using the toolk­it Face­book pro­vides app devel­op­ers. And while Face­book defend­ed itself by point out that its terms require that devel­op­ers not send the com­pa­ny sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, Face­book also appears to be accept­ing this infor­ma­tion with­out telling devel­op­ers to stop:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Report: Apps give Face­book sen­si­tive health and oth­er data

    By MAE ANDERSON
    Feb­ru­ary 22, 2019

    NEW YORK (AP) — Sev­er­al phone apps are send­ing sen­si­tive user data, includ­ing health infor­ma­tion, to Face­book with­out users’ con­sent, accord­ing to a report by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    An ana­lyt­ics tool called “App Events” allows app devel­op­ers to record user activ­i­ty and report it back to Face­book, even if the user isn’t on Face­book, accord­ing to the report .

    One exam­ple detailed by the Jour­nal shows how a woman would track her peri­od and ovu­la­tion using an app from Flo Health. After she enters when she last had her peri­od, Face­book soft­ware in the app would send along data, such as whether the user may be ovu­lat­ing. The Journal’s test­ing found that the data was sent with an adver­tis­ing ID that can be matched to a device or pro­file.

    Although Facebook’s terms instruct app devel­op­ers not to send such sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, Face­book appeared to be accept­ing such data with­out telling the devel­op­ers to stop. Devel­op­ers are able to use such data to tar­get their own users while on Face­book.

    Face­book said in a state­ment that it requires apps to tell users what infor­ma­tion is shared with Face­book and it “pro­hibits app devel­op­ers from send­ing us sen­si­tive data.” The com­pa­ny said it works to remove infor­ma­tion that devel­op­ers should not have sent to Face­book.

    ...

    The data-shar­ing is relat­ed to a data ana­lyt­ics tool that Face­book offers devel­op­ers. The tool lets devel­op­ers see sta­tis­tics about their users and tar­get them with Face­book ads.

    Besides Flo Health, the Jour­nal found that Instant Heart Rate: HR Mon­i­tor and real-estate app Realtor.com were also send­ing app data to Face­book. The Jour­nal found that the apps did not pro­vide users any way to stop the data-shar­ing.

    Flo Health said in an emailed state­ment that using ana­lyt­i­cal sys­tems is a “com­mon prac­tice” for all app devel­op­ers and that it uses Face­book ana­lyt­ics for “inter­nal ana­lyt­ics pur­pos­es only.” But the com­pa­ny plans to audit its ana­lyt­ics tools to be “as proac­tive as pos­si­ble” on pri­va­cy con­cerns.

    Hours after the Jour­nal sto­ry was pub­lished, New York Gov. Andrew Cuo­mo direct­ed the state’s Depart­ment of State and Depart­ment of Finan­cial Ser­vices to “imme­di­ate­ly inves­ti­gate” what he calls a clear inva­sion of con­sumer pri­va­cy. The Demo­c­rat also urged fed­er­al reg­u­la­tors to step in to end the prac­tice.

    Securo­sis CEO Rich Mogull said that while it is not good for Face­book to have yet anoth­er data pri­va­cy flap in the head­lines, “In this case it looks like the main vio­la­tors were the com­pa­nies that wrote those appli­ca­tions,” he said. “Face­book in this case is more the enabler than the bad actor.”

    ———-

    “Report: Apps give Face­book sen­si­tive health and oth­er data” by MAE ANDERSON; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 02/22/2019

    “In this case it looks like the main vio­la­tors were the com­pa­nies that wrote those applications...Facebook in this case is more the enabler than the bad actor.”

    That’s one way to spin it: Face­book is more of the enabler than the pri­ma­ry bad actor in this case. That’s sort of an improve­ment. Specif­i­cal­ly, Face­book’s “App Events” tool is enabling app devel­op­ers to send sen­si­tive user infor­ma­tion back Face­book despite Face­book’s instruc­tions to devel­op­ers not to send sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion. And the fact that Face­book was clear­ly accept­ing this sen­si­tive data with­out telling devel­op­ers to stop send­ing it cer­tain­ly adds to the enabling behav­ior. Even when that sen­si­tive data includ­ed whether or not a woman is ovu­lat­ing:

    ...
    An ana­lyt­ics tool called “App Events” allows app devel­op­ers to record user activ­i­ty and report it back to Face­book, even if the user isn’t on Face­book, accord­ing to the report .

    One exam­ple detailed by the Jour­nal shows how a woman would track her peri­od and ovu­la­tion using an app from Flo Health. After she enters when she last had her peri­od, Face­book soft­ware in the app would send along data, such as whether the user may be ovu­lat­ing. The Journal’s test­ing found that the data was sent with an adver­tis­ing ID that can be matched to a device or pro­file.

    Although Facebook’s terms instruct app devel­op­ers not to send such sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, Face­book appeared to be accept­ing such data with­out telling the devel­op­ers to stop. Devel­op­ers are able to use such data to tar­get their own users while on Face­book.

    Face­book said in a state­ment that it requires apps to tell users what infor­ma­tion is shared with Face­book and it “pro­hibits app devel­op­ers from send­ing us sen­si­tive data.” The com­pa­ny said it works to remove infor­ma­tion that devel­op­ers should not have sent to Face­book.

    ...

    The data-shar­ing is relat­ed to a data ana­lyt­ics tool that Face­book offers devel­op­ers. The tool lets devel­op­ers see sta­tis­tics about their users and tar­get them with Face­book ads.
    ...

    And the range of sen­si­tive data includes every­thing from heart rate mon­i­tors to real estate apps. In oth­er words, pret­ty much any app might be send­ing data to Face­book but we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know which apps because the apps aren’t inform­ing users about this data col­lec­tion and don’t give users a way to stop it:

    ...
    Besides Flo Health, the Jour­nal found that Instant Heart Rate: HR Mon­i­tor and real-estate app Realtor.com were also send­ing app data to Face­book. The Jour­nal found that the apps did not pro­vide users any way to stop the data-shar­ing.
    ...

    And as the fol­low­ing Buz­zFeed report from Decem­ber describes, while app devel­op­ers tend to assume that the infor­ma­tion their apps are send­ing back to Face­book is anonymized because it does­n’t have your per­son­al name attached, that’s basi­cal­ly a garbage con­clu­sion because Face­book does­n’t need your name to know who you are. There’s plen­ty of oth­er iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion in what these apps are send­ing. Even if you don’t have a Face­book pro­file. And about half of the smart­phone apps found to be send­ing infor­ma­tion back to Face­book don’t even men­tion this in their pri­va­cy poli­cies accord­ing to a study by the Ger­man mobile secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive Mobil­sich­er. So what per­cent of smart­phone apps over­all are send­ing infor­ma­tion back to Face­book? Accord­ing to the esti­mates of pri­va­cy researcher col­lec­tive App Cen­sus, about 30 per­cent of all apps on the Google Play store con­tact Face­book at start­up:

    Buz­zFeed News

    Apps Are Reveal­ing Your Pri­vate Infor­ma­tion To Face­book And You Prob­a­bly Don’t Know It

    Face­book pro­vid­ed devel­op­ers with tools to build Face­book-com­pat­i­ble apps like Tin­der, Grindr, and Preg­nan­cy+. Those apps have been qui­et­ly send­ing sen­si­tive user data to Face­book.
    Char­lie Warzel Buz­zFeed News Reporter

    Last updat­ed on Decem­ber 19, 2018, at 1:04 p.m. ET
    Post­ed on Decem­ber 19, 2018, at 12:30 p.m. ET

    Major Android apps like Tin­der, Grindr, and Preg­nan­cy+ are qui­et­ly trans­mit­ting sen­si­tive user data to Face­book, accord­ing to a new report by the Ger­man mobile secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive Mobil­sich­er. This infor­ma­tion can include things like reli­gious affil­i­a­tion, dat­ing pro­files, and health care data. It’s being pur­pose­ful­ly col­lect­ed by Face­book through the Soft­ware Devel­op­er Kit (SDK) that it pro­vides to third-par­ty app devel­op­ers. And while Face­book does­n’t hide this, you prob­a­bly don’t know about it.

    Cer­tain­ly not all devel­op­ers did.

    “Most devel­op­ers we asked about this issue assumed that the infor­ma­tion Face­book receives is anonymized,” Mobil­sich­er explains in its report, which explores the types of infor­ma­tion shared behind the scenes between the plat­form and devel­op­ers. Through its SDK, Face­book pro­vides app devel­op­ers with data about their users, includ­ing where you click, how long you use the app, and your loca­tion when you use it. In exchange, Face­book can access the data those apps col­lect, which it then uses to tar­get adver­tis­ing rel­e­vant to a user’s inter­ests. That data doesn’t have your name attached, but as Mobil­sich­er shows, it’s far from anonymized, and it’s trans­mit­ted to Face­book regard­less of whether users are logged into the plat­form.

    Among the infor­ma­tion trans­mit­ted to Face­book are the IP address of the device that used the app, the type of device, time of use, and a user-spe­cif­ic Adver­tis­ing ID, which allows Face­book to iden­ti­fy and link third-par­ty app infor­ma­tion to the peo­ple using those apps. Apps that Mobil­sich­er test­ed include Bible+, Curvy, For­Dia­betes, Grindr, Kwitt, Migraine Bud­dy, Mood­path, Mus­lim Pro, OkCu­pid, Preg­nan­cy+, and more.

    As long as you’ve logged into Face­book on your mobile device at some point (through your phone’s brows­er or the Face­book app itself), the com­pa­ny cross-ref­er­ences the Adver­tis­ing ID and can link the third-par­ty app infor­ma­tion to your pro­file. And even if you don’t have a Face­book pro­file, the data can still be trans­mit­ted and col­lect­ed with oth­er third-par­ty app data that cor­re­sponds to your unique Adver­tis­ing ID.

    For devel­op­ers and Face­book, this trans­mis­sion appears rel­a­tive­ly com­mon. The pri­va­cy researcher col­lec­tive App Cen­sus esti­mates that “approx­i­mate­ly 30 per­cent of all apps in Google’s Play store con­tact Face­book at start­up” through the company’s SDK. The research firm Sta­tista esti­mates that the Google Play store has over 2.6 mil­lion apps as of Decem­ber 2018. As the Mobil­sich­er report details, many of these apps con­tain sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion. And while Face­book users can opt out and dis­able tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments (the same kind of ads that are informed by third-par­ty app data), it is unclear whether turn­ing off tar­get­ing stops Face­book from col­lect­ing this app infor­ma­tion. In a state­ment to Mobil­sich­er, Face­book spec­i­fied only that “if a per­son uti­lizes one of these con­trols, then Face­book will not use data gath­ered on these third-par­ty apps (e.g. through Face­book Audi­ence Net­work), for ad tar­get­ing.”

    A Face­book rep­re­sen­ta­tive clar­i­fied to Buz­zFeed News that while it enables users to opt out of tar­get­ed ads from third par­ties, the con­trols apply to the usage of the data and not its col­lec­tion. The com­pa­ny also said it does not use the third-par­ty data it col­lects through the SDK to cre­ate pro­files of non-Face­book users. Tin­der, Grindr, and Google did not respond to requests for com­ment. Apple, which uses a sim­i­lar ad iden­ti­fi­er, was not able to com­ment at the time of pub­li­ca­tion.

    The pub­li­ca­tion of Mobilsicher’s report comes at the end of a year rife with Face­book pri­va­cy scan­dals. In the past few months alone, the com­pa­ny has grap­pled with a few mas­sive ones. In late Sep­tem­ber, Face­book dis­closed a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that had exposed the per­son­al infor­ma­tion of 30 mil­lion users. A month lat­er, it revealed that same vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty had exposed pro­file infor­ma­tion includ­ing gen­der, loca­tion, birth dates, and recent search his­to­ry. Ear­li­er this month, the com­pa­ny report­ed anoth­er secu­ri­ty flaw that poten­tial­ly exposed the pub­lic and pri­vate pho­tos of as many as 6.8 mil­lion Face­book users to devel­op­ers that should not have had access to them. And on Tues­day, the New York Times report­ed that Face­book gave more than 150 com­pa­nies, includ­ing Net­flix, Ama­zon, Microsoft, Spo­ti­fy, and Yahoo, unprece­dent­ed and undis­closed access to users’ per­son­al data, in some cas­es grant­i­ng access to read users’ pri­vate mes­sages.

    The vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, cou­pled with fall­out from the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca data min­ing scan­dal, have set off a Face­book pri­va­cy reck­on­ing that’s inspired grass­roots cam­paigns to #Delete­Face­book, lead­ing to some high-pro­file dele­tions. They’ve also sparked a tech­ni­cal debate about whether Face­book “sells data” to adver­tis­ers. (Face­book and its defend­ers argue that no data changes hands as a result of its tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing, while crit­ics say that’s a seman­tic dodge and that the com­pa­ny sells ads against your infor­ma­tion, which is effec­tive­ly sim­i­lar.)

    Lost in that debate is the greater issue of trans­paren­cy. Plat­forms like Face­book do dis­close their data poli­cies in daunt­ing moun­tain ranges of text with impres­sive­ly off-putting com­plex­i­ty. Rare is the nor­mal human who reads them. Rar­er still is the non-devel­op­er human who reads the com­pa­ny’s even more off-putting data poli­cies for devel­op­ers. For these rea­sons, the mechan­ics of the Face­book plat­form — par­tic­u­lar­ly the nuances of its soft­ware devel­op­er kit — are large­ly unknown to the typ­i­cal Face­book user.

    Though CEO Mark Zucker­berg told law­mak­ers this year that Face­book users have “com­plete con­trol” of their data, Tues­day’s New York Times inves­ti­ga­tion as well as Mobil­sicher’s report reveal that user infor­ma­tion appears to move between dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies and plat­forms and is col­lect­ed, some­times with­out noti­fy­ing the users. In the case of Facebook’s SDK, for exam­ple, Mobil­sich­er notes that the trans­mis­sion of user infor­ma­tion from third-par­ty apps to Face­book occurs entire­ly behind the scenes. None of the apps Mobil­sich­er found to be trans­mit­ting data to Face­book “active­ly noti­fied users” that they were doing so. Accord­ing to the report, “Not even half of [the apps Mobil­sich­er test­ed] men­tion Face­book Ana­lyt­ics in their pri­va­cy pol­i­cy. Strict­ly speak­ing, none of them is GDPR-com­pli­ant, since the trans­mis­sion starts before any user inter­ac­tion could indi­cate informed con­sent.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Apps Are Reveal­ing Your Pri­vate Infor­ma­tion To Face­book And You Prob­a­bly Don’t Know It” by Char­lie Warzel; Buz­zFeed; 12/19/2018

    “Major Android apps like Tin­der, Grindr, and Preg­nan­cy+ are qui­et­ly trans­mit­ting sen­si­tive user data to Face­book, accord­ing to a new report by the Ger­man mobile secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive Mobil­sich­er. This infor­ma­tion can include things like reli­gious affil­i­a­tion, dat­ing pro­files, and health care data. It’s being pur­pose­ful­ly col­lect­ed by Face­book through the Soft­ware Devel­op­er Kit (SDK) that it pro­vides to third-par­ty app devel­op­ers. And while Face­book does­n’t hide this, you prob­a­bly don’t know about it.”

    It’s not just the hand­ful of apps described in the Wall Street Jour­nal report. Major Android apps are rou­tine­ly pass­ing infor­ma­tion to Face­book. And this infor­ma­tion can include things like reli­gious affil­i­a­tion and data pro­files in addi­tion to health care data. And while devel­op­ers might be doing this, in part, because they assume the data is anonymized, it’s not. At least not in any mean­ing­ful way. And even non-Face­book users are get­ting their data sent:

    ...
    Cer­tain­ly not all devel­op­ers did.

    “Most devel­op­ers we asked about this issue assumed that the infor­ma­tion Face­book receives is anonymized,” Mobil­sich­er explains in its report, which explores the types of infor­ma­tion shared behind the scenes between the plat­form and devel­op­ers. Through its SDK, Face­book pro­vides app devel­op­ers with data about their users, includ­ing where you click, how long you use the app, and your loca­tion when you use it. In exchange, Face­book can access the data those apps col­lect, which it then uses to tar­get adver­tis­ing rel­e­vant to a user’s inter­ests. That data doesn’t have your name attached, but as Mobil­sich­er shows, it’s far from anonymized, and it’s trans­mit­ted to Face­book regard­less of whether users are logged into the plat­form.

    Among the infor­ma­tion trans­mit­ted to Face­book are the IP address of the device that used the app, the type of device, time of use, and a user-spe­cif­ic Adver­tis­ing ID, which allows Face­book to iden­ti­fy and link third-par­ty app infor­ma­tion to the peo­ple using those apps. Apps that Mobil­sich­er test­ed include Bible+, Curvy, For­Dia­betes, Grindr, Kwitt, Migraine Bud­dy, Mood­path, Mus­lim Pro, OkCu­pid, Preg­nan­cy+, and more.

    As long as you’ve logged into Face­book on your mobile device at some point (through your phone’s brows­er or the Face­book app itself), the com­pa­ny cross-ref­er­ences the Adver­tis­ing ID and can link the third-par­ty app infor­ma­tion to your pro­file. And even if you don’t have a Face­book pro­file, the data can still be trans­mit­ted and col­lect­ed with oth­er third-par­ty app data that cor­re­sponds to your unique Adver­tis­ing ID.
    ...

    How com­mon is this? Accord­ing to pri­va­cy researcher col­lec­tive App Cen­sus esti­mates, it’s about 30 per­cent of all apps in the Google Play store. And half of the apps test­ed by Mobil­sich­er did­n’t even men­tion Face­book Ana­lyt­ics in their pri­va­cy pol­i­cy:

    ...
    For devel­op­ers and Face­book, this trans­mis­sion appears rel­a­tive­ly com­mon. The pri­va­cy researcher col­lec­tive App Cen­sus esti­mates that “approx­i­mate­ly 30 per­cent of all apps in Google’s Play store con­tact Face­book at start­up” through the company’s SDK. The research firm Sta­tista esti­mates that the Google Play store has over 2.6 mil­lion apps as of Decem­ber 2018. As the Mobil­sich­er report details, many of these apps con­tain sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion. And while Face­book users can opt out and dis­able tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments (the same kind of ads that are informed by third-par­ty app data), it is unclear whether turn­ing off tar­get­ing stops Face­book from col­lect­ing this app infor­ma­tion. In a state­ment to Mobil­sich­er, Face­book spec­i­fied only that “if a per­son uti­lizes one of these con­trols, then Face­book will not use data gath­ered on these third-par­ty apps (e.g. through Face­book Audi­ence Net­work), for ad tar­get­ing.”

    ...

    Though CEO Mark Zucker­berg told law­mak­ers this year that Face­book users have “com­plete con­trol” of their data, Tues­day’s New York Times inves­ti­ga­tion as well as Mobil­sicher’s report reveal that user infor­ma­tion appears to move between dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies and plat­forms and is col­lect­ed, some­times with­out noti­fy­ing the users. In the case of Facebook’s SDK, for exam­ple, Mobil­sich­er notes that the trans­mis­sion of user infor­ma­tion from third-par­ty apps to Face­book occurs entire­ly behind the scenes. None of the apps Mobil­sich­er found to be trans­mit­ting data to Face­book “active­ly noti­fied users” that they were doing so. Accord­ing to the report, “Not even half of [the apps Mobil­sich­er test­ed] men­tion Face­book Ana­lyt­ics in their pri­va­cy pol­i­cy. Strict­ly speak­ing, none of them is GDPR-com­pli­ant, since the trans­mis­sion starts before any user inter­ac­tion could indi­cate informed con­sent.”
    ...

    And accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, that 30 per­cent esti­mate might be low. Accord­ing to a Pri­va­cy Inter­na­tion­al study, at least 20 out of 34 pop­u­lar Android apps that they test­ed were trans­mit­ting sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion back to Face­book with­out ask­ing for per­mis­sion:

    Engad­get

    More pop­u­lar apps are send­ing data to Face­book with­out ask­ing
    MyFit­ness­Pal, Tri­pAd­vi­sor and oth­ers may be vio­lat­ing EU pri­va­cy law.

    Jon Fin­gas
    12.30.18

    It’s not just dat­ing and health apps that might be vio­lat­ing your pri­va­cy when they send data to Face­book. A Pri­va­cy Inter­na­tion­al study has deter­mined that “at least” 20 out of 34 pop­u­lar Android apps are trans­mit­ting sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion to Face­book with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion, includ­ing Kayak, MyFit­ness­Pal, Sky­scan­ner and Tri­pAd­vi­sor. This typ­i­cal­ly includes ana­lyt­ics data that sends on launch, includ­ing your unique Android ID, but can also include data that sends lat­er. The trav­el search engine Kayak, for instance, appar­ent­ly sends des­ti­na­tion and flight search data, trav­el dates and whether or not kids might come along.

    While the data might not imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fy you, it could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly be used to rec­og­nize some­one through round­about means, such as the apps they have installed or whether they trav­el with the same per­son.

    The con­cern isn’t just that apps are over­shar­ing data, but that they may be vio­lat­ing the EU’s GDPR pri­va­cy rules by both col­lect­ing info with­out con­sent and poten­tial­ly iden­ti­fy­ing users. You can’t lay the blame sole­ly at the feet of Face­book or devel­op­ers, though. Face­book’s rel­e­vant devel­op­er kit did­n’t pro­vide the option to ask for per­mis­sion until after GDPR took effect. The social net­work did devel­op a fix, but it’s not clear that it works or that devel­op­ers are imple­ment­ing it prop­er­ly. Numer­ous apps were still using old­er ver­sions of the devel­op­er kit, accord­ing to the study. Sky­scan­ner not­ed that it was “not aware” it was send­ing data with­out per­mis­sion.

    ...

    ———-

    “More pop­u­lar apps are send­ing data to Face­book with­out ask­ing” by Jon Fin­gas; Engad­get; 12/30/18

    “It’s not just dat­ing and health apps that might be vio­lat­ing your pri­va­cy when they send data to Face­book. A Pri­va­cy Inter­na­tion­al study has deter­mined that “at least” 20 out of 34 pop­u­lar Android apps are trans­mit­ting sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion to Face­book with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion, includ­ing Kayak, MyFit­ness­Pal, Sky­scan­ner and Tri­pAd­vi­sor. This typ­i­cal­ly includes ana­lyt­ics data that sends on launch, includ­ing your unique Android ID, but can also include data that sends lat­er. The trav­el search engine Kayak, for instance, appar­ent­ly sends des­ti­na­tion and flight search data, trav­el dates and whether or not kids might come along.”

    So if you don’t exact­ly whether or not an app is send­ing Face­book your data, it appears to be a safe bet that, yes, that an app is send­ing Face­book your data.

    And if you’re tempt­ed to delete all of the apps off of your smart­phone, recall all the sto­ries about device mak­ers, includ­ing smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers, send­ing and receiv­ing large amounts of user data with Face­book and lit­er­al­ly being treat­ed as “exten­sions” of Face­book by the com­pa­ny. So while smart­phone apps are cer­tain­ly going to be a major source of per­son­al data leak­age, don’t for­get there’s a good chance your smart­phone itself is basi­cal­ly work­ing for Face­book.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 25, 2019, 12:03 pm
  8. Here’s an update on the brain-to-com­put­er inter­face tech­nol­o­gy that Face­book is work­ing on. First, recall how the ini­tial use for the tech­nol­o­gy that Face­book has been tout­ing thus far has been sim­ply replac­ing using your brain for rapid typ­ing. It always seemed like a rather lim­it­ed appli­ca­tion for a tech­nol­o­gy that’s basi­cal­ly read­ing your mind.

    Now Mark Zucker­berg is giv­ing us a hint at one of the more ambi­tious appli­ca­tions of these tech­nol­o­gy: Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty (AR). AR tech­nol­o­gy isn’t new. Google Glass was an ear­li­er ver­sion of AR tech­nol­o­gy and Ocu­lus, the vir­tu­al real­i­ty head­set com­pa­ny owned by Face­book, has made it clear that AR is an area they are plan­ning on get­ting into. But it sounds like Face­book has big plans for using the the brain-to-com­put­er with AR tech­nol­o­gy. This was revealed dur­ing a talk Zucker­berg gave at Har­vard last month dur­ing a two hour inter­view by with Har­vard law school pro­fes­sor Jonathan Zit­train. Accord­ing to Zucker­berg, the vision is to allow peo­ple to use their thoughts to nav­i­gate through aug­ment­ed real­i­ties. This will pre­sum­ably work in tan­dem with AR head­sets.

    So as we should expect, Face­book’s ear­ly plans for brain-to-com­put­er inter­faces aren’t lim­it­ed to peo­ple typ­ing with their minds at a com­put­er. They are plans for incor­po­rat­ing the tech­nol­o­gy into the kind of tech­nol­o­gy that peo­ple can wear every­where like AR glass­es:

    Wired

    Zucker­berg Wants Face­book to Build a Mind-Read­ing Machine

    Author: Noam Cohen
    03.07.19 07:00 am

    For those of us who wor­ry that Face­book may have seri­ous bound­ary issues when it comes to the per­son­al infor­ma­tion of its users, Mark Zuckerberg’s recent com­ments at Har­vard should get the heart rac­ing.

    Zucker­berg dropped by the uni­ver­si­ty last month osten­si­bly as part of a a year of con­ver­sa­tions with experts about the role of tech­nol­o­gy in soci­ety, “the oppor­tu­ni­ties, the chal­lenges, the hopes, and the anx­i­eties.” His near­ly two-hour inter­view with Har­vard law school pro­fes­sor Jonathan Zit­train in front of Face­book cam­eras and a class­room of stu­dents cen­tered on the company’s unprece­dent­ed posi­tion as a town square for per­haps 2 bil­lion peo­ple. To hear the young CEO tell it, Face­book was tak­ing shots from all sides—either it was indif­fer­ent to the eth­nic hatred fes­ter­ing on its plat­forms or it was a heavy-hand­ed cen­sor decid­ing whether an idea was allowed to be expressed.

    Zucker­berg con­fessed that he hadn’t sought out such an awe­some respon­si­bil­i­ty. No one should, he said. “If I was a dif­fer­ent per­son, what would I want the CEO of the com­pa­ny to be able to do?” he asked him­self. “I would not want so many deci­sions about con­tent to be con­cen­trat­ed with any indi­vid­ual.”

    Instead, Face­book will estab­lish its own Supreme Court, he told Zit­train, an out­side pan­el entrust­ed to set­tle thorny ques­tions about what appears on the plat­form. “I will not be able to make a deci­sion that over­turns what they say,” he promised, “which I think is good.”

    All was going to plan. Zucker­berg had dis­played a wel­come humil­i­ty about him­self and his com­pa­ny. And then he described what real­ly excit­ed him about the future—and the famil­iar Sil­i­con Val­ley hubris had returned. There was this promis­ing new tech­nol­o­gy, he explained, a brain-com­put­er inter­face, which Face­book has been research­ing.

    The idea is to allow peo­ple to use their thoughts to nav­i­gate intu­itive­ly through aug­ment­ed reality—the neu­ro-dri­ven ver­sion of the world recent­ly described by Kevin Kel­ly in these pages. No typ­ing, no speak­ing, even, to dis­tract you or slow you down as you inter­act with dig­i­tal addi­tions to the land­scape: dri­ving instruc­tions super­im­posed over the free­way, short biogra­phies float­ing next to atten­dees of a con­fer­ence, 3‑D mod­els of fur­ni­ture you can move around your apart­ment.

    The Har­vard audi­ence was a lit­tle tak­en aback by the conversation’s turn, and Zit­train made a law-pro­fes­sor joke about the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to remain silent in light of a tech­nol­o­gy that allows eaves­drop­ping on thoughts. “Fifth amend­ment impli­ca­tions are stag­ger­ing,” he said to laugh­ter. Even this gen­tle push­back was met with the tried-and-true defense of big tech com­pa­nies when crit­i­cized for tram­pling users’ privacy—users’ con­sent. “Pre­sum­ably,” Zucker­berg said, “this would be some­thing that some­one would choose to use as a prod­uct.”

    In short, he would not be divert­ed from his self-assigned mis­sion to con­nect the peo­ple of the world for fun and prof­it. Not by the dystopi­an image of brain-prob­ing police offi­cers. Not by an extend­ed apol­o­gy tour. “I don’t know how we got onto that,” he said jovial­ly. “But I think a lit­tle bit on future tech and research is inter­est­ing, too.”

    Of course, Face­book already fol­lows you around as you make your way through the world via the GPS in the smart­phone in your pock­et, and, like­wise, fol­lows you across the inter­net via code implant­ed in your brows­er. Would we real­ly let Face­book inside those old nog­gins of ours just so we can order a piz­za faster and with more top­pings? Zucker­berg clear­ly is count­ing on it.

    To be fair, Face­book doesn’t plan to actu­al­ly enter our brains. For one thing, a sur­gi­cal implant, Zucker­berg told Zit­train, wouldn’t scale well: “If you’re actu­al­ly try­ing to build things that every­one is going to use, you’re going to want to focus on the non­in­va­sive things.”

    The tech­nol­o­gy that Zucker­berg described is a show­er-cap-look­ing device that sur­rounds a brain and dis­cov­ers con­nec­tions between par­tic­u­lar thoughts and par­tic­u­lar blood flows or brain activ­i­ty, pre­sum­ably to assist the glass­es or head­sets man­u­fac­tured by Ocu­lus VR, which is part of Face­book. Already, Zucker­berg said, researchers can dis­tin­guish when a per­son is think­ing of a giraffe or an ele­phant based on neur­al activ­i­ty. Typ­ing with your mind would work off of the same prin­ci­ples.

    As with so many of Facebook’s inno­va­tions, Zucker­berg doesn’t see how brain-com­put­er inter­face breach­es an individual’s integri­ty, what Louis Bran­deis famous­ly defined as “the right to be left alone” in one’s thoughts, but instead sees a tech­nol­o­gy that empow­ers the indi­vid­ual. “The way that our phones work today, and all com­put­ing sys­tems, orga­nized around apps and tasks is fun­da­men­tal­ly not how our brains work and how we approach the world,” he told Zit­train. “That’s one of the rea­sons why I’m just very excit­ed longer term about espe­cial­ly things like aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, because it’ll give us a plat­form that I think actu­al­ly is how we think about stuff.”

    Kel­ly, in his essay about AR, like­wise sees a world that makes more sense when a “smart” ver­sion rests atop the quo­tid­i­an one. “Watch­es will detect chairs,” he writes of this mir­ror­world, “chairs will detect spread­sheets; glass­es will detect watch­es, even under a sleeve; tablets will see the inside of a tur­bine; tur­bines will see work­ers around them.” Sud­den­ly our envi­ron­ment, nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial, will oper­ate as an inte­grat­ed whole. Except for humans with their bot­tled up thoughts and desires. Until, that is, they install BCI-enhanced glass­es.

    Zucker­berg explained the poten­tial ben­e­fits of the tech­nol­o­gy this way when he announced Facebook’s research in 2017: “Our brains pro­duce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every sec­ond. The prob­lem is that the best way we have to get infor­ma­tion out into the world—speech—can only trans­mit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem. We’re work­ing on a sys­tem that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Even­tu­al­ly, we want to turn it into a wear­able tech­nol­o­gy that can be man­u­fac­tured at scale. Even a sim­ple yes/no ‘brain click’ would help make things like aug­ment­ed real­i­ty feel much more nat­ur­al.”

    Zucker­berg likes to quote Steve Jobs’s descrip­tion of com­put­ers as “bicy­cles for the mind.” I can imag­ine him think­ing, What’s wrong with help­ing us ped­al a lit­tle faster?

    ...

    ———-

    “Zucker­berg Wants Face­book to Build a Mind-Read­ing Machine” by Noam Cohen; Wired; 03/07/2019

    “All was going to plan. Zucker­berg had dis­played a wel­come humil­i­ty about him­self and his com­pa­ny. And then he described what real­ly excit­ed him about the future—and the famil­iar Sil­i­con Val­ley hubris had returned. There was this promis­ing new tech­nol­o­gy, he explained, a brain-com­put­er inter­face, which Face­book has been research­ing.

    Yep, every­thing was going well at the Zucker­berg event until he start­ed talk­ing about his vision for the future. A future of aug­ment­ed real­i­ty that you nav­i­gate with your thoughts using Face­book’s brain-to-com­put­er inter­face tech­nol­o­gy. It might seem creepy, but Face­book is clear­ly bet­ting on it not being too creepy to pre­vent peo­ple from using it:

    ...
    The idea is to allow peo­ple to use their thoughts to nav­i­gate intu­itive­ly through aug­ment­ed reality—the neu­ro-dri­ven ver­sion of the world recent­ly described by Kevin Kel­ly in these pages. No typ­ing, no speak­ing, even, to dis­tract you or slow you down as you inter­act with dig­i­tal addi­tions to the land­scape: dri­ving instruc­tions super­im­posed over the free­way, short biogra­phies float­ing next to atten­dees of a con­fer­ence, 3‑D mod­els of fur­ni­ture you can move around your apart­ment.

    ...

    Of course, Face­book already fol­lows you around as you make your way through the world via the GPS in the smart­phone in your pock­et, and, like­wise, fol­lows you across the inter­net via code implant­ed in your brows­er. Would we real­ly let Face­book inside those old nog­gins of ours just so we can order a piz­za faster and with more top­pings? Zucker­berg clear­ly is count­ing on it.

    To be fair, Face­book doesn’t plan to actu­al­ly enter our brains. For one thing, a sur­gi­cal implant, Zucker­berg told Zit­train, wouldn’t scale well: “If you’re actu­al­ly try­ing to build things that every­one is going to use, you’re going to want to focus on the non­in­va­sive things.”

    The tech­nol­o­gy that Zucker­berg described is a show­er-cap-look­ing device that sur­rounds a brain and dis­cov­ers con­nec­tions between par­tic­u­lar thoughts and par­tic­u­lar blood flows or brain activ­i­ty, pre­sum­ably to assist the glass­es or head­sets man­u­fac­tured by Ocu­lus VR, which is part of Face­book. Already, Zucker­berg said, researchers can dis­tin­guish when a per­son is think­ing of a giraffe or an ele­phant based on neur­al activ­i­ty. Typ­ing with your mind would work off of the same prin­ci­ples.
    ...

    What about poten­tial abus­es like vio­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to remain silent? Zucker­berg assured us that only peo­ple who choose to use the tech­nol­o­gy would actu­al­ly use so we should­n’t wor­ry about abuse, a rather wor­ry­ing response in part because of typ­i­cal it is:

    ...
    The Har­vard audi­ence was a lit­tle tak­en aback by the conversation’s turn, and Zit­train made a law-pro­fes­sor joke about the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to remain silent in light of a tech­nol­o­gy that allows eaves­drop­ping on thoughts. “Fifth amend­ment impli­ca­tions are stag­ger­ing,” he said to laugh­ter. Even this gen­tle push­back was met with the tried-and-true defense of big tech com­pa­nies when crit­i­cized for tram­pling users’ privacy—users’ con­sent. “Pre­sum­ably,” Zucker­berg said, “this would be some­thing that some­one would choose to use as a prod­uct.”

    In short, he would not be divert­ed from his self-assigned mis­sion to con­nect the peo­ple of the world for fun and prof­it. Not by the dystopi­an image of brain-prob­ing police offi­cers. Not by an extend­ed apol­o­gy tour. “I don’t know how we got onto that,” he said jovial­ly. “But I think a lit­tle bit on future tech and research is inter­est­ing, too.”
    ...

    But at least it’s aug­ment­ed real­i­ty that will be work­ing with some sort of AR head­set and the tech­nol­o­gy isn’t actu­al­ly inject­ing aug­ment­ed info into your brain. That would be a whole new lev­el of creepy.

    And accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, Dr. Moran Cerf, is work­ing on on exact­ly that kind of tech­nol­o­gy and pre­dicts it will be avail­able to the pub­lic in as lit­tle as five years. Cerf is work­ing on some sort chip that would be con­nect­ed to the inter­net, read your thoughts, go to Wikipedia or some web­site to get an answer to your ques­tions, and return the answer direct­ly to your brain. Yep, inter­net-con­nect­ed brain chips. He esti­mates that such tech­nol­o­gy could give peo­ple IQs of 200.

    So will peo­ple have to go through brain surgery to get this new tech­nol­o­gy? Not nec­es­sar­i­ly. Cerf is ask­ing the ques­tion “Can you eat some­thing that will actu­al­ly get to your brain? Can you eat things in parts that will assem­ble inside your head?” Yep, inter­net-con­nect­ed brain chips that you eat. So not only will you not need brain surgery to get the chip...in the­o­ry, you might not even know you ate one.

    Also note that it’s unclear if this brain chip can read your thoughts like Face­book’s brain-to-com­put­er inter­face or if it’s only for feed­ing your the infor­ma­tion from the inter­net. In oth­er words, since Cer­f’s vision for this chip requires the abil­i­ty to read thoughts first in order to go on the inter­net and find answers and report them back, it’s pos­si­ble that this is the kind of com­put­er-to-brain tech­nol­o­gy that is intend­ed to work with the kind of brain-to-com­put­er mind read­ing tech­nol­o­gy Face­book is work­ing on. And that’s par­tic­u­lar­ly rev­e­lent because Cerf tells us that he’s col­lab­o­rat­ing with ‘Sil­i­con Val­ley big wigs’ that he’d rather not name:

    CBS Chica­go

    North­west­ern Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Research­ing Brain Chips To Make Peo­ple Super­in­tel­li­gent

    By Lau­ren Vic­to­ry
    March 4, 2019 at 7:32 am

    CHICAGO (CBS) — What if you could make mon­ey, or type some­thing, just by think­ing about it? It sounds like sci­ence fic­tion, but it might be close to real­i­ty.

    In as lit­tle as five years, super smart peo­ple could be walk­ing down the street; men and women who’ve paid to increase their intel­li­gence.

    North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty neu­ro­sci­en­tist and busi­ness pro­fes­sor Dr. Moran Cerf made that pre­dic­tion, because he’s work­ing on a smart chip for the brain.

    “Make it so that it has an inter­net con­nec­tion, and goes to Wikipedia, and when I think this par­tic­u­lar thought, it gives me the answer,” he said.

    Cerf is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Sil­i­con Val­ley big wigs he’d rather not name.

    Face­book also has been work­ing on build­ing a brain-com­put­er inter­face, and SpaceX and Tes­la CEO Elon Musk is back­ing a brain-com­put­er inter­face called Neu­ralink.

    “Every­one is spend­ing a lot of time right now try­ing to find ways to get things into the brain with­out drilling a hole in your skull,” Cerf said. “Can you eat some­thing that will actu­al­ly get to your brain? Can you eat things in parts that will assem­ble inside your head?”

    ...

    “This is no longer a sci­ence prob­lem. This is a social prob­lem,” Cerf said.

    Cerf wor­ries about cre­at­ing intel­li­gence gaps in soci­ety; on top of exist­ing gen­der, racial, and finan­cial inequal­i­ties.

    “They can make mon­ey by just think­ing about the right invest­ments, and we can­not; so they’re going to get rich­er, they’re going to get health­i­er, they’re going to live longer,” he said.

    The aver­age IQ of an intel­li­gent mon­key is about 70, the aver­age human IQ is around 100, and a genius IQ is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered to begin around 140. Peo­ple with a smart chip in their brain could have an IQ of around 200, so would they even want to inter­act with the aver­age per­son?

    “Are they going to say, ‘Look at this cute human, Stephen Hawk­ing. He can do dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions in his mind, just like a lit­tle baby with 160 IQ points. Isn’t it amaz­ing? So cute. Now let’s put it back in a cage and give it bananas,’” Cerf said.

    Time will tell. Or will our minds?

    Approx­i­mate­ly 40,000 peo­ple in the Unit­ed States already have smart chips in their heads, but those brain implants are only approved for med­ical use for now.

    ———-

    “North­west­ern Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Research­ing Brain Chips To Make Peo­ple Super­in­tel­li­gent” by Lau­ren Vic­to­ry; CBS Chica­go; 03/04/2019

    “In as lit­tle as five years, super smart peo­ple could be walk­ing down the street; men and women who’ve paid to increase their intel­li­gence.”

    In just five years, you’ll be walk­ing down the street, won­der about some­thing, and your brain chip will go access Wikipedia, find the answer, and some­how deliv­er it to you. And you won’t even have to have gone through brain surgery. You’ll just eat some­thing that will some­how insert the chip in your brain:

    ...
    North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty neu­ro­sci­en­tist and busi­ness pro­fes­sor Dr. Moran Cerf made that pre­dic­tion, because he’s work­ing on a smart chip for the brain.

    “Make it so that it has an inter­net con­nec­tion, and goes to Wikipedia, and when I think this par­tic­u­lar thought, it gives me the answer,” he said.

    ...

    Face­book also has been work­ing on build­ing a brain-com­put­er inter­face, and SpaceX and Tes­la CEO Elon Musk is back­ing a brain-com­put­er inter­face called Neu­ralink.

    “Every­one is spend­ing a lot of time right now try­ing to find ways to get things into the brain with­out drilling a hole in your skull,” Cerf said. “Can you eat some­thing that will actu­al­ly get to your brain? Can you eat things in parts that will assem­ble inside your head?”

    ...

    The aver­age IQ of an intel­li­gent mon­key is about 70, the aver­age human IQ is around 100, and a genius IQ is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered to begin around 140. Peo­ple with a smart chip in their brain could have an IQ of around 200, so would they even want to inter­act with the aver­age per­son?
    ...

    That’s the promise. Or, rather, the hype. It’s hard to imag­ine this all being ready in five years. It’s also worth not­ing that if the only thing this chip does is con­duct inter­net queries it’s hard to see how this will effec­tive­ly raise peo­ple’s IQs to 200. After all, peo­ple damn near have their brains con­nect­ed to Wikipedia already with smart­phones and there does­n’t appear to have been a smart­phone-induced IQ boost. But who knows. Once you have the tech­nol­o­gy to rapid­ly feed infor­ma­tion back and forth between the brain and a com­put­er there could be all sorts of IQ-boost­ing tech­nolo­gies that could be devel­oped. At a min­i­mum, it could allow for some very fan­cy aug­ment­ed real­i­ty tech­nol­o­gy.

    So some sort of com­put­er-to-brain inter­face tech­nol­o­gy appears to be on the hori­zon. And if Cer­f’s chip ends up being tech­no­log­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble it’s going to have Sil­i­con Val­ley big wigs behind it. We just don’t know which big wigs because he won’t tell us:

    ...
    Cerf is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Sil­i­con Val­ley big wigs he’d rather not name.
    ...

    So some Sil­i­con Val­ley big wits are work­ing on com­put­er-to-brain inter­face tech­nol­o­gy that can poten­tial­ly be fed to peo­ple. And they they want to keep their involve­ment in the devel­op­ment of this tech­nol­o­gy a secret. That’s super omi­nous, right?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 7, 2019, 3:45 pm
  9. Remem­ber how the right-wing out­rage machine cre­at­ed an uproar in 2016 over alle­ga­tion that Face­book’s trend­ing news was cen­sor­ing con­ser­v­a­tive sto­ries? And remem­ber how Face­book respond­ed by fir­ing all the human edi­tors and replac­ing them with an algo­rithm that turned the trend­ing news sec­tion into a dis­trib­u­tor or right-wing ‘fake news’ mis­in­for­ma­tion? And remem­ber how Face­book announced a new set of news feed changes in Jan­u­ary of 2018, then a cou­ple of months lat­er con­ser­v­a­tives were again com­plain­ing that it was biased against them, so Face­book hired for­mer Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor John Kyl and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion to do an audit of the com­pa­ny to deter­mined whether or not Face­book had a polit­i­cal bias?

    Well, it looks like we’re due for a round of fake out­rage designed to make social media com­pa­nies more com­pli­ant to right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns. This time, it’s Pres­i­dent Trump lead­ing the way on the faux out­rage, com­plain­ing that “Some­thing’s hap­pen­ing with those groups of folks that are run­ning Face­book and Google and Twit­ter and I do think we have to get to the bot­tom of it”:

    The Hill

    Trump accus­es Sil­i­con Val­ley of col­lud­ing to silence con­ser­v­a­tives

    By Justin Wise — 03/19/19 03:09 PM EDT

    Pres­i­dent Trump on Tues­day sug­gest­ed that Google, Face­book and Twit­ter have col­lud­ed with each oth­er to dis­crim­i­nate against Repub­li­cans.

    “We use the word col­lu­sion very loose­ly all the time. And I will tell you there is col­lu­sion with respect to that,” Trump said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the White House Rose Gar­den. “Some­thing has to be going on. You see the lev­el, in many cas­es, of hatred for a cer­tain group of peo­ple that hap­pened to be in pow­er, that hap­pened to win the elec­tion.

    “Some­thing’s hap­pen­ing with those groups of folks that are run­ning Face­book and Google and Twit­ter and I do think we have to get to the bot­tom of it,” he added.

    The pres­i­den­t’s com­ments marked an esca­la­tion in his crit­i­cism of U.S. tech giants like Twit­ter, a plat­form that he fre­quent­ly uses to pro­mote his poli­cies and denounce his polit­i­cal oppo­nents.

    Trump said Twit­ter is “dif­fer­ent than it used to be,” when asked about a new push to make social media com­pa­nies liable for the con­tent on their plat­form.

    “We have to do some­thing,” Trump said. “I have many, many mil­lions of fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, and it’s dif­fer­ent than it used to be. Things are hap­pen­ing. Names are tak­en off.”

    He lat­er alleged that con­ser­v­a­tives and Repub­li­cans are dis­crim­i­nat­ed against on social media plat­forms.

    “It’s big, big dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he said. “I see it absolute­ly on Twit­ter.”

    Trump and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives have increas­ing­ly argued that com­pa­nies like Google, Face­book and Twit­ter have an insti­tu­tion­al bias that favors lib­er­als. Trump tweet­ed Tues­day morn­ing that the tech giants were “sooo on the side of the Rad­i­cal Left Democ­rats.”

    The three com­pa­nies did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to requests for com­ment on Trump’s Tues­day morn­ing tweet.

    He also vowed to look into a report that his social media direc­tor, Dan Scav­i­no, was tem­porar­i­ly blocked from mak­ing pub­lic com­ments on one of his Face­book posts.

    The series of com­ments came a day after Rep. Devin Nunes (R‑Calif.) sued Twit­ter and some of its users for more than $250 mil­lion. Nunes’s suit alleges that the plat­form cen­sors con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es by “shad­ow-ban­ning” them.

    The Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can also accused Twit­ter of “facil­i­tat­ing defama­tion on its plat­form” by “ignor­ing law­ful com­plaints about offen­sive con­tent.”

    ———-

    “Trump accus­es Sil­i­con Val­ley of col­lud­ing to silence con­ser­v­a­tives” by Justin Wise; The Hill; 03/19/2019

    “Trump and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives have increas­ing­ly argued that com­pa­nies like Google, Face­book and Twit­ter have an insti­tu­tion­al bias that favors lib­er­als. Trump tweet­ed Tues­day morn­ing that the tech giants were “sooo on the side of the Rad­i­cal Left Democ­rats.””

    Yep, the social media giants are appar­ent­ly “sooo on the side of the Rad­i­cal Left Democ­rats.” Trump is con­vinced of this because he feels that “some­thing has to be going on” and “we have to get to the bot­tom of it”. He’s also sure that Twit­ter is “dif­fer­ent than it used to be” and “we have to do some­thing” because it’s “big, big dis­crim­i­na­tion”:

    ...
    “We use the word col­lu­sion very loose­ly all the time. And I will tell you there is col­lu­sion with respect to that,” Trump said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the White House Rose Gar­den. “Some­thing has to be going on. You see the lev­el, in many cas­es, of hatred for a cer­tain group of peo­ple that hap­pened to be in pow­er, that hap­pened to win the elec­tion.

    “Some­thing’s hap­pen­ing with those groups of folks that are run­ning Face­book and Google and Twit­ter and I do think we have to get to the bot­tom of it,” he added.

    The pres­i­den­t’s com­ments marked an esca­la­tion in his crit­i­cism of U.S. tech giants like Twit­ter, a plat­form that he fre­quent­ly uses to pro­mote his poli­cies and denounce his polit­i­cal oppo­nents.

    Trump said Twit­ter is “dif­fer­ent than it used to be,” when asked about a new push to make social media com­pa­nies liable for the con­tent on their plat­form.

    “We have to do some­thing,” Trump said. “I have many, many mil­lions of fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, and it’s dif­fer­ent than it used to be. Things are hap­pen­ing. Names are tak­en off.”

    He lat­er alleged that con­ser­v­a­tives and Repub­li­cans are dis­crim­i­nat­ed against on social media plat­forms.

    “It’s big, big dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he said. “I see it absolute­ly on Twit­ter.”
    ...

    And these com­ments by Trump come a day after Repub­li­can con­gress­man Devin Nunes sued Twit­ter and for “shad­ow-ban­ning” con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es. Nunes also sued a hand­ful of Twit­ter users who had been par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal of him:

    ...
    The series of com­ments came a day after Rep. Devin Nunes (R‑Calif.) sued Twit­ter and some of its users for more than $250 mil­lion. Nunes’s suit alleges that the plat­form cen­sors con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es by “shad­ow-ban­ning” them.

    The Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can also accused Twit­ter of “facil­i­tat­ing defama­tion on its plat­form” by “ignor­ing law­ful com­plaints about offen­sive con­tent.”
    ...

    It’s worth not­ing that Twit­ter did admit to sort of inad­ver­tent­ly “shad­ow-ban­ning” some promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tives in June of last year, includ­ing Don­ald Trump, Jr. The com­pa­ny explained that they changed their algo­rithm for which names show in the auto-pop­u­lat­ed drop-down search box on Twit­ter in order to reduce the scope of accounts found engage in troll-like behav­ior and this had the effect of down­grad­ing the accounts of a num­ber of right-wing fig­ures. Because of course that’s what would hap­pen if you imple­ment an algo­rithm to reduce the expo­sure of accounts engag­ing in troll-like behav­ior. Also, a cou­ple of days after the reports on this Twit­ter claimed it ‘fixed’ the prob­lem so promi­nent Repub­li­cans engag­ing in troll-like behav­ior will once again show up in the auto-pop­u­lat­ed search drop down box.

    But Devin Nunes appears to feel so harmed by Twit­ter that he’s suing it for $250 mil­lion any­way. And as the fol­low­ing col­umn notes, while the law­suit is a joke on legal grounds and stands no chance of vic­to­ry, it does serve an impor­tant pur­pose. And it’s the same pur­pose we’ve seen over and over: intim­i­dat­ing the tech com­pa­nies into giv­ing con­ser­v­a­tives pref­er­en­tial treat­ment and giv­ing them a green light to turn these plat­forms into dis­in­for­ma­tion machines.

    But Nunes’s deci­sion to sue some indi­vid­u­als who were very crit­i­cal of him over Twit­ter also serves anoth­er pur­pose that we saw when Peter Thiel man­aged to sue Gawk­er into obliv­ion: send­ing out the gen­er­al threat that if you pub­licly crit­i­cize wealthy right-wingers they will sue and cost you large amounts of mon­ey in legal fees whether they have a legal case or not:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Edi­tor’s Blog

    Nunes And The Peter Thiel Era

    By Jeet Heer
    March 19, 2019 1:47 am

    First of all, I should intro­duce myself: I’m Jeet Heer, a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at The New Repub­lic. I’m fill­ing in for Josh as he takes a much-deserved break. Hav­ing fol­lowed TPM from its ear­li­est days as a blog cov­er­ing the 2000 (!) elec­tion and its after­math, I’m hon­ored to be here.

    I want­ed to flag a sto­ry from Mon­day night that is both com­i­cal­ly absurd but also has a sin­is­ter side: Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Devin Nunes’ announced law­suit against Twit­ter and three Twit­ter accounts who he claims have defamed him.

    You can read Nunes’ com­plaint here. Much of the suit reads like pure dada non­sense, espe­cial­ly since Nunes is going after two joke accounts with the han­dles Devin Nunes’ Mom and Devin Nunes’ Cow. This leads to the immor­tal line, “Like Devin Nunes’ Mom, Devin Nunes’ Cow engaged in a vicious defama­tion cam­paign against Nunes.”

    ...

    As tempt­ing as it is to sim­ply mock the suit, it also has to be said that it is part of some­thing more dis­turb­ing: the ris­ing use of legal actions, espe­cial­ly by right-wing forces, to shut down polit­i­cal oppo­nents. As Susan Hen­nessey, a legal schol­ar at the Brook­ings Insti­tute, not­ed, the suit “is a politi­cian attempt­ing to abuse the judi­cial process in order to scare peo­ple out of crit­i­ciz­ing him by prov­ing that he can cost them a lot in legal fees.”

    Peter Thiel’s sup­port of a suit that destroyed Gawk­er is the prime exam­ple. Thiel’s suc­cess seems to have embold­ened the right in gen­er­al. Amid Trump’s chat­ter about want­i­ng to loosen libel laws and sim­i­lar talk from Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, we’ve seen law­suits or threat­ened law­suits from Joe Arpaio, Sarah Palin, and Roy Moore, among oth­ers. As with the Nunes suit, many of these seem like jokes, but they have a goal of chill­ing speech.

    ———-

    “Nunes And The Peter Thiel Era” by Jeet Heer; Talk­ing Points Memo; 03/19/2019

    As tempt­ing as it is to sim­ply mock the suit, it also has to be said that it is part of some­thing more dis­turb­ing: the ris­ing use of legal actions, espe­cial­ly by right-wing forces, to shut down polit­i­cal oppo­nents. As Susan Hen­nessey, a legal schol­ar at the Brook­ings Insti­tute, not­ed, the suit “is a politi­cian attempt­ing to abuse the judi­cial process in order to scare peo­ple out of crit­i­ciz­ing him by prov­ing that he can cost them a lot in legal fees.””

    This this form of right-wing intim­i­da­tion of the media — intim­i­da­tion that ris­es to the lev­el of ‘we will finan­cial­ly destroy you if you crit­i­cize us’ — is exact­ly what we saw Peter Thiel unleashed when he revenge-bankrolled a law­suit that drove Gawk­er into bank­rupt­cy:

    ...
    Peter Thiel’s sup­port of a suit that destroyed Gawk­er is the prime exam­ple. Thiel’s suc­cess seems to have embold­ened the right in gen­er­al. Amid Trump’s chat­ter about want­i­ng to loosen libel laws and sim­i­lar talk from Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, we’ve seen law­suits or threat­ened law­suits from Joe Arpaio, Sarah Palin, and Roy Moore, among oth­ers. As with the Nunes suit, many of these seem like jokes, but they have a goal of chill­ing speech.
    ...

    So it’s going to be inter­est­ing to see if Nunes’s law­suit fur­thers this trend or ends up being a com­plete joke. But giv­en that one met­ric of suc­cess is sim­ply cost­ing the defen­dants a lot of mon­ey it real­ly could end up being quite suc­cess­ful. We’ll see.

    And with all that in mind, here’s a review of the impact of changes Face­book made to their news feed algo­rithm last year. Sur­prise! It turns out Fox News sto­ries lead in terms engage­ment on Face­book, where com­ments, shares, and user ‘reac­tions’ (like a smi­ley face or angry face reac­tion) about the sto­ry are used as the engage­ment met­ric. And if you fil­ter the response to only ‘angry’ respons­es, Fox News dom­i­nates the rest of the pack, with Bre­it­bart as #2 and offi­cial­ben­shapiro as #3 (CNN is #4). So more peo­ple appear to be see­ing Fox News sto­ries than sto­ries from any oth­er out­let on the plat­form and it’s mak­ing them angry:

    The Huff­in­g­ton Post

    Fox News Dom­i­nates Face­book By Incit­ing Anger, Study Shows
    Facebook’s algo­rithm over­haul was sup­posed to make users feel hap­pi­er, but it doesn’t look like it did.

    By Amy Rus­so
    3/18/2019 01:42 pm ET Updat­ed

    Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg announced an algo­rithm over­haul last year intend­ed to make users feel bet­ter with less news in their feeds and more con­tent from fam­i­ly and friends instead.

    But the data is in, and it shows Fox News rules the plat­form in terms of engage­ment, with “angry” reac­tions to its posts lead­ing the way.

    Accord­ing to a NewsWhip study pub­lished this month that exam­ines Face­book News Feed con­tent from Jan. 1 to March 10, the cable net­work was the No. 1 Eng­lish-lan­guage pub­lish­er when it came to com­ments, shares and reac­tions.

    The out­let far out­paced its com­pe­ti­tion, with NBC, the BBC, the Dai­ly Mail, CNN and oth­ers lag­ging behind.

    [see chart]

    The dif­fer­ence is even more glar­ing when rank­ing out­lets only by the num­ber of angry respons­es they trig­ger with Facebook’s reac­tions fea­ture.

    By that mea­sure, Fox News is leaps and bounds ahead of oth­er pages, includ­ing that of right-wing web­site Bre­it­bart and con­ser­v­a­tive Dai­ly Wire Edi­tor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro.

    [see chart]

    While Harvard’s Nie­man Lab on jour­nal­ism points out that Fox News’ pop­u­lar­i­ty on Face­book may have occurred with­out help from an algo­rithm, it begs the ques­tion of whether Zuckerberg’s vision for the plat­form is tru­ly com­ing to fruition.

    In Jan­u­ary 2018, Zucker­berg told users he had “a respon­si­bil­i­ty to make sure our ser­vices aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”

    He said he was hop­ing to pro­mote “mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tions between peo­ple” and that the algo­rithm over­haul would result in “less pub­lic con­tent like posts from busi­ness­es, brands, and media” and “more from your friends, fam­i­ly and groups.”

    While over­all engage­ment on Face­book has sky­rock­et­ed this year com­pared with 2018, the pow­er of the platform’s algo­rithms remains unclear.

    ...

    ———-

    “Fox News Dom­i­nates Face­book By Incit­ing Anger, Study Shows” by Amy Rus­so; The Huff­in­g­ton Post; 3/18/2019

    “But the data is in, and it shows Fox News rules the plat­form in terms of engage­ment, with “angry” reac­tions to its posts lead­ing the way.

    Face­book’s news feed algo­rithm sure loves serv­ing up Fox News sto­ries. Espe­cial­ly the kinds of sto­ries that make peo­ple angry:

    ...
    Accord­ing to a NewsWhip study pub­lished this month that exam­ines Face­book News Feed con­tent from Jan. 1 to March 10, the cable net­work was the No. 1 Eng­lish-lan­guage pub­lish­er when it came to com­ments, shares and reac­tions.

    The out­let far out­paced its com­pe­ti­tion, with NBC, the BBC, the Dai­ly Mail, CNN and oth­ers lag­ging behind.

    [see chart]

    The dif­fer­ence is even more glar­ing when rank­ing out­lets only by the num­ber of angry respons­es they trig­ger with Facebook’s reac­tions fea­ture.

    By that mea­sure, Fox News is leaps and bounds ahead of oth­er pages, includ­ing that of right-wing web­site Bre­it­bart and con­ser­v­a­tive Dai­ly Wire Edi­tor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro.
    ...

    So as Pres­i­dent Trump and Rep Nunes con­tin­ue wag­ing their social media intim­i­da­tion cam­paign it’s going to be worth keep­ing in mind the wild suc­cess these intim­i­da­tion cam­paigns have already had. This is a tac­tic that clear­ly works.

    And in relat­ed news, Trump just threat­ened to open fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion against Sat­ur­day Night Live for mak­ing too much fun of him...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 20, 2019, 3:56 pm
  10. Oh look, anoth­er Face­book data deba­cle: Face­book just admit­ted that it’s been stor­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of pass­words in plain-text log files, which is a huge secu­ri­ty ‘no no’ for a com­pa­ny like Face­book. Nor­mal­ly, pass­words are sup­posed to be stored as a hash (where the pass­word is con­vert­ed to a long strong of ran­dom-seem­ing text). This pass­word-to-hash map­ping approach allows com­pa­nies like Face­book to check and make sure the pass­word you input match­es your account pass­word with­out hav­ing to direct­ly store the pass­word. Only the hash is stored. And that basic secu­ri­ty rule has­n’t been fol­lowed for up to 600 mil­lion Face­book accounts. As a result, the plain­text pass­words that peo­ple have been using for Face­book has poten­tial­ly been read­able by Face­book employ­ees for years. This has appar­ent­ly been the case since 2012 and was dis­cov­ered in Jan­u­ary 2019 by a team of engi­neers who were review­ing some code and noticed this ‘bug’.

    It sounds like the users of Face­book Lite — a ver­sion of Face­book for peo­ple with poor inter­net con­nec­tions — were par­tic­u­lar­ly hard hit. The way Face­book describes, hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book Lite users will be get­ting an email about this, along with tens of mil­lions of reg­u­lar Face­book users and even tens of thou­sands of Insta­gram users (Face­book owns Insta­gram).

    It’s unclear why Face­book did­n’t report this soon­er, but it sounds like it was only report­ed in the first place after an anony­mous senior Face­book employ­ee told Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty — the blog for secu­ri­ty expert Bri­an Krebs — about this. So for all we know Face­book had no inten­tion of telling peo­ple at all, which would be par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious if true because peo­ple often reuse pass­words across dif­fer­ent web­sites and so stor­ing this infor­ma­tion in a man­ner that is read­able to thou­sands of Face­book employ­ees rep­re­sents a very real secu­ri­ty threat for sites across the inter­net for peo­ple that reuse pass­words (which is unfor­tu­nate­ly a lot of peo­ple).

    Is there any evi­dence of Face­book employ­ees actu­al­ly abus­ing this infor­ma­tion? At this point Face­book is assur­ing us that it has seen no evi­dence of any­one inten­tion­al­ly try­ing to read the pass­word data. But as we’re going to see, around 20,000 Face­book employ­ees have had access to these logs. More alarm­ing­ly, Face­book admits that around 2,000 engi­neers and soft­ware devel­op­ers have con­duct­ed around 9 mil­lion queries for data ele­ments that con­tained the pass­words. But we are assured by Face­book that there’s noth­ing to wor­ry about:

    TechCrunch

    Face­book admits it stored ‘hun­dreds of mil­lions’ of account pass­words in plain­text

    Zack Whit­tak­er
    03/21/2019

    Flip the “days since last Face­book secu­ri­ty inci­dent” back to zero.

    Face­book con­firmed Thurs­day in a blog post, prompt­ed by a report by cyber­se­cu­ri­ty reporter Bri­an Krebs, that it stored “hun­dreds of mil­lions” of account pass­words in plain­text for years.

    The dis­cov­ery was made in Jan­u­ary, said Facebook’s Pedro Canahuati, as part of a rou­tine secu­ri­ty review. None of the pass­words were vis­i­ble to any­one out­side Face­book, he said. Face­book admit­ted the secu­ri­ty lapse months lat­er, after Krebs said logs were acces­si­ble to some 2,000 engi­neers and devel­op­ers.

    Krebs said the bug dat­ed back to 2012.

    “This caught our atten­tion because our login sys­tems are designed to mask pass­words using tech­niques that make them unread­able,” said Canahuati. “We have found no evi­dence to date that any­one inter­nal­ly abused or improp­er­ly accessed them,” but did not say how the com­pa­ny made that con­clu­sion.

    Face­book said it will noti­fy “hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book Lite users,” a lighter ver­sion of Face­book for users where inter­net speeds are slow and band­width is expen­sive, and “tens of mil­lions of oth­er Face­book users.” The com­pa­ny also said “tens of thou­sands of Insta­gram users” will be noti­fied of the expo­sure.

    Krebs said as many as 600 mil­lion users could be affect­ed — about one-fifth of the company’s 2.7 bil­lion users, but Face­book has yet to con­firm the fig­ure.

    Face­book also didn’t say how the bug came to be. Stor­ing pass­words in read­able plain­text is an inse­cure way of stor­ing pass­words. Com­pa­nies, like Face­book, hash and salt pass­words — two ways of fur­ther scram­bling pass­words — to store pass­words secure­ly. That allows com­pa­nies to ver­i­fy a user’s pass­word with­out know­ing what it is.

    Twit­ter and GitHub were hit by sim­i­lar but inde­pen­dent bugs last year. Both com­pa­nies said pass­words were stored in plain­text and not scram­bled.

    It’s the lat­est in a string of embar­rass­ing secu­ri­ty issues at the com­pa­ny, prompt­ing con­gres­sion­al inquiries and gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions. It was report­ed last week that Facebook’s deals that allowed oth­er tech com­pa­nies to access account data with­out con­sent was under crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion.

    It’s not known why Face­book took months to con­firm the inci­dent, or if the com­pa­ny informed state or inter­na­tion­al reg­u­la­tors per U.S. breach noti­fi­ca­tion and Euro­pean data pro­tec­tion laws. We asked Face­book but a spokesper­son did not imme­di­ate­ly com­ment beyond the blog post.

    ...

    ———-

    “Face­book admits it stored ‘hun­dreds of mil­lions’ of account pass­words in plain­text” by Zack Whit­tak­er; TechCrunch; 03/21/2019

    Face­book said it will noti­fy “hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book Lite users,” a lighter ver­sion of Face­book for users where inter­net speeds are slow and band­width is expen­sive, and “tens of mil­lions of oth­er Face­book users.” The com­pa­ny also said “tens of thou­sands of Insta­gram users” will be noti­fied of the expo­sure.”

    So the bug caused the pass­words of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple using the Face­book Lite ver­sion of Face­book, but only tens of mil­lions of reg­u­lar Face­book users and tens of thou­sands of Insta­gram users to get logged in plain text. Was that the result of a sin­gle bug or sep­a­rate bugs for Face­book and Insta­gram? Are these even bugs that were cre­at­ed by an inno­cent cod­ing mis­tak­ing or did some­one go out of their way to write code that would leave plain text pass­words?
    At this point we have no idea because Face­book isn’t say­ing how the bug came to be. Nor is the com­pa­ny say­ing how it is that they arrived at the con­clu­sion that there were no employ­ees abus­ing their access to this data:

    ...
    “This caught our atten­tion because our login sys­tems are designed to mask pass­words using tech­niques that make them unread­able,” said Canahuati. “We have found no evi­dence to date that any­one inter­nal­ly abused or improp­er­ly accessed them,” but did not say how the com­pa­ny made that con­clu­sion.

    ...

    Face­book also didn’t say how the bug came to be. Stor­ing pass­words in read­able plain­text is an inse­cure way of stor­ing pass­words. Com­pa­nies, like Face­book, hash and salt pass­words — two ways of fur­ther scram­bling pass­words — to store pass­words secure­ly. That allows com­pa­nies to ver­i­fy a user’s pass­word with­out know­ing what it is.”
    ...

    And yet we learn from Krebs that this bug has exist­ed since 2012 and some 2,000 engi­neers and devel­op­ers have access those text logs. We also learn from Krebs that Face­book learned about this bug months ago and did­n’t say any­thing:

    ...
    The dis­cov­ery was made in Jan­u­ary, said Facebook’s Pedro Canahuati, as part of a rou­tine secu­ri­ty review. None of the pass­words were vis­i­ble to any­one out­side Face­book, he said. Face­book admit­ted the secu­ri­ty lapse months lat­er, after Krebs said logs were acces­si­ble to some 2,000 engi­neers and devel­op­ers.

    Krebs said the bug dat­ed back to 2012.

    ...

    It’s not known why Face­book took months to con­firm the inci­dent, or if the com­pa­ny informed state or inter­na­tion­al reg­u­la­tors per U.S. breach noti­fi­ca­tion and Euro­pean data pro­tec­tion laws. We asked Face­book but a spokesper­son did not imme­di­ate­ly com­ment beyond the blog post.
    ...

    So that’s pret­ty bad. But it gets worse. Because if you read the ini­tial Krebs report, it sounds like an anony­mous Face­book exec­u­tive is the source for this sto­ry. In oth­er words, Face­book prob­a­bly had no inten­tion of telling the pub­lic about this. In addi­tion, while Face­book is acknowl­edg­ing that 2,000 employ­ees have actu­al­ly access the log files, accord­ing to the Krebs report there were actu­al­ly 20,000 employ­ees who could have accessed them. So we have to hope Face­book isn’t low-balling that 2,000 esti­mate. Beyond that, Krebs reports that those 2,000 employ­ees who did access those log files made around nine mil­lion inter­nal queries for data ele­ments that con­tained plain text user pass­words. And despite all that, Face­book is assur­ing us that no pass­word changes are nec­es­sary:

    Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty

    Face­book Stored Hun­dreds of Mil­lions of User Pass­words in Plain Text for Years

    Bri­an Krebs

    Hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book users had their account pass­words stored in plain text and search­able by thou­sands of Face­book employ­ees — in some cas­es going back to 2012, Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty has learned. Face­book says an ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion has so far found no indi­ca­tion that employ­ees have abused access to this data.

    Mar 21 2019

    Hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book users had their account pass­words stored in plain text and search­able by thou­sands of Face­book employ­ees — in some cas­es going back to 2012, Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty has learned. Face­book says an ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion has so far found no indi­ca­tion that employ­ees have abused access to this data.

    Face­book is prob­ing a series of secu­ri­ty fail­ures in which employ­ees built appli­ca­tions that logged unen­crypt­ed pass­word data for Face­book users and stored it in plain text on inter­nal com­pa­ny servers. That’s accord­ing to a senior Face­book employ­ee who is famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion and who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to speak to the press.

    The Face­book source said the inves­ti­ga­tion so far indi­cates between 200 mil­lion and 600 mil­lion Face­book users may have had their account pass­words stored in plain text and search­able by more than 20,000 Face­book employ­ees. The source said Face­book is still try­ing to deter­mine how many pass­words were exposed and for how long, but so far the inquiry has uncov­ered archives with plain text user pass­words in them dat­ing back to 2012.

    My Face­book insid­er said access logs showed some 2,000 engi­neers or devel­op­ers made approx­i­mate­ly nine mil­lion inter­nal queries for data ele­ments that con­tained plain text user pass­words.

    “The longer we go into this analy­sis the more com­fort­able the legal peo­ple [at Face­book] are going with the low­er bounds” of affect­ed users, the source said. “Right now they’re work­ing on an effort to reduce that num­ber even more by only count­ing things we have cur­rent­ly in our data ware­house.”

    In an inter­view with Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty, Face­book soft­ware engi­neer Scott Ren­fro said the com­pa­ny wasn’t ready to talk about spe­cif­ic num­bers — such as the num­ber of Face­book employ­ees who could have accessed the data.

    Ren­fro said the com­pa­ny planned to alert affect­ed Face­book users, but that no pass­word resets would be required.

    “We’ve not found any cas­es so far in our inves­ti­ga­tions where some­one was look­ing inten­tion­al­ly for pass­words, nor have we found signs of mis­use of this data,” Ren­fro said. “In this sit­u­a­tion what we’ve found is these pass­words were inad­ver­tent­ly logged but that there was no actu­al risk that’s come from this. We want to make sure we’re reserv­ing those steps and only force a pass­word change in cas­es where there’s def­i­nite­ly been signs of abuse.”

    A writ­ten state­ment from Face­book pro­vid­ed to Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty says the com­pa­ny expects to noti­fy “hun­dreds of mil­lions of Face­book Lite users, tens of mil­lions of oth­er Face­book users, and tens of thou­sands of Insta­gram users.” Face­book Lite is a ver­sion of Face­book designed for low speed con­nec­tions and low-spec phones.

    ...

    Ren­fro said the issue first came to light in Jan­u­ary 2019 when secu­ri­ty engi­neers review­ing some new code noticed pass­words were being inad­ver­tent­ly logged in plain text.

    “This prompt­ed the team to set up a small task force to make sure we did a broad-based review of any­where this might be hap­pen­ing,” Ren­fro said. “We have a bunch of con­trols in place to try to mit­i­gate these prob­lems, and we’re in the process of inves­ti­gat­ing long-term infra­struc­ture changes to pre­vent this going for­ward. We’re now review­ing any logs we have to see if there has been abuse or oth­er access to that data.”

    ...

    ————

    “Face­book Stored Hun­dreds of Mil­lions of User Pass­words in Plain Text for Years” by Bri­an Krebs; Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty; 03/21/2019

    “Face­book is prob­ing a series of secu­ri­ty fail­ures in which employ­ees built appli­ca­tions that logged unen­crypt­ed pass­word data for Face­book users and stored it in plain text on inter­nal com­pa­ny servers. That’s accord­ing to a senior Face­book employ­ee who is famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion and who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to speak to the press.

    An anony­mous senior Face­book employ­ee leak­ing to Krebs. That appears to be the only rea­son this sto­ry has gone pub­lic.

    And accord­ing to this anony­mous employ­ee, those logs were search­able by more than 20,000 Face­book employ­ees. And 9 mil­lion queries of those files were done by the 2,000 engi­neers and devel­op­ers who did def­i­nite­ly access the files:

    ...
    The Face­book source said the inves­ti­ga­tion so far indi­cates between 200 mil­lion and 600 mil­lion Face­book users may have had their account pass­words stored in plain text and search­able by more than 20,000 Face­book employ­ees. The source said Face­book is still try­ing to deter­mine how many pass­words were exposed and for how long, but so far the inquiry has uncov­ered archives with plain text user pass­words in them dat­ing back to 2012.

    My Face­book insid­er said access logs showed some 2,000 engi­neers or devel­op­ers made approx­i­mate­ly nine mil­lion inter­nal queries for data ele­ments that con­tained plain text user pass­words.

    “The longer we go into this analy­sis the more com­fort­able the legal peo­ple [at Face­book] are going with the low­er bounds” of affect­ed users, the source said. “Right now they’re work­ing on an effort to reduce that num­ber even more by only count­ing things we have cur­rent­ly in our data ware­house.”
    ...

    And yet Face­book is telling us that no pass­word resets are required because no abus­es have been found. Isn’t that reas­sur­ing:

    ...
    In an inter­view with Kreb­sOn­Se­cu­ri­ty, Face­book soft­ware engi­neer Scott Ren­fro said the com­pa­ny wasn’t ready to talk about spe­cif­ic num­bers — such as the num­ber of Face­book employ­ees who could have accessed the data.

    Ren­fro said the com­pa­ny planned to alert affect­ed Face­book users, but that no pass­word resets would be required.

    “We’ve not found any cas­es so far in our inves­ti­ga­tions where some­one was look­ing inten­tion­al­ly for pass­words, nor have we found signs of mis­use of this data,” Ren­fro said. “In this sit­u­a­tion what we’ve found is these pass­words were inad­ver­tent­ly logged but that there was no actu­al risk that’s come from this. We want to make sure we’re reserv­ing those steps and only force a pass­word change in cas­es where there’s def­i­nite­ly been signs of abuse.”
    ...

    So it sure looks like we have anoth­er case of a Face­book pri­va­cy scan­dal that Face­book had no inten­tion of telling any­one about.

    The whole episode also rais­es anoth­er inter­est­ing ques­tion about Face­book and Google and all the oth­er social media giants that have become trea­sure troves of per­son­al infor­ma­tion: just how many spy agen­cies out there are try­ing to get their spies embed­ded at Face­book (or Google, or Twit­ter, etc) pre­cise­ly to exploit exact­ly these kinds of inter­nal secu­ri­ty laps­es? Because, again, keep in mind if peo­ple use the same pass­word for Face­book that they use for oth­er web­sites that means their accounts at those oth­er web­sites are also poten­tial­ly at risk. So peo­ple could have effec­tive­ly had their pass­words for Face­book and GMail and who knows what else com­pro­mised by this. Hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple. That’s part of why it’s so irre­spon­si­ble to tell peo­ple no pass­word resets are nec­es­sary. The appro­pri­ate response would be to tell peo­ple that not only should they reset their Face­book pass­word but they also need to reset the pass­words for any oth­er sites that use the same pass­word (prefer­ably to some­thing oth­er than your reset Face­book pass­word). Or, bet­ter yet, #Delete­Face­book.

    In pos­si­bly relat­ed news, two top Face­book exec­u­tives, includ­ing senior prod­uct engi­neer Chris Cox, just announced a few days ago that they’re leav­ing the com­pa­ny. It would be rather inter­est­ing of Cox was the anony­mous senior engi­neer who was the Krebs source for this sto­ry. Although we should prob­a­bly hope that’s note the case because that means there’s one less senior engi­neer work­ing at Face­book who is will­ing to go to the press about these kinds of things and there’s clear­ly a short­age of such peo­ple at this point.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 21, 2019, 2:43 pm
  11. Here’s a pair of arti­cle to keep in mind regard­ing the role social media will play in the 2020 US elec­tion cycle and the ques­tions over whether or not we’re going to see them reprise their roles as the key prop­a­ga­tors of right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion: Pres­i­dent Trump did an inter­view with CNBC this morn­ing where the issue of the EU’s law­suits against US tech giants like Google and Face­book came up. The answer Trump gave is the kind of answer that could ensure those com­pa­nies go as easy as pos­si­ble on Trump and the Repub­li­cans when it comes to plat­form vio­la­tions: Trump replied that it was improp­er for the EU to be suing these com­pa­nies because the US should be doing it instead and he agrees with the EU that the monop­oly con­cerns with these com­pa­nies are valid:

    The Verge

    Don­ald Trump on tech antitrust: ‘There’s some­thing going on’

    ‘We should be doing this. They’re our com­pa­nies.’

    By Mak­e­na Kel­ly
    Jun 10, 2019, 11:51am EDT

    In an inter­view with CNBC on Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump crit­i­cized the antitrust fines imposed by the Euro­pean Union on Unit­ed States tech com­pa­nies, sug­gest­ing that these tech giants could, in fact, be monop­o­lies, but the US should be the polit­i­cal body rak­ing in the set­tle­ment fines.

    “Every week you see them going after Face­book and Apple and all of these com­pa­nies … The Euro­pean Union is suing them all of the time,” Trump said. “Well, we should be doing this. They’re our com­pa­nies. So, [the EU is] actu­al­ly attack­ing our com­pa­nies, but we should be doing what they’re doing. They think there’s a monop­oly, but I’m not sure that they think that. They just think this is easy mon­ey.

    Asked if he thinks tech com­pa­nies like Google should be bro­ken up, Trump says, “well I can tell you they dis­crim­i­nate against me. Peo­ple talk about col­lu­sion — the real col­lu­sion is between the Democ­rats & these com­pa­nies, because they were so against me dur­ing my elec­tion run.” pic.twitter.com/xVz6yTqoeI— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 10, 2019

    It’s unclear whether Trump actu­al­ly wants to impose sim­i­lar fines or was only cri­tiquing the EU’s moves. “We have a great attor­ney gen­er­al,” he said lat­er in the inter­view. “We’re going to look at it dif­fer­ent­ly.”

    Over the past few years, the EU has fined some of the US’s largest tech com­pa­nies for behav­ing anti-com­pet­i­tive­ly. Just last sum­mer, In an inter­view with CNBC on Mon­day for vio­lat­ing antitrust law with the company’s Android oper­at­ing sys­tem prod­uct. Face­book has also been sub­ject to a hand­ful of pri­va­cy inves­ti­ga­tions in both the US and abroad fol­low­ing 2018’s Google was fined a record $5 bil­lion scan­dal.

    Respond­ing to the ques­tion of whether tech giants like Google and Face­book were monop­o­lies, Trump said, “I think it’s a bad sit­u­a­tion, but obvi­ous­ly there’s some­thing going on in terms of monop­oly.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Don­ald Trump on tech antitrust: ‘There’s some­thing going on’” by Mak­e­na Kel­ly; The Verge; 06/10/2019

    ““Every week you see them going after Face­book and Apple and all of these com­pa­nies … The Euro­pean Union is suing them all of the time,” Trump said. “Well, we should be doing this. They’re our com­pa­nies. So, [the EU is] actu­al­ly attack­ing our com­pa­nies, but we should be doing what they’re doing. They think there’s a monop­oly, but I’m not sure that they think that. They just think this is easy mon­ey.””

    “Well, we should be doing this. They’re our com­pa­nies.” That cer­tain­ly had to get Sil­i­con Val­ley’s atten­tion. Espe­cial­ly this part:

    ...
    Respond­ing to the ques­tion of whether tech giants like Google and Face­book were monop­o­lies, Trump said, “I think it’s a bad sit­u­a­tion, but obvi­ous­ly there’s some­thing going on in terms of monop­oly.”
    ...

    So Trump is now open­ly talk­ing about break­ing of the US tech giants over monop­oly con­cerns. GREAT! A monop­oly inquiry is long over­due. Of course, it’s not actu­al­ly going to be very great if it turns out Trump is just mak­ing these threats in order to extract more favor­able treat­ment from these com­pa­nies in the upcom­ing 2020 elec­tion cycle. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, that’s obvi­ous­ly what Trump was doing dur­ing this CNBC inter­view because he went on to com­plain that the tech giants were actu­al­ly dis­crim­i­nat­ing against him in the 2016 elec­tion and col­lud­ing with the Democ­rats. Of course, as Trump’s dig­i­tal cam­paign man­ag­er Brad Parscale has described, the tech giants were absolute­ly instru­men­tal for the suc­cess of the Trump cam­paign and com­pa­nies like Face­book actu­al­ly embed­ded employ­ees in the Trump cam­paign to help the Trump team max­i­mize their use of the plat­form. And Google-owned YouTube has basi­cal­ly become a dream recruit­ment tool for the ‘Alt Right’ Trumpian base. So the idea that the tech giants are some­how dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Trump is laugh­able. It’s true that there have been tepid moves by these plat­forms to project the image that they won’t tol­er­ate far right extrem­ism, with YouTube pledg­ing to ban white suprema­cist videos last week. The extent to which this was just a pub­lic rela­tions stunt by YouTube remains to be seen, but remov­ing overt neo-Nazi con­tent isn’t going to address most of the right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion on the plat­forms any­way since so much of that con­tent cloaks the extrem­ism in dog whis­tles. But as we should expect, the right-wing meme that the tech giants being run by a bunch of lib­er­als and out to silence con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es is get­ting pushed heav­i­ly right now and Pres­i­dent Trump just pro­mot­ed that meme again in the CNBC inter­view as part of his threat over anti-trust inquiries:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    News

    Trump Fur­thers Far-Right Con­spir­a­cy That Tech Com­pa­nies Are Out To Get Him

    By Nicole Lafond
    June 10, 2019 10:06 am

    Pres­i­dent Trump on Mon­day morn­ing con­tin­ued his call-out cam­paign against tech com­pa­nies, fur­ther­ing a far-right con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry that Sil­i­con Val­ley is out to get con­ser­v­a­tives like him­self.

    Dur­ing an inter­view with CNBC on Mon­day morn­ing, Trump com­plained about the Euro­pean Union’s antitrust law­suits against some of the largest U.S. tech com­pa­nies like Face­book, before sug­gest­ing the U.S. should be doing the same thing. He then claimed that tech com­pa­nies “dis­crim­i­nate” against him.

    “Well I can tell you they dis­crim­i­nate against me,” Trump said. “You know, peo­ple talk about col­lu­sion. The real col­lu­sion is between the Democ­rats and these com­pa­nies. ‘Cause they were so against me dur­ing my elec­tion run. Every­body said, ‘If you don’t have them, you can’t win.’ Well, I won. And I’ll win again.”

    Over the week­end, Trump called on Twit­ter to bring back the “banned Con­ser­v­a­tive Voic­es,” like­ly ref­er­enc­ing Twitter’s recent move to kick some con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists, like Alex Jones and oth­ers espous­ing racist views, off the plat­form.

    Twit­ter should let the banned Con­ser­v­a­tive Voic­es back onto their plat­form, with­out restric­tion. It’s called Free­dom of Speech, remem­ber. You are mak­ing a Giant Mis­take!— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2019

    The con­spir­a­cy that social media and tech com­pa­nies are out to “shad­ow ban” con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es has gained more promi­nence dur­ing the Trump pres­i­den­cy, as Trump him­self and his son Don­ald Trump Jr. have made a strate­gic effort to raise aware­ness about the bogus issue.

    One of Trump’s most vehe­ment sup­port­ers in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R‑CA), ulti­mate­ly filed a law­suit against Twit­ter to try to legit­imize his “shad­ow ban­ning” the­o­ry.

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump Fur­thers Far-Right Con­spir­a­cy That Tech Com­pa­nies Are Out To Get Him” by Nicole Lafond; Talk­ing Points Memo; 06/10/2019

    “Well I can tell you they dis­crim­i­nate against me,” Trump said. “You know, peo­ple talk about col­lu­sion. The real col­lu­sion is between the Democ­rats and these com­pa­nies. ‘Cause they were so against me dur­ing my elec­tion run. Every­body said, ‘If you don’t have them, you can’t win.’ Well, I won. And I’ll win again.””

    Yes, accord­ing to right-wing fan­ta­sy world, the tech giants were actu­al­ly all against Trump in 2016 and not his secret weapon. That’s become one of the fic­tion­al ‘facts’ being pro­mot­ed as part of this right-wing meme. A meme about con­ser­v­a­tives get­ting ‘shad­ow banned’ by tech com­pa­nies. And when­ev­er Alex Jones gets banned from a plat­form it’s now seen as part of this anti-con­ser­v­a­tive con­spir­a­cy:

    ...
    Over the week­end, Trump called on Twit­ter to bring back the “banned Con­ser­v­a­tive Voic­es,” like­ly ref­er­enc­ing Twitter’s recent move to kick some con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists, like Alex Jones and oth­ers espous­ing racist views, off the plat­form.

    Twit­ter should let the banned Con­ser­v­a­tive Voic­es back onto their plat­form, with­out restric­tion. It’s called Free­dom of Speech, remem­ber. You are mak­ing a Giant Mis­take!— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2019

    The con­spir­a­cy that social media and tech com­pa­nies are out to “shad­ow ban” con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es has gained more promi­nence dur­ing the Trump pres­i­den­cy, as Trump him­self and his son Don­ald Trump Jr. have made a strate­gic effort to raise aware­ness about the bogus issue.

    One of Trump’s most vehe­ment sup­port­ers in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R‑CA), ulti­mate­ly filed a law­suit against Twit­ter to try to legit­imize his “shad­ow ban­ning” the­o­ry.
    ...

    Recall how Fox News was pro­mot­ing this meme recent­ly when Lau­ra Ingra­ham’s prime time Fox News show as try­ing to present fig­ures like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopou­los, Lau­ra Loomer, and neo-Nazi Paul Nehlen were banned from Face­book because of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias (and not because they kept break­ing the rules of the plat­form). This meme is now a cen­tral com­po­nent of the right-wing griev­ance pol­i­tics and basi­cal­ly just an update to the long-stand­ing ‘lib­er­al media’ meme that helped fuel the rise of right-wing talk radio and Fox News. It’s exact­ly the kind of ‘work­ing the ref’ meme that is designed to bul­ly the media into giv­ing right-wingers eas­i­er treat­ment. That’s what makes monop­oly threats by Trump so dis­turb­ing. He’s now basi­cal­ly telling these tech giants, ‘go easy on right-wingers or I’ll break you up,’ head­ing into a 2020 elec­tion cycle where all indi­ca­tions are that dis­in­for­ma­tion is going to play a big­ger role than ever. So the pres­i­dent basi­cal­ly warned all of these tech com­pa­nies that any new tools they’ve cre­at­ed for deal­ing with dis­in­for­ma­tion being spread on their plat­forms dur­ing the 2020 elec­tion cycle had bet­ter not work too well, at least not if it’s right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion.

    Keep in mind that there’s been lit­tle indi­ca­tion that these plat­forms were seri­ous­ly going to do any­thing about dis­in­for­ma­tion any­way, so it’s unlike­ly that Trump’s threat will make this bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

    So that’s a pre­view for the role dis­in­for­ma­tion is going to play in the 2020 elec­tions: Trump is pre­emp­tive­ly run­ning a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign in order to pres­sure the tech giants into not crack­ing down on the planned right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns the tech giants weren’t seri­ous­ly plan­ning on crack­ing down on in the first place.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 10, 2019, 2:35 pm
  12. So remem­ber the absur­dist ‘civ­il rights audit’ that Face­book pledged to do last year? This was the audit con­duct­ed by retired GOP-Sen­a­tor Jon Kyl to address the fre­quent claims of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias per­pet­u­al­ly lev­eled against Face­book by Repub­li­can politi­cians and right-wing pun­dits. It’s a core ele­ment of the right-wing’s ‘work­ing the refs’ strat­e­gy for get­ting a more com­pli­ant media. In this case, the audit involved inter­view­ing 133 con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers and inter­est groups about whether they think Face­book is biased against con­ser­v­a­tives.

    Well, Face­book is final­ly releas­ing the results of their audit. And while the audit does­n’t find any sys­temic bias, it did acknowl­edge some con­ser­v­a­tive frus­tra­tions like frus­tra­tions with a longer approval process for sub­mit­ting ads to Face­book and the fear that the slowed ad approval process might dis­ad­van­tage right-wing cam­paigns fol­low­ing the wild suc­cess­es the right-wing had in 2016 using social media polit­i­cal ads. Amus­ing­ly, on the same day Face­book released this audit it also announced the return of human edi­tors for curat­ing Face­book’s news feeds. Recall how it was 2016 claims by a Face­book employ­ee that the news feed edi­tors were biased against con­ser­v­a­tives (when they were real­ly just biased against dis­in­for­ma­tion com­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly from right-wing sources) that led to Face­book decid­ing to switch to an algo­rithm with­out human over­sight for gen­er­at­ing news feeds which, in turn, turned the news feeds into right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion out­lets dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign that was vital to the Trump cam­paign’s suc­cess. So the human news feed edi­tors are appar­ent­ly back, which will no doubt anger the right-wing. Although recall how Face­book hired Tuck­er Bounds, John McCain’s for­mer advis­er and spokesper­son, to be Face­book’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor focused on the News Feed back in Jan­u­ary of 2017. In oth­er words, yeah, there’s going to be human edi­tors over­see­ing the news feeds again, but it’s prob­a­bly going to a for­mer Repub­li­can oper­a­tive in charge of those human edi­tors. It’s a reminder that Face­book is going to find a way to make sure its plat­form is a potent right-wing pro­pa­gan­da tool one way or anoth­er. The claims of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion is just pro­pa­gan­da designed to allowed Face­book to be a more effec­tive right-wing pro­pa­gan­da out­let:

    The Verge

    The con­ser­v­a­tive audit of bias on Face­book is long on feel­ings and short on facts

    And con­ser­v­a­tives are beat­ing Face­book up over it any­way

    By Casey New­ton
    Aug 21, 2019, 6:02pm EDT

    There are many crit­i­cisms of Facebook’s size, pow­er, and busi­ness mod­el, but two stand out for the inten­si­ty with which they are usu­al­ly dis­cussed. One is that Face­book is a dystopi­an panop­ti­con that mon­i­tors our every move and uses that infor­ma­tion to pre­dict and manip­u­late our behav­ior. The oth­er is that Face­book has come such a pil­lar of mod­ern life that every prod­uct deci­sion it makes could reshape the body politic for­ev­er.

    Today, in an impres­sive flur­ry of news-mak­ing, Face­book took steps to address both con­cerns.

    First, the com­pa­ny said it was final­ly releas­ing its long-delayed “Clear His­to­ry” tool in three coun­tries. (The Unit­ed States is not one of them.) I wrote about it at The Verge:

    It was near­ly a year and a half ago that Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg, stand­ing onstage at the company’s annu­al devel­op­er con­fer­ence, announced that the com­pa­ny would begin let­ting users sev­er the con­nec­tion between their web brows­ing his­to­ry and their Face­book accounts. After months of delays, Facebook’s Clear His­to­ry is now rolling out in Ire­land, South Korea, and Spain, with oth­er coun­tries to fol­low “in com­ing months,” the com­pa­ny said. The new tool, which Face­book con­ceived in the wake of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, is designed to give users more con­trol over their data pri­va­cy at the expense of adver­tis­ers’ tar­get­ing capa­bil­i­ties.

    When it arrives in your coun­try, the Clear His­to­ry tool will be part of a new sec­tion of the ser­vice called “Off-Face­book activ­i­ty.” When you open it, you’ll see the apps and web­sites that are track­ing your activ­i­ty and send­ing reports back to Face­book for ad tar­get­ing pur­pos­es. Tap­ping the “Clear His­to­ry” but­ton will dis­so­ci­ate that infor­ma­tion from your Face­book account.

    You can also choose to block com­pa­nies from report­ing their track­ing data about you back to Face­book in the future. You’ll have the choice of dis­con­nect­ing all off-Face­book brows­ing data, or data for spe­cif­ic apps and web­sites. Face­book says the prod­uct is rolling out slow­ly “to help ensure it’s work­ing reli­ably for every­one.”

    Some writ­ers, such as Tony Romm here, point­ed out that Face­book is not actu­al­ly delet­ing your data — which would seem to blunt the impact of a but­ton called “Clear His­to­ry.” In fact, giv­en that the data link you’re shut­ting off is pri­mar­i­ly rel­e­vant to ads you might see lat­er, it feels more like a “Mud­dle Future” but­ton. Face­book, for its part, has cloaked the entire enter­prise into a sec­tion of the app opaque­ly titled “Off-Face­book Activ­i­ty,” which could more or less mean any­thing.

    I find it hard to get too worked up about any of this, because regard­less of whether Face­book is able to take into account your web brows­ing habits, it’s still going to be send­ing you plen­ty of high­ly tar­get­ed ads based on your age, gen­der, and all the oth­er demo­graph­ic data that you forked over when you made your pro­file. Or you could sim­ply turn off ad tar­get­ing on Face­book alto­geth­er, which is more pow­er­ful in this regard than any Clear His­to­ry tool was ever going to be. (Here’s an account from a per­son who did this.)

    Sec­ond, Face­book released the results of its anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias audit, in which the com­pa­ny asked for­mer Sen. Jon Kyl and the law firm Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing to ask 133 con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers and inter­est groups to tell it whether they think Face­book is biased against con­ser­v­a­tives.

    This project has fas­ci­nat­ed me since it was announced, since Face­book had clear­ly vol­un­teered to play a game it could only lose. As I’ve writ­ten here before, the def­i­n­i­tion of “bias” has expand­ed to include any time some­one has a bad expe­ri­ence online.

    On one hand, there’s no evi­dence of sys­tem­at­ic bias against con­ser­v­a­tives or any oth­er main­stream polit­i­cal group on Face­book or oth­er plat­forms. On the oth­er hand, there are end­less anec­dotes about the law­mak­er whose ad pur­chase was not approved, or who did not appear in search results, or what­ev­er. Stack enough anec­dotes on top of one anoth­er and you’ve got some­thing that looks a lot like data — cer­tain­ly enough to con­vene a bad-faith con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about plat­form bias, which Repub­li­cans have done repeat­ed­ly now.

    So here comes Kyl’s “audit,” which appears to have tak­en rough­ly the same shape as Pres­i­dent Trump’s call for sto­ries of Amer­i­cans who feel that they have been cen­sored by the big plat­forms. Kyl’s find­ings are short on facts and long on feel­ings. Here’s this, from an op-ed he pub­lished today in The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    As a result of Facebook’s new, more strin­gent ad poli­cies, inter­vie­wees said the ad-approval process has slowed sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Some fear that the new process may be designed to dis­ad­van­tage con­ser­v­a­tive ads in the wake of the Trump campaign’s suc­cess­ful use of social media in 2016.

    So, some anony­mous con­ser­v­a­tives believe that Face­book is involved in a con­spir­a­cy to pre­vent con­ser­v­a­tives from adver­tis­ing. That might come as a sur­prise to, say, Pres­i­dent Trump, who is out­spend­ing all Democ­rats on Face­book ads. But the Kyl report has no room for empir­i­cal thought. What’s impor­tant here is that 133 unnamed peo­ple have feel­ings, and that they spent the bet­ter part of two years talk­ing about them in inter­views that we can’t read. (Here’s a link to the pub­lished report, which clocks in at a very thin eight pages. And here’s a help­ful rebut­tal from Media Mat­ters, which uses data to illus­trate how par­ti­san con­ser­v­a­tive pages con­tin­ue to thrive on Face­book.)

    Despite the fact that we have no idea who Kyl talked to, or what they said beyond his mea­ger bul­let points, the report still had at least some effect on Face­book pol­i­cy­mak­ing. As Sara Fis­ch­er reports in Axios, Face­book ads can now show med­ical tubes con­nect­ed to the human body, which appar­ent­ly make for more vis­cer­al­ly com­pelling anti-abor­tion ads:

    The med­ical tube pol­i­cy makes it eas­i­er for pro-life ads focused on sur­vival sto­ries of infants born before full-term to be accept­ed by Facebook’s ad pol­i­cy. Face­book notes that the pol­i­cy could also ben­e­fit oth­er groups who wish to dis­play med­ical tubes in ads for can­cer research, human­i­tar­i­an relief and elder­ly care.

    And how are con­ser­v­a­tives using the infor­ma­tion from today’s audit? If you guessed “as a cud­gel to con­tin­ue beat­ing Face­book with,” you win today’s grand prize. Here’s Brent Bozell: “The Face­book Kyl cov­er-up is aston­ish­ing. 133 groups pre­sent­ed Kyl with evi­dence of FB’s agen­da against con­ser­v­a­tives and he dis­hon­est­ly did FB’s bid­ding instead.”

    And here’s Sen. Josh Haw­ley (R‑MO):

    “Face­book should con­duct an actu­al audit by giv­ing a trust­ed third par­ty access to its algo­rithm, its key doc­u­ments, and its con­tent mod­er­a­tion pro­to­cols,” Haw­ley said in a state­ment. “Then Face­book should release the results to the pub­lic.”

    I asked Hawley’s peo­ple if the sen­a­tor was aware that Facebook’s con­tent mod­er­a­tion pro­to­cols have been pub­lic for years, but I nev­er heard back.

    Any­way, Face­book wrapped up the day by announc­ing — in a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly bizarre feat of tim­ing — that it would begin to hire human beings to curate your news sto­ries, just as Apple does for Apple News. (Apply for the job here! Let me know if you get it!) This is the right thing to do — our leaky infor­ma­tion sphere needs expe­ri­enced edi­tors with news judg­ment more than ever — but also one guar­an­teed to court con­tro­ver­sy. One person’s cura­tion is, after all, anoth­er person’s “bias.”

    The return of human edi­tors to Face­book, on the very day that it pub­lish­es its inves­ti­ga­tion into alleged bias against con­ser­v­a­tives, is a real time-is-a-flat-cir­cle moment. After all, it was trumped-up out­rage over sup­posed bias in its last group of human edi­tors that helped to set us down this benight­ed path to begin with. I want to end on some­thing I wrote last Feb­ru­ary on this sub­ject:

    I’m struck how, in ret­ro­spect, the sto­ry that helped to trig­ger our cur­rent anx­i­eties had the prob­lem exact­ly wrong. The sto­ry offered a dire warn­ing that Face­book exert­ed too much edi­to­r­i­al con­trol, in the one nar­row sec­tion of the site where it actu­al­ly employed human edi­tors, when in fact the prob­lem under­ly­ing our glob­al mis­in­for­ma­tion cri­sis is that it exert­ed too lit­tle. Gizmodo’s sto­ry fur­ther declared that Face­book had become hos­tile to con­ser­v­a­tive view­points when in fact con­ser­v­a­tive view­points — and con­ser­v­a­tive hoax­es — were thriv­ing across the plat­form.

    Last month, NewsWhip pub­lished a list of the most-engaged pub­lish­ers on Face­book. The no. 1 com­pa­ny post­ed more than 49,000 times in Decem­ber alone, earn­ing 21 mil­lion likes, com­ments, and shares. That pub­lish­er was Fox News. And the idea that Face­book sup­press­es the shar­ing of con­ser­v­a­tive news now seems very quaint indeed.

    ...

    ———-

    “The con­ser­v­a­tive audit of bias on Face­book is long on feel­ings and short on facts” by Casey New­ton; The Verge; 08/21/2019

    “On one hand, there’s no evi­dence of sys­tem­at­ic bias against con­ser­v­a­tives or any oth­er main­stream polit­i­cal group on Face­book or oth­er plat­forms. On the oth­er hand, there are end­less anec­dotes about the law­mak­er whose ad pur­chase was not approved, or who did not appear in search results, or what­ev­er. Stack enough anec­dotes on top of one anoth­er and you’ve got some­thing that looks a lot like data — cer­tain­ly enough to con­vene a bad-faith con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about plat­form bias, which Repub­li­cans have done repeat­ed­ly now.

    Sure, there’s no actu­al evi­dence of an anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias. But there are 133 anony­mous right-wing oper­a­tives who feel dif­fer­ent­ly. That’s the basis for this audit. And despite the lengths Jon Kyl’s team went to describ­ing the var­i­ous feel­ings of bias felt by these 133 anony­mous right-wing oper­a­tives, he’s still be accused of wag­ing a cov­er-up on Face­book’s behalf by the right-wing media. Because you can’t stop ‘work­ing the refs’:

    ...
    So here comes Kyl’s “audit,” which appears to have tak­en rough­ly the same shape as Pres­i­dent Trump’s call for sto­ries of Amer­i­cans who feel that they have been cen­sored by the big plat­forms. Kyl’s find­ings are short on facts and long on feel­ings. Here’s this, from an op-ed he pub­lished today in The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    As a result of Facebook’s new, more strin­gent ad poli­cies, inter­vie­wees said the ad-approval process has slowed sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Some fear that the new process may be designed to dis­ad­van­tage con­ser­v­a­tive ads in the wake of the Trump campaign’s suc­cess­ful use of social media in 2016.

    So, some anony­mous con­ser­v­a­tives believe that Face­book is involved in a con­spir­a­cy to pre­vent con­ser­v­a­tives from adver­tis­ing. That might come as a sur­prise to, say, Pres­i­dent Trump, who is out­spend­ing all Democ­rats on Face­book ads. But the Kyl report has no room for empir­i­cal thought. What’s impor­tant here is that 133 unnamed peo­ple have feel­ings, and that they spent the bet­ter part of two years talk­ing about them in inter­views that we can’t read. (Here’s a link to the pub­lished report, which clocks in at a very thin eight pages. And here’s a help­ful rebut­tal from Media Mat­ters, which uses data to illus­trate how par­ti­san con­ser­v­a­tive pages con­tin­ue to thrive on Face­book.)

    ...

    And how are con­ser­v­a­tives using the infor­ma­tion from today’s audit? If you guessed “as a cud­gel to con­tin­ue beat­ing Face­book with,” you win today’s grand prize. Here’s Brent Bozell: “The Face­book Kyl cov­er-up is aston­ish­ing. 133 groups pre­sent­ed Kyl with evi­dence of FB’s agen­da against con­ser­v­a­tives and he dis­hon­est­ly did FB’s bid­ding instead.”
    ...

    And on the same day of the release of this report, Face­book announces the return of human edi­tors for the news feed:

    ...
    Any­way, Face­book wrapped up the day by announc­ing — in a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly bizarre feat of tim­ing — that it would begin to hire human beings to curate your news sto­ries, just as Apple does for Apple News. (Apply for the job here! Let me know if you get it!) This is the right thing to do — our leaky infor­ma­tion sphere needs expe­ri­enced edi­tors with news judg­ment more than ever — but also one guar­an­teed to court con­tro­ver­sy. One person’s cura­tion is, after all, anoth­er person’s “bias.”

    The return of human edi­tors to Face­book, on the very day that it pub­lish­es its inves­ti­ga­tion into alleged bias against con­ser­v­a­tives, is a real time-is-a-flat-cir­cle moment. After all, it was trumped-up out­rage over sup­posed bias in its last group of human edi­tors that helped to set us down this benight­ed path to begin with. I want to end on some­thing I wrote last Feb­ru­ary on this sub­ject:

    I’m struck how, in ret­ro­spect, the sto­ry that helped to trig­ger our cur­rent anx­i­eties had the prob­lem exact­ly wrong. The sto­ry offered a dire warn­ing that Face­book exert­ed too much edi­to­r­i­al con­trol, in the one nar­row sec­tion of the site where it actu­al­ly employed human edi­tors, when in fact the prob­lem under­ly­ing our glob­al mis­in­for­ma­tion cri­sis is that it exert­ed too lit­tle. Gizmodo’s sto­ry fur­ther declared that Face­book had become hos­tile to con­ser­v­a­tive view­points when in fact con­ser­v­a­tive view­points — and con­ser­v­a­tive hoax­es — were thriv­ing across the plat­form.

    Last month, NewsWhip pub­lished a list of the most-engaged pub­lish­ers on Face­book. The no. 1 com­pa­ny post­ed more than 49,000 times in Decem­ber alone, earn­ing 21 mil­lion likes, com­ments, and shares. That pub­lish­er was Fox News. And the idea that Face­book sup­press­es the shar­ing of con­ser­v­a­tive news now seems very quaint indeed.

    ...

    So it looks like we’re prob­a­bly in store for a new round of alle­ga­tions of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias at Face­book just in time for 2020 which will pre­sum­ably include a new round of alle­ga­tions of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias held by the human news feed edi­tors. With that in mind, it’s worth not­ing that Face­book has expand­ed its approach to mis­in­for­ma­tion-detec­tion since 2016 when it last had news feed human cura­tion. For exam­ple, now Face­book has teamed up with the Poynter’s Inter­na­tion­al Fact-Check­ing Net­work (IFCN) to find unbi­ased orga­ni­za­tions that Face­book can out­source the respon­si­bil­i­ty of fact-check­ing to. In Decem­ber of 2016, Face­book announced that it was part­ner­ing with ABC News, Snopes, Poli­ti­Fact, FactCheck.org, and the AP (all approved by IFCN) to help it iden­ti­fy mis­in­for­ma­tion on the plat­form. All non-par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tions, abeit the kinds of orga­ni­za­tions the right-wing media rou­tine­ly labels as ‘left-wing main­stream media’ out­lets despite the lack of any mean­ing­ful left-wing bias. Then, in Decem­ber of 2017, Face­book announced it was adding the right-wing Week­ly Stan­dard to its list of fact-check­ers, which soon result­ed in left-wing arti­cles get­ting flagged for dis­in­for­ma­tion for spu­ri­ous rea­sons. Note there was no left-wing site cho­sen at this point. But the Week­ly Stan­dard went out of busi­ness, so in April of this year, Face­book announced it was adding Check Your Fact to its list of fact-check­ing orga­ni­za­tions. Who is behind Check Your Fact? The Dai­ly Caller! This is almost like hir­ing Bre­it­bart to do your fact-check­ing.

    Accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, it was Joe Kaplan, the for­mer White House aide to George W. Bush who now serves as Facebook’s glob­al pol­i­cy chief and is the company’s “pro­tec­tor against alle­ga­tions of polit­i­cal bias,” who has been push­ing to get Check Your Fact added to the list of Face­book’s fact-check­ers. This was a rather con­tentious deci­sion with­in Face­book’s board­room but Mark Zucker­berg appar­ent­ly gen­er­al­ly backed Kaplan’s push.

    And that tells us about his this new round of human-curat­ed news feeds is going to go: The humans doing the curat­ing are prob­a­bly going to have their judge­ment curat­ed by right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion out­lets like the Dai­ly Caller

    Vox

    Facebook’s con­tro­ver­sial fact-check­ing part­ner­ship with a Dai­ly Caller-fund­ed web­site, explained

    In try­ing to stop the spread of fake news, the social media behe­moth has cre­at­ed new prob­lems.

    By Aaron Rupar
    Updat­ed May 6, 2019, 9:40am EDT

    Face­book knows that the spread of fake news on the plat­form dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was almost its undo­ing, so it has cho­sen to part­ner with third-par­ty media orga­ni­za­tions to fact-check pub­lish­ers on its plat­form in order to stave off more crit­i­cism. That makes sense. But some of its choic­es in part­ners — includ­ing a new fact-check­er fund­ed by a right-lean­ing news out­let found­ed by Tuck­er Carl­son — has only invit­ed more.

    Last week, Face­book announced that it’s part­ner­ing with Check Your Fact — a sub­sidiary of the right-wing Dai­ly Caller, a site known for its ties to white nation­al­ists — as one of six third-par­ty orga­ni­za­tions it cur­rent­ly works with to fact-check con­tent for Amer­i­can users. The part­ner­ship has already come under intense crit­i­cism from cli­mate jour­nal­ists (among oth­ers) who are con­cerned that the Dai­ly Caller’s edi­to­r­i­al stance on issues like cli­mate change, which is uncon­tro­ver­sial among sci­en­tists but isn’t treat­ed as such on right-wing media, will spread even more mis­in­for­ma­tion Face­book.

    In an inter­view, Face­book spokesper­son Lau­ren Svens­son defend­ed the part­ner­ship. She not­ed that Check Your Fact, like all fact-check­ers Face­book part­ners with, is cer­ti­fied by Poynter’s Inter­na­tion­al Fact-Check­ing Net­work (IFCN). Asked about the right-wing pro­cliv­i­ties of Check Your Fact’s par­ent com­pa­ny, Svenn­son referred to the IFCN’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process­es and said that “we do believe in hav­ing a diverse set of fact-check­ing part­ners.” Check Your Fact, for its part, says it oper­ates inde­pen­dent­ly from the Dai­ly Caller, and touts its record of accu­rate fact-checks.

    The real­i­ty is that Face­book has a fake news prob­lem that could hurt its bot­tom line, but it also has a polit­i­cal prob­lem. If it doesn’t give cre­dence to pop­u­lar but dis­rep­utable web­sites like the Dai­ly Caller, it runs the risk of anger­ing Repub­li­cans who use the plat­form. But in cre­dence to sites of that sort, the plat­form runs the risk or per­pet­u­at­ing the same “fake news” prob­lem third-par­ty fact-check­ers are meant to solve.

    Facebook’s fake news prob­lem, explained

    As Tim­o­thy B. Lee explained for Vox days after the 2016 elec­tion, “fake news” was a big prob­lem on Face­book dur­ing that year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign:

    Over the course of 2016, Face­book users learned that the pope endorsed Don­ald Trump (he didn’t), that a Demo­c­ra­t­ic oper­a­tive was mur­dered after agree­ing to tes­ti­fy against Hillary Clin­ton (it nev­er hap­pened), that Bill Clin­ton raped a 13-year-old girl (a total fab­ri­ca­tion), and many oth­er total­ly bogus “news” sto­ries. Sto­ries like this thrive on Face­book because Facebook’s algo­rithm pri­or­i­tizes “engage­ment” — and a reli­able way to get read­ers to engage is by mak­ing up out­ra­geous non­sense about politi­cians they don’t like.

    After a ton of pub­lic scruti­ny, includ­ing in the form of high-pro­file con­gres­sion­al hear­ings, Face­book after the elec­tion began part­ner­ing with news orga­ni­za­tions like the Asso­ci­at­ed Press, FactCheck.org, Lead Sto­ries, Poli­ti­Fact, and Sci­ence Feed­back to fact-check pub­lish­ers. That’s all well and good — those orga­ni­za­tions have rep­u­ta­tions for non­par­ti­san­ship and accu­ra­cy.

    But in attempt­ing to sti­fle “fake news,” Repub­li­cans have noticed that right-lean­ing news out­lets, ideas, and politi­cians some­times got caught up in the purge. Just look to Alex Jones, who active­ly spread con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries due to his pop­u­lar­i­ty on plat­forms like Face­book and YouTube. Con­ser­v­a­tives began to com­plain they were unfair­ly tar­get­ed. Ear­li­er this month, Sen Ted Cruz (R‑TX) held hear­ings inter­ro­gat­ing big tech pre­cise­ly on the issue of bias against con­ser­v­a­tives.

    To counter those (most­ly unfound­ed) alle­ga­tions that the plat­form is biased toward lib­er­als, Face­book is part­ner­ing with right-wing sites as well.

    This leads to sit­u­a­tions where Face­book part­ners with right-lean­ing orga­ni­za­tions to fact-check lib­er­als sites. Some lib­er­al sites have been tar­get­ed as “false,” there­by lim­it­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion of the “false” arti­cle by as much as 80 per­cent — a big prob­lem con­sid­er­ing Face­book is still the most com­mon­ly used plat­form in the coun­try for news, despite reduc­tions in dis­tri­b­u­tion that have hurt lib­er­al and con­ser­v­a­tive news sites alike.

    The first con­ser­v­a­tive site Face­book part­nered with for fact-check­ing was the Week­ly Stan­dard, which ceased oper­a­tions last Decem­ber. That part­ner­ship became a source of con­tro­ver­sy three months before then, when con­ser­v­a­tive fact-check­ers flagged an arti­cle from the lib­er­al pub­li­ca­tion ThinkProgress as “false” on seman­tic grounds. (Full dis­clo­sure: I am a for­mer ThinkProgress employ­ee, as are sev­er­al oth­er cur­rent Vox staffers.) As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explained at the time, while the article’s the­sis was arguably accu­rate, the head­line like­ly went too far. But the pun­ish­ment result­ing from the Week­ly Standard’s “false” des­ig­na­tion was worse than the crime:

    Last week, the lib­er­al pub­li­ca­tion ThinkProgress pub­lished a piece on Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing with the head­line “Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade and almost no one noticed.” The fact-check­er for the Week­ly Stan­dard ruled it was false. Facebook’s pun­ish­ment mech­a­nism kicked in, and the ThinkProgress arti­cle was cut off from being seen by about 80 per­cent of its poten­tial Face­book audi­ence.

    On Tues­day, the author of the ThinkProgress piece — edi­tor Ian Mill­his­er — pub­licly defend­ed the the­sis of his piece and accused Face­book of “pan­der­ing to the right” by allow­ing a con­ser­v­a­tive mag­a­zine to block lib­er­al arti­cles. The stakes here are high: Face­book pro­vides about 10 to 15 per­cent of ThinkProgress’s traf­fic, which means that get­ting choked off from read­ers there is a non­triv­ial hit to its read­er­ship.

    Svens­son told Vox that there was no direct con­nec­tion between the Week­ly Stan­dard shut­ting down and Face­book part­ner­ing with anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive site.

    Face­book report­ed­ly has been inter­est­ed in part­ner­ing with the Dai­ly Caller for some time. In Decem­ber, the Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed that Joel Kaplan, a for­mer White House aide to George W. Bush who now serves as Facebook’s glob­al pol­i­cy chief and is the company’s “pro­tec­tor against alle­ga­tions of polit­i­cal bias,” made a failed push to part­ner with the Dai­ly Caller last year:

    This sum­mer, Mr. Kaplan pushed to part­ner with right-wing news site The Dai­ly Caller’s fact-check­ing divi­sion after con­ser­v­a­tives accused Face­book of work­ing only with main­stream pub­lish­ers, peo­ple famil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said. Con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics argued those pub­li­ca­tions had a built-in lib­er­al bias.

    Mr. Kaplan argued that The Dai­ly Caller was accred­it­ed by the Poyn­ter Insti­tute, a St. Peters­burg, Fla.-based jour­nal­ism non­prof­it that over­sees a net­work of fact-check­ers. Oth­er exec­u­tives, includ­ing some in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. office, argued that the pub­li­ca­tion print­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion. The con­tentious dis­cus­sion involved Mr. Zucker­berg, who appeared to side with Mr. Kaplan, and Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg. The debate end­ed in Novem­ber when The Dai­ly Caller’s fact-check­ing oper­a­tion lost its accred­i­ta­tion.

    Accord­ing to IFCN direc­tor Bay­bars Örsek, Check Your Fact was expelled from IFCN’s ver­i­fied sig­na­to­ries last Novem­ber because “they failed to dis­close one of their fund­ing sources [the Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion] in their appli­ca­tion,” but were rein­stat­ed ear­li­er this year after reap­ply­ing.

    But even though Check Your Fact is now being more trans­par­ent about its fund­ing sources, those fund­ing sources in and of them­selves present prob­lem­at­ic con­flicts of inter­est — ones that the IFCN’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process doesn’t account for.

    How Face­book choos­es its fact-check­ers

    All the fact-check­ers Face­book part­ners with are cer­ti­fied by Poynter’s Inter­na­tion­al Fact Check­ing Net­work (IFCN). Poyn­ter eval­u­ates appli­cants based on a set of cri­te­ria includ­ing “non­par­ti­san­ship and fair­ness,” “trans­paren­cy of sources,” “trans­paren­cy of fund­ing and orga­ni­za­tion,” “trans­paren­cy of method­ol­o­gy,” and an “open an hon­est cor­rec­tions pol­i­cy.”

    IFCN cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for part­ner­ing with Face­book, but once a site is cer­ti­fied, it’s up to Face­book to decide whether to part­ner with it. There are cur­rent­ly 62 orga­ni­za­tions with IFCN cer­ti­fi­ca­tion glob­al­ly, but Face­book only part­ners with six in the Unit­ed States.

    “We don’t believe we at Face­book should be respon­si­ble for the verac­i­ty of con­tent,” Face­book spokesper­son Svens­son told me. “We believe in the cred­i­bil­i­ty of fact-check­ers that [IFCN] cer­ti­fies.”

    Notably, how­ev­er, the IFCN’s cri­te­ria for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion does not include con­flicts of inter­est. That’s the source of one of the con­cerns cli­mate jour­nal­ists are rais­ing about Check Your Fact.

    Accord­ing to a report pub­lished last month by PRWatch, the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion account­ed for 83 per­cent of the Dai­ly Caller News Foundation’s rev­enues in 2016, and the Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion employs some of Check Your Fact’s fact-check­ers. Green­peace reports that the Koch Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tions spent more than $127 mil­lion from 1997 to 2017 financ­ing groups “that have attacked cli­mate change sci­ence and pol­i­cy solu­tions.”

    That con­flict of inter­est has raised con­cerns that Check Your Fact’s fact-check­ing role could have a chill­ing effect on cli­mate jour­nal­ism on Face­book.

    As lead­ing cli­ma­tol­o­gist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress, “It is appalling that Face­book has teamed up with a Koch-fund­ed orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes cli­mate change denial. ... Face­book must dis­as­so­ci­ate itself from this orga­ni­za­tion.”

    Face­book says it wants a “diver­si­ty” of orga­ni­za­tions for fact-check­ing, but accord­ing to Media Bias/Fact Check, none of the fact-check­ers Face­book cur­rent­ly part­ners with in the US are left-lean­ing, and Check Your Fact is the only one with a a right-of-cen­ter rat­ing. Face­book is essen­tial­ly buy­ing into the argu­ment con­ser­v­a­tives have laid forth — that main­stream news out­lets have a lib­er­al bias and that con­ser­v­a­tives need spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion in the process.

    Hav­ing accu­rate fact-checks doesn’t mean a fact-check­er is free of bias

    Check Your Fact’s web­site pledges that the site is “non-par­ti­san” and “loy­al to nei­ther peo­ple nor par­ties — only the truth.” (Full dis­clo­sure: Check Your Fact has also fact-checked one of this author’s own tweets). It also talks up the website’s “edi­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence.” Indeed, a perusal of Check Your Fact’s web­site doesn’t indi­cate that there’s any­thing fac­tu­al­ly wrong with the site’s fact-checks, but the sto­ries it choos­es to fact-check speak to a bias of its own.

    For instance, as of April 30, the site’s home­page fea­tures more fact-checks of state­ments made by Hillary Clin­ton — for exam­ple, “FACT CHECK: Did Hillary Clin­ton Once Say That Demo­c­ra­t­ic Vot­ers Are ‘Just Plain Stu­pid’?” (the site notes there’s no evi­dence Clin­ton ever said it) — than it does state­ments from the cur­rent pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump, who just sur­passed a his­toric 10,000 false or mis­lead­ing claims from main­stream fact-check­ers.

    And as Scott Wald­man recent­ly detailed for E&E News, even when Check Your Fact does fact-checks of claims like Trump’s recent one about wind tur­bines caus­ing can­cer that ulti­mate­ly arrive at the cor­rect con­clu­sion (Trump’s claim was false), the site ele­vates fringe voic­es in the process.

    While the web­site labeled the claim as false — and quot­ed can­cer experts say­ing as much — it also quot­ed Nation­al Wind Watch, an anti­wind group that orga­nizes and fights against wind tur­bines through­out the coun­try. A spokesman for that group claimed the pres­i­dent was cor­rect; he said tur­bines cause a lack of sleep and stress, which can lead to can­cer.

    In March, Check Your Fact gave cre­dence to Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell’s claims that the Green New Deal would cost more than every dol­lar the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has spent in its his­to­ry. The Ken­tucky Repub­li­can and Check Your Fact relied on a sin­gle study, pro­duced by a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank, the Amer­i­can Action Forum.

    But the author of that study has acknowl­edged that its cal­cu­la­tion of a $93 tril­lion price tag is essen­tial­ly a guess, since the Green New Deal is cur­rent­ly a vague res­o­lu­tion. E&E News has report­ed on how the Amer­i­can Action Forum is con­nect­ed to a web of con­ser­v­a­tive groups that fund polit­i­cal attacks through undis­closed donors and that have been fund­ed by fos­sil fuel lob­by­ing inter­ests opposed to envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions (Cli­matewire, April 1).

    It would be hard to com­plain if Face­book part­nered with rep­utable web­sites for fact-check­ing. But in order to pre­empt accu­sa­tions of left-wing bias, the plat­form has repeat­ed­ly part­nered with out­lets that draw into ques­tion how com­mit­ted the plat­form real­ly is to root­ing out fake news. (In a state­ment sent to Vox, Check Your Fact edi­tor David Sivak pushed back on char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of his site as being biased toward the right, writ­ing, “[t]hese last cou­ple of weeks have been reveal­ing, as a num­ber of news out­lets have resort­ed to mis­rep­re­sent­ing our work. Even when we fact-check con­ser­v­a­tives for putting words in Hillary Clinton’s mouth, that’s some­how mis­con­strued as con­ser­v­a­tive ‘bias’ on our part. The truth is, Check Your Fact has a two-year track record of fair, even­hand­ed arti­cles that hold fig­ures on both sides of the polit­i­cal aisle account­able, includ­ing Trump.”)

    There are indi­ca­tions that Facebook’s fact-check­ing prob­lems go deep­er than its part­ner­ship with the Dai­ly Caller. In Feb­ru­ary, one of the sites that was work­ing with Face­book, Snopes, announces it was end­ing the part­ner­ship.

    Two months before that announce­ment, the Guardian report­ed on some of the frus­tra­tions that may have moti­vat­ed that deci­sion.

    “Cur­rent and for­mer Face­book factcheck­ers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with out­side reporters has pro­duced min­i­mal results and that they’ve lost trust in Face­book, which has repeat­ed­ly refused to release mean­ing­ful data about the impacts of their work,” the Guardian report­ed.

    The dis­ease of fake news is bad. But the “cures” Face­book is try­ing have side effects of their own.

    Face­book knows that it faces a tough sit­u­a­tion. Much of its val­ue lies in the fact that it has such a wide user base — lib­er­al or con­ser­v­a­tive, old or young — and that it can mon­e­tize those users. The preva­lence of mis­in­for­ma­tion threat­ens its abil­i­ty to sur­vive in a very real way, but so does poten­tial reg­u­la­tion from Repub­li­can politi­cians who don’t seem to have a firm grasp of how the inter­net works but harp on about lib­er­al bias any­way.

    Face­book, by part­ner­ing with a right-wing fact-check­ing orga­ni­za­tion, is mak­ing a con­ces­sion to con­ser­v­a­tive argu­ments. But by not includ­ing lib­er­al sites, it’s also tac­it­ly sug­ges­tion that main­stream out­lets have a lib­er­al bias — which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly true.

    ...

    ———-

    “Facebook’s con­tro­ver­sial fact-check­ing part­ner­ship with a Dai­ly Caller-fund­ed web­site, explained” by Aaron Rupar; Vox; 05/06/2019

    “Last week, Face­book announced that it’s part­ner­ing with Check Your Fact — a sub­sidiary of the right-wing Dai­ly Caller, a site known for its ties to white nation­al­ists — as one of six third-par­ty orga­ni­za­tions it cur­rent­ly works with to fact-check con­tent for Amer­i­can users. The part­ner­ship has already come under intense crit­i­cism from cli­mate jour­nal­ists (among oth­ers) who are con­cerned that the Dai­ly Caller’s edi­to­r­i­al stance on issues like cli­mate change, which is uncon­tro­ver­sial among sci­en­tists but isn’t treat­ed as such on right-wing media, will spread even more mis­in­for­ma­tion Face­book.”

    The Dai­ly Caller — a cesspool of white nation­al­ist pro­pa­gan­da — is fact-check­er sug­ar-dad­dy for one of the biggest sources of news on the plan­et. This is the state of the media in 2019. It’s also a reminder that, while Don­ald Trump is wide­ly rec­og­nized as the fig­ure that ‘capured’ the heart and soul of the Repub­li­can Par­ty in recent years, the real fig­ure that accom­plished this was Alex Jones. That’s why ensur­ing Face­book is safe for far right dis­in­for­ma­tion is so impor­tant to the par­ty. Alex Jones’s mes­sage is the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s unof­fi­cial zeit­geist at this point. Trump has just been rid­ing Jones’s wave that’s been build­ing for years.

    Oh, but it gets worse. Of course: it turns out the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion account­ed for 83 per­cent of the Dai­ly Caller News Foundation’s rev­enues in 2016, and the Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion employs some of Check Your Fact’s fact-check­ers. So this is more of a Dai­ly Caller/Koch joint oper­a­tion. But Face­book explains this deci­sion by assert­ing that “we do believe in hav­ing a diverse set of fact-check­ing part­ners.” And yet there aren’t any actu­al left-wing orga­ni­za­tions hired to do sim­i­lar work:

    ...
    In an inter­view, Face­book spokesper­son Lau­ren Svens­son defend­ed the part­ner­ship. She not­ed that Check Your Fact, like all fact-check­ers Face­book part­ners with, is cer­ti­fied by Poynter’s Inter­na­tion­al Fact-Check­ing Net­work (IFCN). Asked about the right-wing pro­cliv­i­ties of Check Your Fact’s par­ent com­pa­ny, Svenn­son referred to the IFCN’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process­es and said that “we do believe in hav­ing a diverse set of fact-check­ing part­ners.” Check Your Fact, for its part, says it oper­ates inde­pen­dent­ly from the Dai­ly Caller, and touts its record of accu­rate fact-checks.

    The real­i­ty is that Face­book has a fake news prob­lem that could hurt its bot­tom line, but it also has a polit­i­cal prob­lem. If it doesn’t give cre­dence to pop­u­lar but dis­rep­utable web­sites like the Dai­ly Caller, it runs the risk of anger­ing Repub­li­cans who use the plat­form. But in cre­dence to sites of that sort, the plat­form runs the risk or per­pet­u­at­ing the same “fake news” prob­lem third-par­ty fact-check­ers are meant to solve.

    ...

    How Face­book choos­es its fact-check­ers

    All the fact-check­ers Face­book part­ners with are cer­ti­fied by Poynter’s Inter­na­tion­al Fact Check­ing Net­work (IFCN). Poyn­ter eval­u­ates appli­cants based on a set of cri­te­ria includ­ing “non­par­ti­san­ship and fair­ness,” “trans­paren­cy of sources,” “trans­paren­cy of fund­ing and orga­ni­za­tion,” “trans­paren­cy of method­ol­o­gy,” and an “open an hon­est cor­rec­tions pol­i­cy.”

    IFCN cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for part­ner­ing with Face­book, but once a site is cer­ti­fied, it’s up to Face­book to decide whether to part­ner with it. There are cur­rent­ly 62 orga­ni­za­tions with IFCN cer­ti­fi­ca­tion glob­al­ly, but Face­book only part­ners with six in the Unit­ed States.

    “We don’t believe we at Face­book should be respon­si­ble for the verac­i­ty of con­tent,” Face­book spokesper­son Svens­son told me. “We believe in the cred­i­bil­i­ty of fact-check­ers that [IFCN] cer­ti­fies.”

    Notably, how­ev­er, the IFCN’s cri­te­ria for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion does not include con­flicts of inter­est. That’s the source of one of the con­cerns cli­mate jour­nal­ists are rais­ing about Check Your Fact.

    Accord­ing to a report pub­lished last month by PRWatch, the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion account­ed for 83 per­cent of the Dai­ly Caller News Foundation’s rev­enues in 2016, and the Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion employs some of Check Your Fact’s fact-check­ers. Green­peace reports that the Koch Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tions spent more than $127 mil­lion from 1997 to 2017 financ­ing groups “that have attacked cli­mate change sci­ence and pol­i­cy solu­tions.”

    ...

    Face­book says it wants a “diver­si­ty” of orga­ni­za­tions for fact-check­ing, but accord­ing to Media Bias/Fact Check, none of the fact-check­ers Face­book cur­rent­ly part­ners with in the US are left-lean­ing, and Check Your Fact is the only one with a a right-of-cen­ter rat­ing. Face­book is essen­tial­ly buy­ing into the argu­ment con­ser­v­a­tives have laid forth — that main­stream news out­lets have a lib­er­al bias and that con­ser­v­a­tives need spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion in the process.
    ...

    And it’s been none oth­er than for­mer White House aide to George W. Bush, Joel Kaplan, who has been push­ing to give the Dai­ly Caller this kind of over­sight over the plat­for­m’s con­tent. Kaplan is appar­ent­ly Face­book’s “pro­tec­tor against alle­ga­tions of polit­i­cal bias.” And while some of Face­book’s exec­u­tive’s rec­og­nized that the Dai­ly Caller is a ser­i­al ped­dler of mis­in­for­ma­tion, Mark Zucker­berg report­ed­ly took Kaplan’s side dur­ing these debates:

    ...
    Face­book report­ed­ly has been inter­est­ed in part­ner­ing with the Dai­ly Caller for some time. In Decem­ber, the Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed that Joel Kaplan, a for­mer White House aide to George W. Bush who now serves as Facebook’s glob­al pol­i­cy chief and is the company’s “pro­tec­tor against alle­ga­tions of polit­i­cal bias,” made a failed push to part­ner with the Dai­ly Caller last year:

    This sum­mer, Mr. Kaplan pushed to part­ner with right-wing news site The Dai­ly Caller’s fact-check­ing divi­sion after con­ser­v­a­tives accused Face­book of work­ing only with main­stream pub­lish­ers, peo­ple famil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said. Con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics argued those pub­li­ca­tions had a built-in lib­er­al bias.

    Mr. Kaplan argued that The Dai­ly Caller was accred­it­ed by the Poyn­ter Insti­tute, a St. Peters­burg, Fla.-based jour­nal­ism non­prof­it that over­sees a net­work of fact-check­ers. Oth­er exec­u­tives, includ­ing some in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. office, argued that the pub­li­ca­tion print­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion. The con­tentious dis­cus­sion involved Mr. Zucker­berg, who appeared to side with Mr. Kaplan, and Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg. The debate end­ed in Novem­ber when The Dai­ly Caller’s fact-check­ing oper­a­tion lost its accred­i­ta­tion.

    Accord­ing to IFCN direc­tor Bay­bars Örsek, Check Your Fact was expelled from IFCN’s ver­i­fied sig­na­to­ries last Novem­ber because “they failed to dis­close one of their fund­ing sources [the Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion] in their appli­ca­tion,” but were rein­stat­ed ear­li­er this year after reap­ply­ing.

    But even though Check Your Fact is now being more trans­par­ent about its fund­ing sources, those fund­ing sources in and of them­selves present prob­lem­at­ic con­flicts of inter­est — ones that the IFCN’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process doesn’t account for.
    ...

    Yep, Check Your Fact was­n’t even ini­tial­ly trans­par­ent with the IFCN about its fund­ing sources and instead hid the fact that it’s financed by the Koch-fund­ed Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion. That’s kind of orga­ni­za­tion this is. And that’s all why the inevitable future right-wing claims of bias that’s we’re undoubt­ed­ly going to hear in the 2020 elec­tion will be such a bad joke.

    In relat­ed news, Face­book recent­ly announced that it’s ban­ning the pro-Trump ads from the Epoch Times. Recall the recent reports about how The Epoch Times, fund­ed by Falun Gong devo­tees, has become of the sec­ond biggest buy­er of pro-Trump Face­book ads in the world (after only the Trump cam­paign itself) and has become a cen­tral play­er in gen­er­at­ing all sorts of wild far right con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries like ‘QAnon’. So was The Epoch Times banned for aggres­sive­ly push­ing all sorts of mis­in­for­ma­tion? Nope, The Epoch Times was banned from buy­ing Face­book ads for not being upfront about its fund­ing sources. That was it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 26, 2019, 12:18 pm
  13. This next arti­cle shows how Face­book promised to ban white nation­al­ist con­tent from its plat­form in March 2019. It was not until then that Face­book acknowl­edged that white nation­al­ism “can­not be mean­ing­ful­ly sep­a­rat­ed from white suprema­cy and orga­nized hate groups” and banned it. Face­book does not ban Holo­caust denial, but does work to reduce the spread of such con­tent by lim­it­ing the dis­tri­b­u­tion of posts and pre­vent­ing Holo­caust-deny­ing groups and pages from appear­ing in algo­rith­mic rec­om­men­da­tions.  How­ev­er, a Guardian analy­sis found long­stand­ing Face­book pages for VDare, a white nation­al­ist web­site focused on oppo­si­tion to immi­gra­tion; the Affir­ma­tive Right, a rebrand­ing of Richard Spencer’s blog Alter­na­tive Right, which helped launch the “alt-right” move­ment; and Amer­i­can Free Press, a newslet­ter found­ed by the white suprema­cist Willis Car­to, in addi­tion to mul­ti­ple pages asso­ci­at­ed with Red Ice TV. Also oper­at­ing open­ly on the plat­form are two Holo­caust denial orga­ni­za­tions, the Com­mit­tee for Open Debate on the Holo­caust and the Insti­tute for His­tor­i­cal Review. The Guardian reviewed of white nation­al­ist out­lets on Face­book amid a debate over the company’s deci­sion to include Bre­it­bart News in Face­book News, a new sec­tion of its mobile app ded­i­cat­ed to “high qual­i­ty” jour­nal­ism. Crit­ics of Bre­it­bart News object to its inclu­sion in what Zucker­berg has described as a “trust­ed source” of infor­ma­tion on two fronts: its repeat­ed pub­li­ca­tion of par­ti­san mis­in­for­ma­tion and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – and its pro­mo­tion of extreme right-wing views. Steve Ban­non called the site Bre­it­bart “the plat­form for the alt-right” in 2016. In 2017, Buz­zFeed News report­ed on emails and doc­u­ments show­ing how a for­mer Bre­it­bart edi­tor had worked direct­ly with a white nation­al­ist and a neo-Nazi to write and edit an arti­cle about the “alt-right” move­ment. The SPLC and numer­ous news orga­ni­za­tions have report­ed on a cache of emails between the senior Trump advis­er Stephen Miller and the for­mer Bre­it­bart writer Katie McHugh show­ing how Miller pushed for cov­er­age and inclu­sion of white nation­al­ist ideas in the pub­li­ca­tion.  The arti­cle pro­vides an anal­o­gy where just because the KKK pro­duced their own news­pa­pers that it didn’t mean that it qual­i­fies as news.” Bre­it­bart is a polit­i­cal organ that was try­ing to do was give white suprema­cist pol­i­tics a veneer of objec­tiv­i­ty.”

    The Guardian, Julia Car­rie Wong , Thu 21 Nov 2019 06.00 EST

    White nation­al­ists are open­ly oper­at­ing on Face­book. The com­pa­ny won’t act

    Guardian analy­sis finds VDare and Red Ice TV among sev­er­al out­lets that are still on the plat­form despite Facebook’s promised ban

    Last mod­i­fied on Thu 21 Nov 2019 14.38 EST

    On 7 Novem­ber, Lana Lok­t­eff, an Amer­i­can white nation­al­ist, intro­duced a “thought crim­i­nal and polit­i­cal pris­on­er and friend” as a fea­tured guest on her inter­net talk show, Red Ice TV. 

    For about 90 min­utes, Lok­t­eff and her guest – Greg John­son, a promi­nent white nation­al­ist and edi­tor-in-chief of the white nation­al­ist pub­lish­er Counter-Cur­rents – dis­cussed Johnson’s recent arrest in Nor­way amid author­i­ties’ con­cerns about his past expres­sion of “respect” for the far-right mass mur­der­er Anders Breivik. In 2012, John­son wrote that he was angered by Breivik’s crimes because he feared they would harm the cause of white nation­al­ism but had dis­cov­ered a “strange new respect” for him dur­ing his tri­al; Breivik’s mur­der of 77 peo­ple has been cit­ed as an inspi­ra­tion by the sus­pect­ed Christchurch killer, the man who mur­dered the British MP Jo Cox, and a US coast guard offi­cer accused of plot­ting a white nation­al­ist ter­ror attack.

    Just a few weeks ear­li­er, Red Ice TV had suf­fered a seri­ous set­back when it was per­ma­nent­ly banned from YouTube for repeat­ed vio­la­tions of its pol­i­cy against hate speech. But Red Ice TV still had a home on Face­book, allow­ing the channel’s 90,000 fol­low­ers to stream the dis­cus­sion on Face­book Watch – the plat­form Mark Zucker­berg launched as a place “to share an expe­ri­ence and bring peo­ple togeth­er who care about the same things”.

    The con­ver­sa­tion wasn’t a unique occur­rence. Face­book promised to ban white nation­al­ist con­tent from its plat­form in March 2019, revers­ing a years-long pol­i­cy to tol­er­ate the ide­ol­o­gy. But Red Ice TV is just one of sev­er­al white nation­al­ist out­lets that remain active on the plat­form today.

    A Guardian analy­sis found long­stand­ing Face­book pages for VDare, a white nation­al­ist web­site focused on oppo­si­tion to immi­gra­tion; the Affir­ma­tive Right, a rebrand­ing of Richard Spencer’s blog Alter­na­tive Right, which helped launch the “alt-right” move­ment; and Amer­i­can Free Press, a newslet­ter found­ed by the white suprema­cist Willis Car­to, in addi­tion to mul­ti­ple pages asso­ci­at­ed with Red Ice TV. Also oper­at­ing open­ly on the plat­form are two Holo­caust denial orga­ni­za­tions, the Com­mit­tee for Open Debate on the Holo­caust and the Insti­tute for His­tor­i­cal Review.

    “There’s no ques­tion that every sin­gle one of these groups is a white nation­al­ist group,” said Hei­di Beirich, the direc­tor of the South­ern Pover­ty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intel­li­gence Project, after review­ing the Guardian’s find­ings. “It’s not even up for debate. There’s real­ly no excuse for not remov­ing this mate­r­i­al.”

    White nation­al­ists sup­port the estab­lish­ment of whites-only nation states, both by exclud­ing new non-white immi­grants and, in some cas­es, by expelling or killing non-white cit­i­zens and res­i­dents. Many con­tem­po­rary pro­po­nents of white nation­al­ism fix­ate on con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about demo­graph­ic change and con­sid­er racial or eth­nic diver­si­ty to be acts of “geno­cide” against the white race.

    Face­book declined to take action against any of the pages iden­ti­fied by the Guardian. A com­pa­ny spokesper­son said: “We are inves­ti­gat­ing to deter­mine whether any of these groups vio­late our poli­cies against orga­nized hate. We reg­u­lar­ly review orga­ni­za­tions against our pol­i­cy and any that vio­late will be banned per­ma­nent­ly.”

    The spokesper­son also said that Face­book does not ban Holo­caust denial, but does work to reduce the spread of such con­tent by lim­it­ing the dis­tri­b­u­tion of posts and pre­vent­ing Holo­caust-deny­ing groups and pages from appear­ing in algo­rith­mic rec­om­men­da­tions. Such lim­i­ta­tions are being applied to the two Holo­caust denial groups iden­ti­fied by the Guardian, the spokesper­son said.

    The Guardian under­took a review of white nation­al­ist out­lets on Face­book amid a debate over the company’s deci­sion to include Bre­it­bart News in Face­book News, a new sec­tion of its mobile app ded­i­cat­ed to “high qual­i­ty” jour­nal­ism. Face­book has faced sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure to reduce the dis­tri­b­u­tion of mis­in­for­ma­tion on its plat­form. Crit­ics of Bre­it­bart News object to its inclu­sion in what Zucker­berg has described as a “trust­ed source” of infor­ma­tion on two fronts: its repeat­ed pub­li­ca­tion of par­ti­san mis­in­for­ma­tion and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – and its pro­mo­tion of extreme rightwing views.

    A grow­ing body of evi­dence shows the influ­ence of white nation­al­ism on Breitbart’s pol­i­tics. Breitbart’s for­mer exec­u­tive chair­man Steve Ban­non called the site “the plat­form for the alt-right” in 2016. In 2017, Buz­zFeed News report­ed on emails and doc­u­ments show­ing how a for­mer Bre­it­bart edi­tor had worked direct­ly with a white nation­al­ist and a neo-Nazi to write and edit an arti­cle about the “alt-right” move­ment.

    This month, the SPLC and numer­ous news orga­ni­za­tions have report­ed on a cache of emails between the senior Trump advis­er Stephen Miller and the for­mer Bre­it­bart writer Katie McHugh show­ing how Miller pushed for cov­er­age and inclu­sion of white nation­al­ist ideas in the pub­li­ca­tion. The emails show Miller direct­ing McHugh to read links from VDare and anoth­er white nation­al­ist pub­li­ca­tion, Amer­i­can Renais­sance, among oth­er sources. In one case, report­ed by NBC News, Bre­it­bart ran an anti-immi­gra­tion op-ed sub­mit­ted by Miller under the byline “Bre­it­bart News”.

    A Bre­it­bart spokes­woman, Eliz­a­beth Moore, said that the out­let “is not now nor has it ever been a plat­form for the alt-right”. Moore also said McHugh was “a trou­bled indi­vid­ual” who had been fired for a num­ber of rea­sons “includ­ing lying”.

    “Bre­it­bart is the fun­nel through which VDare’s ideas get out to the pub­lic,” said Beirich. “It’s basi­cal­ly a con­duit of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry and racism into the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment … We don’t list them as a hate group, but to con­sid­er them a trust­ed news source is pan­der­ing at best.”

    Draw­ing the line between pol­i­tics and news
    Face­book exec­u­tives have respond­ed defen­sive­ly to crit­i­cism of Bre­it­bart News’s inclu­sion in the Face­book News tab, argu­ing that the com­pa­ny should not pick ide­o­log­i­cal sides.

    “Part of hav­ing this be a trust­ed source is that it needs to have a diver­si­ty of … views in there,” Zucker­berg said at an event in New York in response to a ques­tion about Breitbart’s inclu­sion. Camp­bell Brown, Facebook’s head of news part­ner­ships, wrote in a lengthy Face­book post that she believed Face­book should “include con­tent from ide­o­log­i­cal pub­lish­ers on both the left and the right”. Adam Mosseri, the head of Insta­gram and a long­time Face­book exec­u­tive, ques­tioned on Twit­ter whether the company’s crit­ics “real­ly want a plat­form of our scale to make deci­sions to exclude news orga­ni­za­tions based on their ide­ol­o­gy”. In response to a ques­tion from the Guardian, Mosseri acknowl­edged that Face­book does ban the ide­ol­o­gy of white nation­al­ism, then added: “The tricky bit is, and this is always the case, where exact­ly to draw the line.”

    One of the chal­lenges for Face­book is that white nation­al­ist and white suprema­cist groups adopt the trap­pings of news out­lets or pub­li­ca­tions to dis­sem­i­nate their views, said Joan Dono­van, the direc­tor of the Tech­nol­o­gy and Social Change Research Project at Har­vard and an expert on media manip­u­la­tion.

    Red Ice TV is “a group that styles them­selves as a news orga­ni­za­tion when they are pri­mar­i­ly a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, and the pol­i­tics are staunch­ly white suprema­cist”, Dono­van said. “We have seen this hap­pen in the past where orga­ni­za­tions like the KKK have pro­duced their own news­pa­pers … It doesn’t mean that it qual­i­fies as news.”

    Many peo­ple argue that Bre­it­bart is more of a “polit­i­cal front” than a news oper­a­tion, she added. “When Steve Ban­non left Bre­it­bart in order to work much more con­crete­ly with cam­paigns, you could see that Bre­it­bart was a polit­i­cal organ before any­thing else. Real­ly what they were try­ing to do was give white suprema­cist pol­i­tics a veneer of objec­tiv­i­ty.”

    Dono­van said she expects plat­form com­pa­nies will reassess their treat­ment of Bre­it­bart fol­low­ing the release of the Miller emails. She also called for Face­book to take a more “holis­tic” approach to com­bat­ing US domes­tic ter­ror­ism, as it does with for­eign ter­ror­ist groups.

    A Face­book spokesper­son not­ed that Face­book News is still in a test phase and that Face­book is not pay­ing Bre­it­bart News for its inclu­sion in the pro­gram. The spokesper­son said the com­pa­ny would con­tin­ue to lis­ten to feed­back from news pub­lish­ers.

    A his­to­ry of tol­er­ance for hate
    Face­book has long assert­ed that “hate speech has no space on Face­book”, whether it comes from a news out­let or not.

    But the $566bn com­pa­ny has con­sis­tent­ly allowed a vari­ety of hate groups to use its plat­form to spread their mes­sage, even when alert­ed to their pres­ence by the media or advo­ca­cy groups. In July 2017, in response to queries from the Guardian, Face­book said that more than 160 pages and groups iden­ti­fied as hate groups by SPLC did not vio­late its com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. Those groups includ­ed:

    Amer­i­can Renais­sance, a white suprema­cist web­site and mag­a­zine;

    The Coun­cil of Con­ser­v­a­tive Cit­i­zens, a white nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion ref­er­enced in the man­i­festo writ­ten by Dylann Roof before he mur­dered nine peo­ple in a black church;

    The Occi­den­tal Observ­er, an online pub­li­ca­tion described by the Anti-Defama­tion League as the “pri­ma­ry voice for anti­semitism from far-right intel­lec­tu­als”;

    the Tra­di­tion­al­ist Work­er par­ty, a neo-Nazi group that had already been involved in mul­ti­ple vio­lent inci­dents; and

    Counter-Cur­rents, the white nation­al­ist pub­lish­ing imprint run by the white nation­al­ist Greg John­son, the recent guest on Red Ice TV.

    Three weeks lat­er, fol­low­ing the dead­ly Unite the Right ral­ly in Char­lottesville, Face­book announced a crack­down on vio­lent threats and removed pages asso­ci­at­ed with the the Tra­di­tion­al­ist Work­er par­ty, Counter-Cur­rents, and the neo-Nazi orga­ni­za­tion Gal­lows Tree Wotans­volk. Many of the rest remained.
    A year lat­er, a Guardian review found that many of the groups and indi­vid­u­als involved in the Char­lottesville event were back on Face­book, includ­ing the neo-Con­fed­er­ate League of the South, Patri­ot Front and Jason Kessler, who orga­nized Unite the Right. Face­book took those pages down fol­low­ing inquiries from the Guardian, but declined to take action against the page of David Duke, the noto­ri­ous white suprema­cist and for­mer Grand Wiz­ard of the Ku Klux Klan.

    In May 2018, Vice News’s Moth­er­board report­ed on inter­nal Face­book train­ing doc­u­ments that showed the com­pa­ny was dis­tin­guish­ing between white suprema­cy and white nation­al­ism – and explic­it­ly allow­ing white nation­al­ism.

    In July 2018, Zucker­berg defend­ed the moti­va­tions of peo­ple who engage in Holo­caust denial dur­ing an inter­view, say­ing that he did not “think that they’re inten­tion­al­ly get­ting it wrong”. Fol­low­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism, he retract­ed his remarks.

    It was not until March 2019 that Face­book acknowl­edged that white nation­al­ism “can­not be mean­ing­ful­ly sep­a­rat­ed from white suprema­cy and orga­nized hate groups” and banned it.

    Beirich expressed deep frus­tra­tion with Facebook’s track record.

    “We have con­sult­ed with Face­book many, many times,” Beirich added. “We have sent them our list of hate groups. It’s not like they’re not aware, and I always get the sense that there is good faith desire [to take action], and yet over and over again [hate groups] keep pop­ping up. It’s just not pos­si­ble for civ­il rights groups like SPLC to play the role of flag­ging this stuff for Face­book. It’s a com­pa­ny that makes $42bn a year and I have a staff of 45.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/21/facebook-white-nationalists-ban-vdare-red-ice?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

    Posted by Mary Benton | November 23, 2019, 6:55 pm
  14. Remem­ber the sto­ry from ear­li­er this year about Face­book out­sourc­ing its ‘fact check­ing’ oper­a­tions to orga­ni­za­tions like the Koch-financed far right Dai­ly Caller News Foun­da­tion? Well, here’s the flip side of sto­ries like that: Face­book just lost its last fact check­er orga­ni­za­tion in the Nether­lands, the Dutch news­pa­per NU.nl. Why did the news­pa­per leave the pro­gram? Because Face­book forced NU.nl to reverse its rul­ing that the claims in a far right Dutch ad are unsub­stan­ti­at­ed, in keep­ing with Face­book’s new pol­i­cy of not fact check­ing politi­cians. The group labeled an ad by a far right politi­cian that claimed that 10 per­cent of Roma­ni­a’s land is owned by non-Euro­peans as unsub­stan­ti­at­ed, but Face­book inter­vened and forced a rever­sal of that rul­ing. So NU.nl quit the fact check­ing pro­gram because it was­n’t allowed to check the facts of soci­ety’s biggest and loud­est liars:

    The Verge

    Facebook’s only fact-check­ing ser­vice in the Nether­lands just quit

    ‘What is the point of fight­ing fake news if you are not allowed to tack­le politi­cians?’

    By Zoe Schif­fer
    Nov 26, 2019, 3:02pm EST

    Face­book is now oper­at­ing with­out a third-par­ty fact-check­ing ser­vice in the Nether­lands. The company’s only part­ner, Dutch news­pa­per NU.nl, just quit over a dis­pute regard­ing the social network’s pol­i­cy to allow politi­cians to run ads con­tain­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    “What is the point of fight­ing fake news if you are not allowed to tack­le politi­cians?” asked NU.nl’s edi­tor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoek­man in a blog post announc­ing the deci­sion. “Let one thing be clear: we stand behind the con­tent of our fact checks.”

    The con­flict began in May when Face­book inter­vened in NU.nl’s deci­sion to label an ad from the Dutch politi­cian Esther de Lange as unsub­stan­ti­at­ed. The ad’s claim, that 10 per­cent of farm­land in Roma­nia is owned by non-Euro­peans, could not be ver­i­fied, which led NU.nl to label it as false. Face­book inter­vened in that deci­sion, telling the orga­ni­za­tion that politi­cians’ speech should not be fact-checked.

    Facebook’s adver­tis­ing guide­lines do not allow mis­in­for­ma­tion in ads, and the com­pa­ny relies on third-par­ty fact-check­ing ser­vices to vet the claims mar­keters are mak­ing. In Octo­ber, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny for­mal­ly exempt­ed politi­cians from being part of this pro­gram. “From now on we will treat speech from politi­cians as news­wor­thy con­tent that should, as a gen­er­al rule, be seen and heard,” wrote Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

    ...

    Pres­sure began to mount after Jack Dorsey announced that Twit­ter would no longer allow polit­i­cal ads on the plat­form. “We believe polit­i­cal mes­sage reach should be earned, not bought,” he wrote on Twit­ter. Some of Facebook’s own employ­ees penned an open let­ter to Mark Zucker­berg, ask­ing him to con­sid­er chang­ing his mind.

    NU.nl felt increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able with its rela­tion­ship with Face­book. The orga­ni­za­tion had become the only third-par­ty fact-check­ing ser­vice Face­book used in the Nether­lands, after Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty pulled out from its part­ner­ship last year. When it became clear the social net­work would not change its posi­tion, NU.nl decid­ed to put an end to its part­ner­ship as well.

    “We val­ue the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their deci­sion as an inde­pen­dent busi­ness,” a Face­book spokesper­son said in a state­ment emailed to The Verge. “We have strong rela­tion­ships with 55 fact-check­ing part­ners around the world who fact-check con­tent in 45 lan­guages, and we plan to con­tin­ue expand­ing the pro­gram in Europe and hope­ful­ly in the Nether­lands.”

    ———-

    “Facebook’s only fact-check­ing ser­vice in the Nether­lands just quit” by Zoe Schif­fer; The Verge; 11/26/2019

    ““What is the point of fight­ing fake news if you are not allowed to tack­le politi­cians?” asked NU.nl’s edi­tor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoek­man in a blog post announc­ing the deci­sion. “Let one thing be clear: we stand behind the con­tent of our fact checks.””

    What is the point of fight­ing fake news if you are not allowed to tack­le politi­cians? That’s a pret­ty valid ques­tion for a fact check­er. Espe­cial­ly in an era of the rise of the far right when troll­ish polit­i­cal gas-light­ing has become the norm. At some point, being a fact check­er with those kinds of con­straints effec­tive­ly turns these fact check­ing orga­ni­za­tions into facil­i­ta­tors of these lies.

    In relat­ed news, check out the recent addi­tion to Face­book’s “trust­ed” news feed: Bre­it­bart News:

    The Verge

    Mark Zucker­berg is strug­gling to explain why Bre­it­bart belongs on Face­book News

    By Adi Robert­son
    Oct 25, 2019, 6:18pm EDT

    On Fri­day morn­ing, Face­book announced its plan to spend mil­lions of dol­lars on high-qual­i­ty jour­nal­ism, fuel­ing the launch of a new ded­i­cat­ed news tab on its plat­form. CEO Mark Zucker­berg joined News Corp CEO Robert Thom­son for an inter­view soon after, and Thom­son ham­mered home the need for objec­tive jour­nal­ism in the age of social media, wax­ing nos­tal­gic about the impor­tance of rig­or­ous fact-check­ing in his ear­ly career.

    ...

    Face­book News is part­ner­ing with a vari­ety of region­al news­pa­pers and some major nation­al part­ners, includ­ing USA Today and The Wall Street Jour­nal. But as The New York Times and Nie­man Lab report, its “trust­ed” sources also include Bre­it­bart, a far-right site whose co-founder Steve Ban­non once described it as a plat­form for the white nation­al­ist “alt-right.” Bre­it­bart has been crit­i­cized for repeat­ed inac­cu­rate and incen­di­ary report­ing, often at the expense of immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or. Last year, Wikipedia declared it an unre­li­able source for cita­tions, along­side the British tabloid Dai­ly Mail and the left-wing site Occu­py Democ­rats.

    That’s led to ques­tions about why Bre­it­bart belongs on Face­book News, a fea­ture that will sup­pos­ed­ly be held to far tougher stan­dards than the nor­mal News Feed. In a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion after the inter­view, Zucker­berg told Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Mar­garet Sul­li­van that Face­book would have “objec­tive stan­dards” for qual­i­ty.

    “Most of the rest of what we oper­ate is help­ing give peo­ple a voice broad­ly and mak­ing sure that every­one can share their opin­ion,” he said. “That’s not this. This is a space that is ded­i­cat­ed to high-qual­i­ty and curat­ed news.”

    But when New York Times reporter Marc Tra­cy asked how includ­ing Bre­it­bart served that cause, Zucker­berg empha­sized its pol­i­tics, not its report­ing. “Part of hav­ing this be a trust­ed source is that it needs to have a diver­si­ty of views in there, so I think you want to have con­tent that rep­re­sents dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” he said. Zucker­berg reit­er­at­ed that these per­spec­tives should com­ply with Facebook’s stan­dards, and he was cagey about Bre­it­bart’s pres­ence, say­ing that “hav­ing some­one be pos­si­ble or eli­gi­ble to show up” doesn’t guar­an­tee fre­quent place­ment. “But I cer­tain­ly think you want to include a breadth of con­tent in there,” he said.

    Face­book hasn’t released a full list of News part­ners, so we don’t know the project’s full scope. Bre­it­bart is hard­ly the only right-lean­ing name Facebook’s list, which includes Nation­al Review, The Wash­ing­ton Times, and News Corp’s own Fox News. But it has faced unique chal­lenges to its edi­to­r­i­al integri­ty — includ­ing, in recent years, some of Bre­it­bart’s own for­mer staff denounc­ing its poli­cies.

    Zuckerberg’s answer is unlike­ly to sat­is­fy crit­ics, who see the site’s inclu­sion as an exam­ple of Face­book sur­ren­der­ing prin­ci­ple to appease right-wing com­men­ta­tors. Left-lean­ing non­prof­it Media Mat­ters for Amer­i­ca called the deci­sion “reflex­ive pan­der­ing to con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dits, right-wing extrem­ists, and white nation­al­ists.” Activist group Sleep­ing Giants — which has spear­head­ed a major adver­tis­er boy­cott of Bre­it­bart — retweet­ed sev­er­al reporters crit­i­ciz­ing the news, includ­ing Buz­zFeed News writer Joe Bern­stein, whose report­ing on Bre­it­bart and white nation­al­ism caused one of its biggest back­ers to sell his stake.

    But Face­book wants to win over Repub­li­cans, includ­ing law­mak­ers who have grilled Zucker­berg in Con­gress over shaky claims of “anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias,” as well as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has threat­ened tech com­pa­nies with new laws and antitrust action. Leav­ing out Bre­it­bart might earn Face­book con­dem­na­tion from these quar­ters.

    In a New York Times edi­to­r­i­al, Zucker­berg not­ed that out­right mis­in­for­ma­tion is banned on Face­book News. “If a pub­lish­er posts mis­in­for­ma­tion, it will no longer appear in the prod­uct,” he wrote. So in the­o­ry, Bre­it­bart will only stay on Face­book News if it hews to the rules. But that doesn’t explain why Face­book chose an out­let known for sen­sa­tion­al­ism and mis­in­for­ma­tion in the first place — and as Face­book News matures, kick­ing off a site like Bre­it­bart might cause more con­tro­ver­sy than nev­er includ­ing it at all.

    ———–

    “Mark Zucker­berg is strug­gling to explain why Bre­it­bart belongs on Face­book News” by Adi Robert­son; The Verge; 10/25/2019

    “Face­book News is part­ner­ing with a vari­ety of region­al news­pa­pers and some major nation­al part­ners, includ­ing USA Today and The Wall Street Jour­nal. But as The New York Times and Nie­man Lab report, its “trust­ed” sources also include Bre­it­bart, a far-right site whose co-founder Steve Ban­non once described it as a plat­form for the white nation­al­ist “alt-right.” Bre­it­bart has been crit­i­cized for repeat­ed inac­cu­rate and incen­di­ary report­ing, often at the expense of immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or. Last year, Wikipedia declared it an unre­li­able source for cita­tions, along­side the British tabloid Dai­ly Mail and the left-wing site Occu­py Democ­rats.”

    It’s not just a news feed. It’s a “trust­ed news” feed. That’s how Mark Zucker­berg envi­sions the Face­book News fea­ture is sup­posed to work. And yet when asked why Bre­it­bart News was invit­ed into this “trust­ed” col­lec­tion of news sources, Zucker­berg explains that in order for the Face­book News feed to be trust­ed it needs to draw from a wide vari­ety of sources across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum. So in order for Face­book News to be trust­ed, it needs to include ide­o­log­i­cal sources from far right ide­olo­gies that thrive on warp­ing the truth and cre­at­ing fic­tion­al expla­na­tions of how the world works:

    ...
    That’s led to ques­tions about why Bre­it­bart belongs on Face­book News, a fea­ture that will sup­pos­ed­ly be held to far tougher stan­dards than the nor­mal News Feed. In a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion after the inter­view, Zucker­berg told Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Mar­garet Sul­li­van that Face­book would have “objec­tive stan­dards” for qual­i­ty.

    “Most of the rest of what we oper­ate is help­ing give peo­ple a voice broad­ly and mak­ing sure that every­one can share their opin­ion,” he said. “That’s not this. This is a space that is ded­i­cat­ed to high-qual­i­ty and curat­ed news.”

    But when New York Times reporter Marc Tra­cy asked how includ­ing Bre­it­bart served that cause, Zucker­berg empha­sized its pol­i­tics, not its report­ing. “Part of hav­ing this be a trust­ed source is that it needs to have a diver­si­ty of views in there, so I think you want to have con­tent that rep­re­sents dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” he said. Zucker­berg reit­er­at­ed that these per­spec­tives should com­ply with Facebook’s stan­dards, and he was cagey about Bre­it­bart’s pres­ence, say­ing that “hav­ing some­one be pos­si­ble or eli­gi­ble to show up” doesn’t guar­an­tee fre­quent place­ment. “But I cer­tain­ly think you want to include a breadth of con­tent in there,” he said.

    Face­book hasn’t released a full list of News part­ners, so we don’t know the project’s full scope. Bre­it­bart is hard­ly the only right-lean­ing name Facebook’s list, which includes Nation­al Review, The Wash­ing­ton Times, and News Corp’s own Fox News. But it has faced unique chal­lenges to its edi­to­r­i­al integri­ty — includ­ing, in recent years, some of Bre­it­bart’s own for­mer staff denounc­ing its poli­cies.
    ...

    So as we can see, Face­book faces some chal­lenges with its new Face­book News and fact check­ing ser­vices. Enor­mous chal­lenges that are the same under­ly­ing chal­lenge: the chron­ic decep­tion at the foun­da­tion of far right world­views and the enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty social media cre­ates for prof­itably spread­ing those lies. And as we can also see, Face­book is, true to form, fail­ing immense­ly at over­com­ing those chal­lenges. Along with fail­ing the enor­mous meta-chal­lenge of over­com­ing Face­book’s insa­tiable cor­po­rate greed, also true to form.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 2, 2019, 1:55 pm
  15. There are a lot of ques­tions swirling around the his­toric impeach­ment vote tak­ing place in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives today. But one thing is abun­dant­ly clear at this point: There’s going to be A LOT of polit­i­cal lying in the 2020 elec­tion. That’s lit­er­al­ly what the impeach­ment is all about. It’s lit­er­al­ly an impeach­ment over an scheme to extort the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment into gin­ning up false crim­i­nal charges against the politi­cian that Trump team saw as their like­li­est 2020 oppo­nent. You almost can’t come up with a big­ger red flag about upcom­ing elec­toral lies than this impeach­ment.

    And that’s part of what makes Face­book’s deci­sion to explic­it­ly allow politi­cians to run decep­tive ads on Face­book so dis­turb­ing. The pres­i­dent is lit­er­al­ly being impeached over a scheme to cre­ate a giant lie against his 2020 polit­i­cal oppo­nent. The Trump team isn’t just plan­ning on stan­dard polit­i­cal exag­ger­a­tions or mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions. The Trump reelec­tion cam­paign is root­ed cre­at­ing and exploit­ing fake crim­i­nal charge against his pre­sumed oppo­nent and Face­book has already made clear to the Trump cam­paign, and any oth­er cam­paigns, that they can lie as much as they want to and Face­book will glad­ly run their ads. This is despite Google and Twit­ter tak­ing a very dif­fer­ent approach and ban­ning polit­i­cal ads alto­geth­er and Face­book’s own employ­ees issu­ing open let­ters decry­ing Face­book’s ad pol­i­cy. Keep in mind that Face­book does con­tin­ue to fact-check polit­i­cal ads issued by non-politi­cians and will remove ads from non-politi­cians it deems to be decep­tive. Only ads from politi­cians are being giv­en this lie loop­hole.

    Giv­en that both Face­book and lying are key com­po­nents of the Trump reelec­tion strat­e­gy, per­haps it won’t come as a sur­prise to learn that it’s report­ed­ly none oth­er than Trump’s biggest backer at Face­book, Peter Thiel, who has been inter­nal­ly lob­by­ing Mark Zucker­berg to keep Face­book’s pol­i­cy of allow decep­tive polit­i­cal ads:

    Salon

    Peter Thiel advised Mark Zucker­berg to not to revise pol­i­cy allow­ing lies in polit­i­cal ads: report
    Thiel, who spoke at the 2016 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion, has been an out­spo­ken sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump

    Matthew Rozsa
    Decem­ber 17, 2019 10:37PM (UTC)

    A new report reveals that Peter Thiel — a co-founder of Pay­Pal, as well as a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — has advised Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg revis­ing a con­tro­ver­sial pol­i­cy, which gives promi­nent politi­cians carte blanche to spread lies on the social media plat­form.

    Thiel has report­ed­ly urged Face­book to stick by a con­tro­ver­sial pol­i­cy first announced in Sep­tem­ber exempt­ing polit­i­cal ads from being fact-checked, accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal. Though some direc­tors and exec­u­tives encour­aged Face­book to crack down on unre­li­able infor­ma­tion or ban polit­i­cal adver­tise­ments alto­geth­er, Thiel has report­ed­ly urged Zucker­berg not to bow to pub­lic pres­sure.

    While Thiel declined to com­ment on the report, a Face­book spokesman told The Jour­nal that “many of the deci­sions we’re mak­ing at Face­book come with dif­fi­cult trade-offs, and we’re approach­ing them with care­ful rig­or at all lev­els of the com­pa­ny, from the board of direc­tors down. We’re for­tu­nate to have a board with diverse expe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives so we can ensure debate that reflects a cross sec­tion of views.”

    As The Jour­nal not­ed, reac­tions to Zuckerberg’s deci­sion not to cen­sor polit­i­cal ads in the name of guard­ing free­dom of speech has been gen­er­al­ly sup­port­ed by con­ser­v­a­tives and gen­er­al­ly opposed by lib­er­als. Con­ser­v­a­tives such as Thiel and his sup­port­ers among Face­book exec­u­tives argue that the com­pa­ny should sup­port free speech, and it is not the social media com­pa­ny’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to fact-check polit­i­cal ads. Lib­er­als, by con­trast, are con­cerned about the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion on social media dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with an eye on the fast-approach­ing 2020 elec­tion.

    Though Thiel and his funds have sold most of their Face­book shares, he was the first out­side investor in Face­book and gave Zucker­berg valu­able advice, which has helped the com­pa­ny grow into the behe­moth it is today. As a result, Zucker­berg report­ed­ly trusts Thiel’s insights and val­ues his advice.

    ...

    ———-

    “Peter Thiel advised Mark Zucker­berg to not to revise pol­i­cy allow­ing lies in polit­i­cal ads: report” by Matthew Rozsa; Salon; 12/17/2019

    “Thiel has report­ed­ly urged Face­book to stick by a con­tro­ver­sial pol­i­cy first announced in Sep­tem­ber exempt­ing polit­i­cal ads from being fact-checked, accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal. Though some direc­tors and exec­u­tives encour­aged Face­book to crack down on unre­li­able infor­ma­tion or ban polit­i­cal adver­tise­ments alto­geth­er, Thiel has report­ed­ly urged Zucker­berg not to bow to pub­lic pres­sure.”

    Sur­prise! Thiel came to the res­cue of GOP’s lies. It’s a sign of how influ­en­tial he con­tin­ues to have at Face­book despite sell­ing most of his orig­i­nal shares. His influ­ence appar­ent­ly has more to do with his per­son­al influ­ence over Mark Zucker­berg:

    ...
    Though Thiel and his funds have sold most of their Face­book shares, he was the first out­side investor in Face­book and gave Zucker­berg valu­able advice, which has helped the com­pa­ny grow into the behe­moth it is today. As a result, Zucker­berg report­ed­ly trusts Thiel’s insights and val­ues his advice.
    ...

    So Mark Zucker­berg val­ues the insights and advice of one of the world’s most pow­er­ful fas­cists. That sounds about right for a Face­book sto­ry.

    And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle points out, if giv­ing the Trump cam­paign a license to open­ly lie seems like a recipe for dis­as­ter head­ing into 2020, don’t for­get that it’s not hard for some­one to tech­ni­cal­ly become a politi­cian. All they have to do is run for office. So if a group has a lot of mon­ey to spend on Face­book ads, and a lot of lies they want to push with those ads, all that group will need to do is field a can­di­date for office. At least in the­o­ry.

    That the­o­ry was test­ed by Democ­rats short­ly after Face­book announced its polit­i­cal ads pol­i­cy when Demo­c­ra­t­ic politi­cians start­ed inten­tion­al­ly run­ning obvi­ous­ly fake ads on Face­book to see what the com­pa­ny would do. A left-lean­ing polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, the Real­ly Online Lefty League, also decid­ed to test the new pol­i­cy with an ad claim­ing Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham was a sup­port­er of the Green New Deal. Face­book respond­ed that the ad was going to be tak­en down because this was polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, and not an actu­al politi­cian. So one of the group’s mem­bers, Adriel Hamp­ton, decid­ed to run for gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia. Face­book refused Hamp­ton’s fake ads, say­ing, “This per­son has made clear he reg­is­tered as a can­di­date to get around our poli­cies, so his con­tent, includ­ing ads, will con­tin­ue to be eli­gi­ble for third-par­ty fact-check­ing.” So it sounds like the only thing pre­vent­ing this plan from work­ing is the fact that Hamp­ton made it clear he was only a reg­is­tered can­di­date to exploit Face­book’s fact-check­ing loop­hole:

    Vox
    Recode

    Facebook’s polit­i­cal ads pol­i­cy is pre­dictably turn­ing out to be a dis­as­ter

    Democ­rats are test­ing the lim­its of Facebook’s refusal to take down false ads from politi­cians, and it isn’t pret­ty.

    By Emi­ly Stew­art
    Updat­ed Oct 30, 2019, 4:57pm EDT

    Facebook’s polit­i­cal ads pol­i­cy that allows politi­cians to lie on its plat­form has, unsur­pris­ing­ly, turned into a mess.

    As it faces pres­sure tests from politi­cians and polit­i­cal groups, Face­book is start­ing to make excep­tions to its pol­i­cy that it won’t fact-check adver­tise­ments pub­lished by politi­cians. It’s a posi­tion CEO Mark Zucker­berg in par­tic­u­lar had tak­en a hard line on.

    To back up, this all began this fall when Face­book announced it wouldn’t fact-check polit­i­cal speech, includ­ing ads, and cam­paigns start­ed to test the impli­ca­tions of this pol­i­cy. In Sep­tem­ber, Face­book refused to take down an ad run by Don­ald Trump’s reelec­tion cam­paign that made false claims about for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and their activ­i­ties in Ukraine. Face­book wasn’t the only plat­form to refuse to pull the ad — YouTube, Twit­ter, MSNBC, and Fox made the same call — but Face­book caught the most flak for it.

    Then, Democ­rats decid­ed to chal­lenge the pol­i­cy allow­ing fake ads ... by run­ning fake ads of their own on Face­book. Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑MA), who has emerged as a fierce Face­book crit­ic in the 2020 pri­ma­ry, ran a fake ad claim­ing Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg had endorsed Trump’s reelec­tion. War­ren also, with­out evi­dence, sug­gest­ed the social net­work had adopt­ed the pol­i­cy as part of a back­room deal with Trump. And last week, high-pro­file fresh­man Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez got Zucker­berg to admit in a House hear­ing he would “prob­a­bly” let her run ads against Repub­li­cans say­ing they sup­port­ed the Green New Deal. Along the way, Zucker­berg con­tin­ued defend­ing the pol­i­cy, even as his own employ­ees, in a rare move, wrote a let­ter express­ing con­cern with the stance and pushed him to rethink his deci­sion.

    But in recent days, Face­book has wavered as pro­gres­sives have test­ed the lim­its of its pol­i­cy. Over the week­end, the com­pa­ny took down an ad that false­ly claimedSen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R‑SC) sup­ports the Green New Deal. A left-lean­ing polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, the Real­ly Online Lefty League, had post­ed the ad, and Face­book said it took the action because the ad came from a polit­i­cal action group, not a politi­cian, and there­fore dif­fer­ent rules applied.

    So the group found a workaround: One of the PAC mem­bers, Adriel Hamp­ton, filed with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to run for Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor. Now a politi­cian, as the log­ic of Facebook’s poli­cies would go, he can run as many polit­i­cal ads as he wants.

    Except appar­ent­ly not. Face­book on Tues­day evening said it was nix­ing Hampton’s workaround. “This per­son has made clear he reg­is­tered as a can­di­date to get around our poli­cies, so his con­tent, includ­ing ads, will con­tin­ue to be eli­gi­ble for third-par­ty fact-check­ing,” a Face­book spokesman said in an email to Recode.

    Hamp­ton told CNN he is con­sid­er­ing legal action against Face­book. In an inter­view with Recode ear­li­er in the day on Tues­day, he said that Face­book is “basi­cal­ly sell­ing you to the lying politi­cians.”

    “I feel that I’m one of the few peo­ple who’s qual­i­fied in both that I’m an expert mar­ket­ing strate­gist and a politi­cian, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to either get this pol­i­cy cleaned up and get Trump back on equal foot­ing with oth­er polit­i­cal com­mit­tees — or to defeat the GOP, defeat Trump, and defeat the Sen­ate GOP with fake ads,” he said.

    Hamp­ton sug­gest­ed he might actu­al­ly run for office — he is, after all, a long­time polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who most recent­ly worked on Mike Gravel’s ill-fat­ed pres­i­den­tial cam­paign; Hamp­ton also made an unsuc­cess­ful bid for Con­gress in 2009. After Face­book announced it wouldn’t let him run fake ads, he told Recode he will now “lead a move­ment.”

    Hampton’s fight with the plat­form is high­light­ing the real issue here: that the company’s deci­sion-mak­ing and pol­i­cy defens­es when it comes to free speech on its plat­form can often seem arbi­trary. Its pol­i­cy says a politi­cian is exempt from third-par­ty fact-check­ing, and you’re tech­ni­cal­ly a polit­i­cal can­di­date if you’re reg­is­tered as one with the FEC. But in this case, Face­book is mak­ing an exemp­tion and a judg­ment about inten­tions.

    Facebook’s hard-and-fast rule on polit­i­cal speech doesn’t seem so hard-and-fast, con­sid­er­ing it’s already mak­ing excep­tions to it.

    The dust­up also high­lights just how enor­mous Face­book has become and, in turn, how unpre­pared it seems to be to mod­er­ate polit­i­cal speech on its plat­form, even after the hard lessons it learned in the wake of the 2016 elec­tion.

    “The big sto­ry is that Face­book is too big to gov­ern, and its ads sys­tem is too easy to hijack,” Siva Vaid­hyanathan, a media stud­ies pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia, told Recode.

    Face­book knows polic­ing speech is a polit­i­cal hot pota­to

    On its face, the deci­sion on the Biden ad should have been an easy one for Face­book: It was the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States mak­ing an obvi­ous­ly false claim about the for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

    But tak­ing down the ad would have cre­at­ed two prob­lems for Face­book. First, it would set a prece­dent that Face­book is respon­si­ble for polic­ing every false polit­i­cal ad on its plat­form. That would be a chal­leng­ing but not impos­si­ble task. The com­pa­ny has effec­tive­ly addressed ter­ror­ist con­tent and got­ten bet­ter at com­bat­ing elec­tion inter­fer­ence. It could under­take sim­i­lar efforts on fake polit­i­cal ads.

    The sec­ond and big­ger com­pli­ca­tion: tak­ing down the ad could also have caused just as much con­tro­ver­sy as leav­ing it up. Trump and his sup­port­ers would like­ly have cried foul. Face­book and oth­er social media com­pa­nies are already dogged by unfound­ed accu­sa­tions by Repub­li­cans that their algo­rithms con­tain anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias, and they have done a lot of leg­work to try to prove they’re not.

    In oth­er words, when Zucker­berg says, in defense of the ad pol­i­cy, “most peo­ple don’t want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech com­pa­nies judged to be 100 per­cent true,” and, “in a democ­ra­cy peo­ple should be able to see for them­selves what politi­cians are say­ing,” what he’s not say­ing is that the under­ly­ing prob­lem is that polic­ing polit­i­cal ads would be polit­i­cal­ly ten­u­ous and hard.

    “Face­book is basi­cal­ly say­ing we’re going to pre­tend this is a high-mind­ed deci­sion and we’re going to stick by it because we’d rather take the hit for the next few weeks or months on this pol­i­cy until every­one burns out on it than take the hit for years every time an ad with clear false­hoods makes it through the fil­ter,” Vaid­hyanathan said.

    The com­pa­ny doesn’t want to deal with the back­lash it would face if it were to deem an ad from one polit­i­cal par­ty or the oth­er to be false. Face­book is already hyper­sen­si­tive to large­ly unfound­ed claims of polit­i­cal bias. “I wor­ry much more about Face­book telling me what fake news is than fake news itself,” Rory McShane, a Repub­li­can polit­i­cal con­sul­tant, told Recode.

    Face­book has been pres­sured to stop deal­ing in polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing alto­geth­er, with crit­ics not­ing it’s only a small part of its rev­enue. But then that would require the com­pa­ny to define what a polit­i­cal ad is. Sure, it could ban ads from the Trump cam­paign, but what about the NRA? Or the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers?

    Still, in mak­ing one deci­sion on the Trump ad and anoth­er deci­sion on the ads Hamp­ton was try­ing to run, Face­book showed it will in fact make polit­i­cal judg­ments about the ads on its plat­form. It gets to decide what ads do and don’t run, and it doesn’t have to stick to its poli­cies.

    And on Wednes­day after­noon, the pres­sure on Face­book increased even more after Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his plat­form would no longer allow polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing.

    Peo­ple were bound to test this — which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly great, either

    Renée DiRes­ta, a 2019 Mozil­la fel­low in Media, Mis­in­for­ma­tion, and Trust and an expert in social media manip­u­la­tion, told Recode that peo­ple like Hamp­ton and War­ren are “test­ing the bound­aries of a bad pol­i­cy by cre­at­ing exam­ples to illus­trate exact­ly why it’s inad­e­quate.”

    “I don’t think most hon­est, legit­i­mate politi­cians want to be writ­ten about as peo­ple who delib­er­ate­ly ran bla­tant­ly fake con­tent,” she said.

    ...

    ———-

    “Facebook’s polit­i­cal ads pol­i­cy is pre­dictably turn­ing out to be a dis­as­ter” by Emi­ly Stew­art; Vox Recode; 10/30/2019

    “So the group found a workaround: One of the PAC mem­bers, Adriel Hamp­ton, filed with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to run for Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor. Now a politi­cian, as the log­ic of Facebook’s poli­cies would go, he can run as many polit­i­cal ads as he wants.”

    Just turn your­self into a politi­cian and you can open­ly run as many lying ads as you want on Face­book. It’s that easy. In the­o­ry. But in this case Face­book still restrict­ed the lying ads, but only because Adriel Hamp­ton made it clear he was­n’t seri­ous­ly run­ning and was only doing this to test Face­book’s poli­cies. So Face­book is unwill­ing to say if a politi­cian’s ads con­tained lies, but they’re will­ing to say whether or not a politi­cian is a real politi­cian:

    ...
    Except appar­ent­ly not. Face­book on Tues­day evening said it was nix­ing Hampton’s workaround. “This per­son has made clear he reg­is­tered as a can­di­date to get around our poli­cies, so his con­tent, includ­ing ads, will con­tin­ue to be eli­gi­ble for third-par­ty fact-check­ing,” a Face­book spokesman said in an email to Recode.

    Hamp­ton told CNN he is con­sid­er­ing legal action against Face­book. In an inter­view with Recode ear­li­er in the day on Tues­day, he said that Face­book is “basi­cal­ly sell­ing you to the lying politi­cians.”

    “I feel that I’m one of the few peo­ple who’s qual­i­fied in both that I’m an expert mar­ket­ing strate­gist and a politi­cian, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to either get this pol­i­cy cleaned up and get Trump back on equal foot­ing with oth­er polit­i­cal com­mit­tees — or to defeat the GOP, defeat Trump, and defeat the Sen­ate GOP with fake ads,” he said.

    Hamp­ton sug­gest­ed he might actu­al­ly run for office — he is, after all, a long­time polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who most recent­ly worked on Mike Gravel’s ill-fat­ed pres­i­den­tial cam­paign; Hamp­ton also made an unsuc­cess­ful bid for Con­gress in 2009. After Face­book announced it wouldn’t let him run fake ads, he told Recode he will now “lead a move­ment.”

    Hampton’s fight with the plat­form is high­light­ing the real issue here: that the company’s deci­sion-mak­ing and pol­i­cy defens­es when it comes to free speech on its plat­form can often seem arbi­trary. Its pol­i­cy says a politi­cian is exempt from third-par­ty fact-check­ing, and you’re tech­ni­cal­ly a polit­i­cal can­di­date if you’re reg­is­tered as one with the FEC. But in this case, Face­book is mak­ing an exemp­tion and a judg­ment about inten­tions.

    Facebook’s hard-and-fast rule on polit­i­cal speech doesn’t seem so hard-and-fast, con­sid­er­ing it’s already mak­ing excep­tions to it.
    ...

    Final­ly, recall that Renée DiRes­ta hap­pens to be one of the fig­ures who appears to have been involved with the New Knowl­edge project to cre­ate fake ‘Russ­ian bot’ net­works oper­at­ing on Twit­ter and Face­book in the 2017 Alaba­ma spe­cial Sen­ate race, osten­si­bly to test how peo­ple respond to dis­in­for­ma­tion bot net­works. So her exper­tise in media and mis­in­for­ma­tion includes real-world expe­ri­ence in run­ning an actu­al dis­in­for­ma­tion net­work. And that dis­in­for­ma­tion net­work was­n’t run­ning ads. It was bots just pro­mot­ing memse and links:

    ...
    Renée DiRes­ta, a 2019 Mozil­la fel­low in Media, Mis­in­for­ma­tion, and Trust and an expert in social media manip­u­la­tion, told Recode that peo­ple like Hamp­ton and War­ren are “test­ing the bound­aries of a bad pol­i­cy by cre­at­ing exam­ples to illus­trate exact­ly why it’s inad­e­quate.”

    “I don’t think most hon­est, legit­i­mate politi­cians want to be writ­ten about as peo­ple who delib­er­ate­ly ran bla­tant­ly fake con­tent,” she said.

    ...

    It a reminder that even if Face­book bans lying ads from politi­cians, the plat­form is still going to be a heavy pro­mot­er of mis­in­for­ma­tion on a mas­sive scale.

    So we’ll see if there’s a flood of third-par­ty can­di­dates who don’t seem to be seri­ous about run­ning for office and only seri­ous about spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion on Face­book. Fake third-par­ty can­di­dates who pre­sum­ably won’t open­ly declare that they’re doing it just to exploit Face­book’s lie loop­hole so Face­book does­n’t have to ban them.

    It’s also worth not­ing that this gim­mick can work the oth­er way around: If the Trump cam­paign is run­ning a bunch of bla­tant­ly lying ads, the Democ­rats could take the con­tent of that ad, repack­age it in a new ad, and have a left-lean­ing polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee that’s sub­ject to Face­book’s fact-check­ing rules buy a very small audi­ence for the decep­tive ad to see if Face­book bans it at that point. Of course, if the ad was indeed banned, at that point the main recourse for the Democ­rats would be to buy a bunch of Face­book ads talk­ing about how Face­book ver­i­fied the ad is a bunch of lies. That could eas­i­ly hap­pen, which is reminder that Face­book’s poli­cies aren’t just set up to help Repub­li­cans lie their way into office. They’re also set up to cyn­i­cal­ly sell more ads. Includ­ing ads to high­light the lies in oth­er ads.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 18, 2019, 3:02 pm
  16. How many times is Steve Ban­non allowed to call for the mur­der of gov­ern­ment offi­cials before Face­book sus­pends his account? That was the ques­tion Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal asked the Mark Zucker­berg dur­ing a Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Hear­ing on Tues­day in ref­er­ence to Ban­non’s recent calls for the behead­ing of Antho­ny Fau­ci, a move that got Ban­non banned from Twit­ter, but not Face­book.

    So what was Zucker­berg’s answer? Well, it sounds like if Steve Ban­non calls for the mur­der of gov­ern­ment offi­cials the posts call­ing for mur­der will be tak­en down but that won’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly result in the ban­ning of Ban­non’s account. The account ban­ning is made on more of a case by case basis. So the rules are that if you call for the mur­der of gov­ern­ment offi­cials your calls for mur­der might be even­tu­al­ly tak­en down but you will prob­a­bly still be allowed to con­tin­ue post­ing on Face­book. At least that’s the case for Steve Ban­non:

    The Hill Reporter

    Mark Zucker­berg Refus­es to Ter­mi­nate Steve Bannon’s Face­book Account Despite Death Threats

    BY Bran­don Gage
    Novem­ber 17, 2020

    Dur­ing a vir­tu­al Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Hear­ing call with Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal (D‑CT) on Tues­day, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg said that he will not ter­mi­nate right-wing prova­ca­teur and for­mer White House advis­er Steve Bannon’s account even after Ban­non made death threats against Doc­tor Antho­ny Fau­ci.

    Ban­non called for Fau­ci to be behead­ed in a Face­book post ear­li­er this month after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lost the elec­tion.

    Fau­ci has become a favorite tar­get of Trump’s most dan­ger­ous sup­port­ers, many of whom are white nation­al­ists, over his rec­om­men­da­tions that peo­ple wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

    Trump has down­played the coro­n­avirus cri­sis by deny­ing its sever­i­ty and con­tra­dict­ing his own experts. This has led to the virus infect­ing at least 11.3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans and a quar­ter-of-a-mil­lion deaths.

    Face­book has attempt­ed to remain polit­i­cal­ly neu­tral, and has even said pub­licly that they do not want to upset con­ser­v­a­tives. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this approach has result­ed in a del­uge of fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, and calls for vio­lence by peo­ple who have sworn alle­giance to Trump.

    Law­mak­ers, along with the pub­lic, find it dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend why Face­book choos­es to cod­dle ter­ror­ists.

    “How many times is Steve Ban­non allowed to call for the mur­der of gov­ern­ment offi­cials before Face­book sus­pends his account?” Blu­men­thal asked the social media mogul.

    “Sen­a­tor, as you say, the con­tent in ques­tion did vio­late our poli­cies and we did take it down,” Zucker­berg said, refer­ring to the post itself.

    “Hav­ing a con­tent vio­la­tion does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly mean your account gets tak­en down and the num­ber of strikes varies depend­ing on the type of offense, so if peo­ple are post­ing ter­ror­ist con­tent or child exploita­tion con­tent then the first time that they do it, then we will take down their account,” Zucker­berg con­tin­ued.

    Ter­ror­ist con­tent, how­ev­er, is pre­cise­ly what Ban­non post­ed. But because Face­book is noto­ri­ous­ly lenient toward pub­lic offi­cials who make incen­di­ary remarks – includ­ing the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, who has threat­ened Iran and North Korea with nuclear war and encour­aged his sup­port­ers to com­mit vio­lent acts – Bannon’s account was not tak­en down.

    “For oth­er things, it’s mul­ti­ple… I’d be hap­py to fol­low up after­wards, we try not to dis­close these…” Zucker­berg said.

    “Will you com­mit to tak­ing down his account?” Blu­men­thal inter­ject­ed.

    “Sor­ry I didn’t hear that,” Zucker­berg replied (sure, Jan).

    “Will you com­mit to tak­ing down that account – Steve Bannon’s account?” Blu­men­thal reit­er­at­ed.

    “Sen­a­tor, no, that’s not what our poli­cies sug­gest that we should do in this case,” Zucker­berg replied.

    ...

    Lat­er in the hear­ing, Zucker­berg also said that Face­book would not change the way it mon­i­tors Trump’s account after he leaves office, which at face val­ue goes against the poli­cies Zucker­berg claims to be uphold­ing.

    Blu­men­thal went on to say that the tech indus­try should face much stricter reg­u­la­tions due to the enor­mous pow­er and influ­ence it has amassed.

    “You have built ter­ri­fy­ing tools of per­sua­sion and manip­u­la­tion — with pow­er far exceed­ing the rob­ber barons of the last Gild­ed Age,” Blu­men­thal told Zucker­berg and Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also took part in the hear­ing. “You have made a huge amount of mon­ey by strip min­ing data about our pri­vate lives and pro­mot­ing hate speech and vot­er sup­pres­sion.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Mark Zucker­berg Refus­es to Ter­mi­nate Steve Bannon’s Face­book Account Despite Death Threats” bY Bran­don Gage; The Hill Reporter; 11/17/2020

    ““Hav­ing a con­tent vio­la­tion does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly mean your account gets tak­en down and the num­ber of strikes varies depend­ing on the type of offense, so if peo­ple are post­ing ter­ror­ist con­tent or child exploita­tion con­tent then the first time that they do it, then we will take down their account,” Zucker­berg con­tin­ued.”

    AS Mark Zucker­berg clar­i­fied in his answer, when Steve Ban­non called for the behead­ing of Antho­ny Fau­ci, that’s not the kind of con­tent vio­la­tion that gets you auto-banned. It’s not like ter­ror­ist con­tent or child exploita­tion con­tent. It’s mere­ly Trump’s for­mer nation­al top advi­sor call­ing for the behead­ing of a gov­ern­ment offi­cial:

    ...
    Ter­ror­ist con­tent, how­ev­er, is pre­cise­ly what Ban­non post­ed. But because Face­book is noto­ri­ous­ly lenient toward pub­lic offi­cials who make incen­di­ary remarks – includ­ing the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, who has threat­ened Iran and North Korea with nuclear war and encour­aged his sup­port­ers to com­mit vio­lent acts – Bannon’s account was not tak­en down.

    “For oth­er things, it’s mul­ti­ple… I’d be hap­py to fol­low up after­wards, we try not to dis­close these…” Zucker­berg said.

    “Will you com­mit to tak­ing down his account?” Blu­men­thal inter­ject­ed.

    “Sor­ry I didn’t hear that,” Zucker­berg replied (sure, Jan).

    “Will you com­mit to tak­ing down that account – Steve Bannon’s account?” Blu­men­thal reit­er­at­ed.

    “Sen­a­tor, no, that’s not what our poli­cies sug­gest that we should do in this case,” Zucker­berg replied.
    ...

    It’s the kind of inten­tion­al­ly vague rules sys­tem that rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not Ban­non is giv­en this kind of lenient treat­ment because any­one can call for the killing of gov­ern­ment offi­cials on Face­book with­out get­ting banned or if that’s a priv­i­lege reserved for for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials like Ban­non.

    But as the fol­low­ing report from back in August about leaked inter­nal Face­book doc­u­ments makes clear, one of the major fac­tors in Face­book’s inter­nal sys­tem for deter­min­ing what kind of pun­ish­ment peo­ple should receive for vio­lat­ing Face­book’s rules is whether or not they’re a con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ty who might cre­ate a pub­lic rela­tions headache for the com­pa­ny. And it’s a rule Face­book’s senior lead­er­ship makes sure is enforced:

    NBC News

    Sen­si­tive to claims of bias, Face­book relaxed mis­in­for­ma­tion rules for con­ser­v­a­tive pages
    Accord­ing to inter­nal dis­cus­sions, Face­book removed “strikes” so that con­ser­v­a­tive pages were not penal­ized for vio­la­tions of mis­in­for­ma­tion poli­cies.

    By Olivia Solon
    Aug. 7, 2020, 2:31 PM CDT

    Face­book has allowed con­ser­v­a­tive news out­lets and per­son­al­i­ties to repeat­ed­ly spread false infor­ma­tion with­out fac­ing any of the com­pa­ny’s stat­ed penal­ties, accord­ing to leaked mate­ri­als reviewed by NBC News.

    Accord­ing to inter­nal dis­cus­sions from the last six months, Face­book has relaxed its rules so that con­ser­v­a­tive pages, includ­ing those run by Bre­it­bart, for­mer Fox News per­son­al­i­ties Dia­mond and Silk, the non­prof­it media out­let PragerU and the pun­dit Char­lie Kirk, were not penal­ized for vio­la­tions of the company’s mis­in­for­ma­tion poli­cies.

    Face­book’s fact-check­ing rules dic­tate that pages can have their reach and adver­tis­ing lim­it­ed on the plat­form if they repeat­ed­ly spread infor­ma­tion deemed inac­cu­rate by its fact-check­ing part­ners. The com­pa­ny oper­ates on a “strike” basis, mean­ing a page can post inac­cu­rate infor­ma­tion and receive a one-strike warn­ing before the plat­form takes action. Two strikes in 90 days places an account into “repeat offend­er” sta­tus, which can lead to a reduc­tion in dis­tri­b­u­tion of the account’s con­tent and a tem­po­rary block on adver­tis­ing on the plat­form.

    Face­book has a process that allows its employ­ees or rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Facebook’s part­ners, includ­ing news orga­ni­za­tions, politi­cians, influ­encers and oth­ers who have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence on the plat­form to flag mis­in­for­ma­tion-relat­ed prob­lems. Fact-check­ing labels are applied to posts by Face­book when third-par­ty fact-check­ers deter­mine their posts con­tain mis­in­for­ma­tion. A news orga­ni­za­tion or politi­cian can appeal the deci­sion to attach a label to one of its posts.

    Face­book employ­ees who work with con­tent part­ners then decide if an appeal is a high-pri­or­i­ty issue or PR risk, in which case they log it in an inter­nal task man­age­ment sys­tem as a mis­in­for­ma­tion “esca­la­tion.” Mark­ing some­thing as an “esca­la­tion” means that senior lead­er­ship is noti­fied so they can review the sit­u­a­tion and quick­ly — often with­in 24 hours — make a deci­sion about how to pro­ceed.

    Face­book receives many queries about mis­in­for­ma­tion from its part­ners, but only a small sub­sec­tion are deemed to require input from senior lead­er­ship. Since Feb­ru­ary, more than 30 of these mis­in­for­ma­tion queries were tagged as “esca­la­tions” with­in the company’s task man­age­ment sys­tem, used by employ­ees to track and assign work projects.

    The list and descrip­tions of the esca­la­tions, leaked to NBC News, showed that Face­book employ­ees in the mis­in­for­ma­tion esca­la­tions team, with direct over­sight from com­pa­ny lead­er­ship, delet­ed strikes dur­ing the review process that were issued to some con­ser­v­a­tive part­ners for post­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion over the last six months. The dis­cus­sions of the reviews showed that Face­book employ­ees were wor­ried that com­plaints about Face­book’s fact-check­ing could go pub­lic and fuel alle­ga­tions that the social net­work was biased against con­ser­v­a­tives.

    The removal of the strikes has fur­thered con­cerns from some cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees that the com­pa­ny rou­tine­ly relax­es its rules for con­ser­v­a­tive pages over fears about accu­sa­tions of bias.

    Two cur­rent Face­book employ­ees and two for­mer employ­ees, who spoke anony­mous­ly out of fear of pro­fes­sion­al reper­cus­sions, said they believed the com­pa­ny had become hyper­sen­si­tive to con­ser­v­a­tive com­plaints, in some cas­es mak­ing spe­cial allowances for con­ser­v­a­tive pages to avoid neg­a­tive pub­lic­i­ty.

    “This sup­posed goal of this process is to pre­vent embar­rass­ing false pos­i­tives against respectable con­tent part­ners, but the data shows that this is instead being used pri­mar­i­ly to shield con­ser­v­a­tive fake news from the con­se­quences,” said one for­mer employ­ee.

    About two-thirds of the “esca­la­tions” includ­ed in the leaked list relate to mis­in­for­ma­tion issues linked to con­ser­v­a­tive pages, includ­ing those of Bre­it­bart, Don­ald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Gate­way Pun­dit. There was one esca­la­tion relat­ed to a pro­gres­sive advo­ca­cy group and one each for CNN, CBS, Yahoo and the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion.

    There were also esca­la­tions relat­ed to left-lean­ing enti­ties, includ­ing one about an ad from Demo­c­ra­t­ic super PAC Pri­or­i­ties USA that the Trump cam­paign and fact check­ers have labeled as mis­lead­ing. Those mat­ters focused on pre­vent­ing mis­lead­ing videos that were already being shared wide­ly on oth­er media plat­forms from spread­ing on Face­book and were not linked to com­plaints or con­cerns about strikes.

    Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies includ­ing Twit­ter and Google have faced repeat­ed accu­sa­tions of bias against con­ser­v­a­tives in their con­tent mod­er­a­tion deci­sions, though there is lit­tle clear evi­dence that this bias exists. The issue was reignit­ed this week when Face­book removed a video post­ed to Trump’s per­son­al Face­book page in which he false­ly claimed that chil­dren are “almost immune” to COVID-19. The Trump cam­paign accused Face­book of “fla­grant bias.”

    Face­book spokesper­son Andy Stone did not dis­pute the authen­tic­i­ty of the leaked mate­ri­als, but said that it did not pro­vide the full con­text of the sit­u­a­tion.

    In recent years, Face­book has devel­oped a lengthy set of rules that gov­ern how the plat­form mod­er­ates false or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion. But how those rules are applied can vary and is up to the dis­cre­tion of Face­book’s exec­u­tives.

    In late March, a Face­book employ­ee raised con­cerns on an inter­nal mes­sage board about a “false” fact-check­ing label that had been added to a post by the con­ser­v­a­tive blog­gers Dia­mond and Silk in which they expressed out­rage over the false alle­ga­tion that Democ­rats were try­ing to give mem­bers of Con­gress a $25 mil­lion raise as part of a COVID-19 stim­u­lus pack­age.

    Dia­mond and Silk had not yet com­plained to Face­book about the fact check, but the employ­ee was sound­ing the alarm because the “part­ner is extreme­ly sen­si­tive and has not hes­i­tat­ed going pub­lic about their con­cerns around alleged con­ser­v­a­tive bias on Face­book.”

    Since it was the account’s sec­ond mis­in­for­ma­tion strike in 90 days, accord­ing to the leaked inter­nal posts, the page was placed into “repeat offend­er” sta­tus.

    Dia­mond and Silk appealed the “false” rat­ing that had been applied by third-par­ty fact-check­er Lead Sto­ries on the basis that they were express­ing opin­ion and not stat­ing a fact. The rat­ing was down­grad­ed by Lead Sto­ries to “part­ly false” and they were tak­en out of “repeat offend­er” sta­tus. Even so, some­one at Face­book described as “Policy/Leadership” inter­vened and instruct­ed the team to remove both strikes from the account, accord­ing to the leaked mate­r­i­al.

    In anoth­er case in late May, a Face­book employ­ee filed a mis­in­for­ma­tion esca­la­tion for PragerU, after a series of fact-check­ing labels were applied to sev­er­al sim­i­lar posts sug­gest­ing polar bear pop­u­la­tions had not been dec­i­mat­ed by cli­mate change and that a pho­to of a starv­ing ani­mal was used as a “delib­er­ate lie to advance the cli­mate change agen­da.” This claim was fact-checked by one of Facebook’s inde­pen­dent fact-check­ing part­ners, Cli­mate Feed­back, as false and meant that the PragerU page had “repeat offend­er” sta­tus and would poten­tial­ly be banned from adver­tis­ing.

    A Face­book employ­ee esca­lat­ed the issue because of “part­ner sen­si­tiv­i­ty” and men­tioned with­in that the repeat offend­er sta­tus was “espe­cial­ly wor­ri­some due to PragerU hav­ing 500 active ads on our plat­form,” accord­ing to the dis­cus­sion con­tained with­in the task man­age­ment sys­tem and leaked to NBC News.

    After some back and forth between employ­ees, the fact check label was left on the posts, but the strikes that could have jeop­ar­dized the adver­tis­ing cam­paign were removed from PragerU’s pages.

    Stone, the Face­book spokesper­son, said that the com­pa­ny defers to third-par­ty fact-check­ers on the rat­ings giv­en to posts, but that the com­pa­ny is respon­si­ble for “how we man­age our inter­nal sys­tems for repeat offend­ers.”

    “We apply addi­tion­al sys­tem-wide penal­ties for mul­ti­ple false rat­ings, includ­ing demon­e­ti­za­tion and the inabil­i­ty to adver­tise, unless we deter­mine that one or more of those rat­ings does not war­rant addi­tion­al con­se­quences,” he said in an emailed state­ment.

    He added that Face­book works with more than 70 fact-check­ing part­ners who apply fact-checks to “mil­lions of pieces of con­tent.”

    Face­book announced Thurs­day that it banned a Repub­li­can PAC, the Com­mit­tee to Defend the Pres­i­dent, from adver­tis­ing on the plat­form fol­low­ing repeat­ed shar­ing of mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    But the ongo­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ty to con­ser­v­a­tive com­plaints about fact-check­ing con­tin­ues to trig­ger heat­ed debates inside Face­book, accord­ing to leaked posts from Facebook’s inter­nal mes­sage board and inter­views with cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees.

    “The research has shown no evi­dence of bias against con­ser­v­a­tives on Face­book,” said anoth­er employ­ee, “So why are we try­ing to appease them?”

    Those con­cerns have also spilled out onto the com­pa­ny’s inter­nal mes­sage boards.

    One employ­ee wrote a post on 19 July, first report­ed by Buz­zFeed News on Thurs­day, sum­ma­riz­ing the list of mis­in­for­ma­tion esca­la­tions found in the task man­age­ment sys­tem and argu­ing that the com­pa­ny was pan­der­ing to con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians.

    The post, a copy of which NBC News has reviewed, also com­pared Mark Zucker­berg to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

    “Just like all the rob­ber barons and slavers and plun­der­ers who came before you, you are spend­ing a for­tune you didn’t build. No amount of char­i­ty can ever bal­ance out the pover­ty, war and envi­ron­men­tal dam­age enabled by your sup­port of Don­ald Trump,” the employ­ee wrote.

    The post was removed for vio­lat­ing Facebook’s “respect­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tions” pol­i­cy and the list of esca­la­tions, pre­vi­ous­ly acces­si­ble to all employ­ees, was made pri­vate. The employ­ee who wrote the post was lat­er fired.

    ...

    ————-

    “Sen­si­tive to claims of bias, Face­book relaxed mis­in­for­ma­tion rules for con­ser­v­a­tive pages” by Olivia Solon; NBC News; 08/07/2020

    “The list and descrip­tions of the esca­la­tions, leaked to NBC News, showed that Face­book employ­ees in the mis­in­for­ma­tion esca­la­tions team, with direct over­sight from com­pa­ny lead­er­ship, delet­ed strikes dur­ing the review process that were issued to some con­ser­v­a­tive part­ners for post­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion over the last six months. The dis­cus­sions of the reviews showed that Face­book employ­ees were wor­ried that com­plaints about Face­book’s fact-check­ing could go pub­lic and fuel alle­ga­tions that the social net­work was biased against con­ser­v­a­tives.”

    As the leaked mem­os make clear, when Face­book’s “mis­in­for­ma­tion teams” make a deci­sion it might be made under direct over­sight from the Face­book’s lead­er­ship. And as the mem­os also make clear, Face­book’s lead­er­ship has one pri­ma­ry con­cern: not piss­ing off con­ser­v­a­tives and avoid­ing accu­sa­tions of an anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias:

    ...
    The removal of the strikes has fur­thered con­cerns from some cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees that the com­pa­ny rou­tine­ly relax­es its rules for con­ser­v­a­tive pages over fears about accu­sa­tions of bias.

    Two cur­rent Face­book employ­ees and two for­mer employ­ees, who spoke anony­mous­ly out of fear of pro­fes­sion­al reper­cus­sions, said they believed the com­pa­ny had become hyper­sen­si­tive to con­ser­v­a­tive com­plaints, in some cas­es mak­ing spe­cial allowances for con­ser­v­a­tive pages to avoid neg­a­tive pub­lic­i­ty.

    “This sup­posed goal of this process is to pre­vent embar­rass­ing false pos­i­tives against respectable con­tent part­ners, but the data shows that this is instead being used pri­mar­i­ly to shield con­ser­v­a­tive fake news from the con­se­quences,” said one for­mer employ­ee.

    About two-thirds of the “esca­la­tions” includ­ed in the leaked list relate to mis­in­for­ma­tion issues linked to con­ser­v­a­tive pages, includ­ing those of Bre­it­bart, Don­ald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Gate­way Pun­dit. There was one esca­la­tion relat­ed to a pro­gres­sive advo­ca­cy group and one each for CNN, CBS, Yahoo and the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion.

    ...

    Face­book spokesper­son Andy Stone did not dis­pute the authen­tic­i­ty of the leaked mate­ri­als, but said that it did not pro­vide the full con­text of the sit­u­a­tion.

    In recent years, Face­book has devel­oped a lengthy set of rules that gov­ern how the plat­form mod­er­ates false or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion. But how those rules are applied can vary and is up to the dis­cre­tion of Face­book’s exec­u­tives.

    ...

    Dia­mond and Silk appealed the “false” rat­ing that had been applied by third-par­ty fact-check­er Lead Sto­ries on the basis that they were express­ing opin­ion and not stat­ing a fact. The rat­ing was down­grad­ed by Lead Sto­ries to “part­ly false” and they were tak­en out of “repeat offend­er” sta­tus. Even so, some­one at Face­book described as “Policy/Leadership” inter­vened and instruct­ed the team to remove both strikes from the account, accord­ing to the leaked mate­r­i­al.
    ...

    And that’s why we can infer that the ulti­mate rea­son Steve Ban­non did­n’t have his Face­book account banned after he called for the behead­ing of Antho­ny Fau­ci is that Mark Zucker­berg did­n’t want Ban­non banned. How many times is Steve Ban­non allowed to call for the mur­der of gov­ern­ment offi­cials before Face­book sus­pends his account? It’s up to the whims of Mark Zucker­berg.

    In relat­ed news, Steve Ban­non is now call­ing for Pres­i­dent Trump to launch an inves­ti­ga­tion of Fau­ci. No new death threats from Ban­non so far. But when there are, Face­book will be sure to explain why those death threats are very bad and should be removed but also not a bannable offense. Well, ok, Face­book won’t actu­al­ly explain why this is the case. Mark clear­ly does­n’t have to explain him­self to any­one. Includ­ing sen­a­tors.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 18, 2020, 5:47 pm
  17. Now that alleged cen­sor­ship con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es by ‘Big Tech’ is one of the stan­dard fake right-wing griev­ances that are poised to be ampli­fied even more in com­ing years — espe­cial­ly if Pres­i­dent Trump forms a right-wing media net­work to rival Fox News — here’s a pair of arti­cle that give us a pre­view of the Big Lie media land­scape we should expect to dom­i­nate after com­pa­nies are suc­cess­ful­ly intim­i­dat­ed into fur­ther lim­it­ing their already lim­it­ed cen­sor­ship of right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion. A Big Lie media land­scape that dou­bles as an extrem­ist recruit­ing cam­paign.

    First, here’s an arti­cle about a recent study that exam­ined the rel­a­tive media of left-wing and right-wing voic­es in the US social media plat­forms. As every­one should expect, social media is almost com­plete­ly dom­i­nat­ed by right-wing voic­es, with fig­ures get­ting audi­ences that dwarf their left-wing coun­ter­parts. Right-wing fig­ures like Ben Shapiro, who also hap­pens to be one of the biggest com­plain­ers of Big Tech’s bias against con­ser­v­a­tives. As Shapiro wrote on Twit­ter on Octo­ber 15, “What we are watch­ing — the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of Democ­rats, and the overt sup­pres­sion of mate­r­i­al dam­ag­ing to Democ­rats to the cheer­ing of the press — is one of the sin­gle most dan­ger­ous polit­i­cal moments I have ever seen.” As the politi­co arti­cle points out, Shapiro’s Face­book page had rough­ly 33 mil­lion social media inter­ac­tions dur­ing the month of Octo­ber, com­pared to only 19 for Joe Biden’s Face­book page. So the guy who has a greater social media pres­ence than the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date was post­ing on social media about how we’re watch­ing the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of Democ­rats.

    Now, we should note that Shapiro was specif­i­cal­ly mak­ing that post in response to social media pulling posts pro­mot­ing the NY Post’s high­ly dubi­ous­ly sourced sto­ry about Hunter Biden’s laptop(s). It was a sto­ry with so lit­tle authen­ti­ca­tion that even Fox News turned it down (so it was instead laun­dered through the Mur­doch-owned NY Post). But these claims of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias have been com­ing from Shapiro for years, despite his Dai­ly­Wire being one of the most shared sites on Face­book. It points towards one of the under­ly­ing rea­sons the con­ser­v­a­tive myth of the ‘Big Tech anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias’ isn’t going away any time soon: the con­ser­v­a­tive dom­i­na­tion of social media allows for quite a bit of high-pro­file com­plain­ing about a sup­posed anti-con­ser­v­a­tive social media bias:

    Politi­co

    Despite cries of cen­sor­ship, con­ser­v­a­tives dom­i­nate social media

    GOP-friend­ly voic­es far out­weigh lib­er­als in dri­ving con­ver­sa­tions on hot top­ics lead­ing up to the elec­tion, a POLITICO analy­sis shows.

    By MARK SCOTT

    10/26/2020 07:55 PM EDT
    Updat­ed: 10/27/2020 01:38 PM EDT

    Repub­li­cans have turned alleged lib­er­al bias in Sil­i­con Val­ley into a major clos­ing theme of the elec­tion cycle, haul­ing tech CEOs in for vir­tu­al grillings on Capi­tol Hill while Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ens legal pun­ish­ment for com­pa­nies that cen­sor his sup­port­ers.

    But a POLITICO analy­sis of mil­lions of social media posts shows that con­ser­v­a­tives still rule online.

    Right-wing social media influ­encers, con­ser­v­a­tive media out­lets and oth­er GOP sup­port­ers dom­i­nate online dis­cus­sions around two of the election’s hottest issues, the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and vot­er fraud, accord­ing to the review of Face­book posts, Insta­gram feeds, Twit­ter mes­sages and con­ver­sa­tions on two pop­u­lar mes­sage boards. And their lead isn’t close.

    As racial protests engulfed the nation after George Floyd’s death, users shared the most-viral right-wing social media con­tent more than 10 times as often as the most pop­u­lar lib­er­al posts, fre­quent­ly asso­ci­at­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment with vio­lence and accus­ing Democ­rats like Joe Biden of sup­port­ing riots.

    Peo­ple also shared con­ser­v­a­tives’ most-read claims of ram­pant vot­er fraud rough­ly twice as often as they did lib­er­als’ or tra­di­tion­al media out­lets’ dis­cus­sions of the issue, the analy­sis found. The con­ser­v­a­tives’ tac­tics includ­ed spin­ning main­stream media cov­er­age on vot­ing irreg­u­lar­i­ties into elab­o­rate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, some­times echoed by Trump, that Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers are try­ing to steal November’s elec­tion.

    POLITICO worked with researchers at the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue, a Lon­don-based non­par­ti­san think tank that tracks extrem­ism online, to ana­lyze data from the institute’s exten­sive col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion scraped from mul­ti­ple social media plat­forms.

    The find­ings demon­strate how a small num­ber of con­ser­v­a­tive users rou­tine­ly out­pace their lib­er­al rivals and tra­di­tion­al news out­lets in dri­ving the online con­ver­sa­tion — ampli­fy­ing their impact a lit­tle more than a week before Elec­tion Day. They con­tra­dict the pre­vail­ing polit­i­cal rhetoric from some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers that con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es are cen­sored online — indi­cat­ing that instead, right-lean­ing talk­ing points con­tin­ue to shape the world­views of mil­lions of U.S. vot­ers.

    “Their sto­ries are cap­ti­vat­ing, easy to remem­ber and cre­ate an out­sized foot­print online,” said Yochai Ben­kler, co-direc­tor of the Berk­man Klein Cen­ter for Inter­net and Soci­ety at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, who pub­lished a sep­a­rate report into how lead­ing politi­cians like Trump and main­stream news out­lets were cen­tral to spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about mail-in vot­ing.

    None of that has stopped the pres­i­dent and his GOP allies from ham­mer­ing the mes­sage that tech giants sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly silence and throt­tle con­ser­v­a­tive mes­sages — or as the pres­i­dent has charged, “The Rad­i­cal Left is in total com­mand & con­trol of Face­book, Insta­gram, Twit­ter and Google.”

    “Every year, count­less Amer­i­cans are banned, black­list­ed, and silenced through arbi­trary or mali­cious enforce­ment of ever-shift­ing rules,” Trump said in a Sep­tem­ber appear­ance with Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr and nine state AGs to dis­cuss “social media abus­es.” In a report this month, Repub­li­cans on the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee put it even more plain­ly: “Big Tech Is Out to Get Con­ser­v­a­tives.”

    Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg, Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai will face ques­tions on the issue at a Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee hear­ing Wednes­day, while Zucker­berg and Dorsey will tes­ti­fy in front of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee on Nov. 17.

    The issue has sim­mered for months, amid a series of inci­dents in which Face­book and Twit­ter slapped fact-check labels on — and, in some cas­es, delet­ed — posts from Trump about the elec­tion or Covid-19 after deem­ing them mis­lead­ing or false. Con­ser­v­a­tive com­plaints esca­lat­ed this month after both com­pa­nies took steps to reduce the spread of a New York Post arti­cle that made uncor­rob­o­rat­ed claims about Biden’s ties to Ukraine.

    “What we are watch­ing — the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of Democ­rats, and the overt sup­pres­sion of mate­r­i­al dam­ag­ing to Democ­rats to the cheer­ing of the press — is one of the sin­gle most dan­ger­ous polit­i­cal moments I have ever seen,” con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro wrote on Twit­ter on Oct. 15.

    But Shapiro’s own influ­ence appears undimmed. His Face­book posts gar­nered more than 33 mil­lion social media inter­ac­tions such as com­ments, shares and likes over the last 30 days, accord­ing to Crowd­Tan­gle, an ana­lyt­ics tool owned by Face­book. Biden’s page, in con­trast, received 19 mil­lion inter­ac­tions over the same peri­od.

    Con­ser­v­a­tive con­vey­or belt

    POLITICO worked with the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dialogue’s researchers to ana­lyze which online voic­es were loud­est and which mes­sag­ing was most wide­spread around the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and the poten­tial for vot­er fraud in November’s elec­tion.

    That includ­ed ana­lyz­ing more than 2 mil­lion social media posts across Face­book, Insta­gram, Twit­ter and the mes­sage boards Red­dit and 4Chan. The posts orig­i­nat­ed from over 500,000 social media accounts and were linked to key­words and online hash­tags asso­ci­at­ed with both issues.

    The researchers col­lect­ed the data between Aug. 28 and Sept. 25, and ranked the posts by how wide­ly they had been shared and copied from one account to anoth­er. The analy­sis cap­tured dis­cus­sions from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, but did not include con­ver­sa­tions in pri­vate chan­nels, like invite-only Face­book groups, that were off-lim­its to the researchers.

    “You see the same peo­ple pop­ping up all the time,” said Cia­ran O’Connor, a dis­in­for­ma­tion ana­lyst at the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue. “There’s no evi­dence of coor­di­na­tion, it’s more like group­think. Any­thing that attacks Biden or the Democ­rats is fair game.”

    Left-wing voic­es, includ­ing ACRONYM, a lib­er­al cam­paign group that has fund­ed par­ti­san news out­lets in sev­er­al swing states, have also politi­cized events for their own gain. For­eign gov­ern­ments, notably Rus­sia, con­tin­ue to ped­dle false­hoods at the Amer­i­can pub­lic. A small­er data col­lec­tion, run by the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue between Oct. 20 and Oct. 23 around vot­er fraud con­ver­sa­tions, showed that lib­er­al voic­es had per­formed rough­ly on par with their con­ser­v­a­tive coun­ter­parts.

    But in the pre­vi­ous month­long analy­sis about Black Lives Mat­ter and vot­er fraud, the loud­est voic­es belong to con­ser­v­a­tives like Shapiro, Repub­li­can activist James O’Keefe and Char­lie Kirk, founder of the advo­ca­cy group Turn­ing Point USA.

    Aid­ed by well-estab­lished con­ser­v­a­tive media out­lets like the West­ern Jour­nal and Bre­it­bart News, as well as new out­lets like The Post Mil­len­ni­al, these influ­encers have gar­nered an out­sized audi­ence, stok­ing claims that the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment is inher­ent­ly vio­lent and that fraud­u­lent bal­lots are already flood­ing next month’s elec­tion.

    At the end of August, for instance, Dan Bongi­no, a con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tor with mil­lions of online fol­low­ers, wrote on Face­book that Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers had called for the mur­der of police offi­cers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Bongino’s social media posts are rou­tine­ly some of the most shared con­tent across Face­book, based on CrowdTangle’s data.

    The claims — first made by a far-right pub­li­ca­tion that the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter labeled as pro­mot­ing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries — were not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the actions of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. But Bongino’s post was shared more than 30,000 times, and received 141,000 oth­er engage­ments such as com­ments and likes, accord­ing to Crowd­Tan­gle.

    In con­trast, the best-per­form­ing lib­er­al post around Black Lives Mat­ter — from DL Hugh­ley, the actor — gar­nered less than a quar­ter of the Bongi­no post’s social media trac­tion, based on data ana­lyzed by POLITICO.

    ...

    How claims go viral

    On Aug. 29, an arti­cle in the New York Post dropped a bomb­shell: Democ­rats were using mail-in vot­er fraud to steal the elec­tion.

    Under the head­line “Con­fes­sions of a vot­er fraud: I was a mas­ter at fix­ing mail-in bal­lots,” an anony­mous Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­sul­tant out­lined an alleged years­long cam­paign to skew local, state and nation­al elec­tions in favor of lib­er­al can­di­dates.

    The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty issued mul­ti­ple denials, and an ear­li­er review by the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion high­light­ed extreme­ly low lev­els of vot­er fraud across the coun­try. But the Post arti­cle soon played a cen­tral role in the talk­ing points of con­ser­v­a­tive influ­encers, Repub­li­can polit­i­cal groups and oth­er influ­encers pro­mot­ing the fraud claims on social media, accord­ing to POLITICO’s analy­sis.

    ...

    Two days after the arti­cle was pub­lished, Bre­it­bart News picked up the sto­ry in a Face­book post that was shared more than 37,000 times. Oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es, includ­ing the talk radio host Mark Levin, sim­i­lar­ly pro­mot­ed it to their large online audi­ences. Jon Levine, the author of the Post’s sto­ry, was inter­viewed on Fox News, while Trump’s offi­cial cam­paign repub­lished the arti­cle on its Face­book page, which has 1.6 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

    In total, the Post vot­er fraud alle­ga­tions have been shared more than 185,000 times on Face­book, gar­ner­ing 340,000 engage­ments such as com­ments and likes, based on Crowd­Tan­gle data.

    In con­trast, the best per­form­ing post on this top­ic from anoth­er tra­di­tion­al media out­let — an Axios arti­cle high­light­ing that the FBI had not seen any evi­dence of nation­al vot­er fraud — was shared just 15,000 times on Face­book and received just 52,000 col­lec­tive social media engage­ments.

    ...

    ————

    “Despite cries of cen­sor­ship, con­ser­v­a­tives dom­i­nate social media” by MARK SCOTT; Politi­co; 10/26/2020

    “Right-wing social media influ­encers, con­ser­v­a­tive media out­lets and oth­er GOP sup­port­ers dom­i­nate online dis­cus­sions around two of the election’s hottest issues, the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and vot­er fraud, accord­ing to the review of Face­book posts, Insta­gram feeds, Twit­ter mes­sages and con­ver­sa­tions on two pop­u­lar mes­sage boards. And their lead isn’t close.”

    It’s not even close. Right-wing social media con­tent gets shared 10 times as much as the most pop­u­lar left-wing post. And this includes posts about vot­er fraud claims. Right-wing sites real­ly do effec­tive­ly have to the pow­er to dig­i­tal­ly drown out oth­er types of con­tent, mak­ing today’s social media ecosys­tem the per­fect Big Lie machine. Not only are right-wing Big Lies heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed, large­ly with impuni­ty, but there’s an entire cru­sade about ‘Big Tech’s bias against con­ser­v­a­tives’ that, itself, relies on that very same right-wing dom­i­na­tion of social media. It’s beyond Orwellian:

    ...
    As racial protests engulfed the nation after George Floyd’s death, users shared the most-viral right-wing social media con­tent more than 10 times as often as the most pop­u­lar lib­er­al posts, fre­quent­ly asso­ci­at­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment with vio­lence and accus­ing Democ­rats like Joe Biden of sup­port­ing riots.

    Peo­ple also shared con­ser­v­a­tives’ most-read claims of ram­pant vot­er fraud rough­ly twice as often as they did lib­er­als’ or tra­di­tion­al media out­lets’ dis­cus­sions of the issue, the analy­sis found. The con­ser­v­a­tives’ tac­tics includ­ed spin­ning main­stream media cov­er­age on vot­ing irreg­u­lar­i­ties into elab­o­rate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, some­times echoed by Trump, that Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers are try­ing to steal November’s elec­tion.

    ...

    The find­ings demon­strate how a small num­ber of con­ser­v­a­tive users rou­tine­ly out­pace their lib­er­al rivals and tra­di­tion­al news out­lets in dri­ving the online con­ver­sa­tion — ampli­fy­ing their impact a lit­tle more than a week before Elec­tion Day. They con­tra­dict the pre­vail­ing polit­i­cal rhetoric from some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers that con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es are cen­sored online — indi­cat­ing that instead, right-lean­ing talk­ing points con­tin­ue to shape the world­views of mil­lions of U.S. vot­ers.

    “Their sto­ries are cap­ti­vat­ing, easy to remem­ber and cre­ate an out­sized foot­print online,” said Yochai Ben­kler, co-direc­tor of the Berk­man Klein Cen­ter for Inter­net and Soci­ety at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, who pub­lished a sep­a­rate report into how lead­ing politi­cians like Trump and main­stream news out­lets were cen­tral to spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about mail-in vot­ing.

    None of that has stopped the pres­i­dent and his GOP allies from ham­mer­ing the mes­sage that tech giants sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly silence and throt­tle con­ser­v­a­tive mes­sages — or as the pres­i­dent has charged, “The Rad­i­cal Left is in total com­mand & con­trol of Face­book, Insta­gram, Twit­ter and Google.”
    ...

    Per­haps the most top­i­cal exam­ple of this extreme imbal­ance is the myth of mas­sive left-wing mail-in vot­er fraud. It start­ed as a NY Post sto­ry in last August claim­ing that Democ­rats were plan­ning on steal­ing the elec­tion through mass vot­er fraud, and with­in days, that nar­ra­tive com­plete­ly dom­i­nat­ed how the sto­ry was cov­ered. Denials of the accu­sa­tion were just back­ground noise:

    ...
    How claims go viral

    On Aug. 29, an arti­cle in the New York Post dropped a bomb­shell: Democ­rats were using mail-in vot­er fraud to steal the elec­tion.

    Under the head­line “Con­fes­sions of a vot­er fraud: I was a mas­ter at fix­ing mail-in bal­lots,” an anony­mous Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­sul­tant out­lined an alleged years­long cam­paign to skew local, state and nation­al elec­tions in favor of lib­er­al can­di­dates.

    The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty issued mul­ti­ple denials, and an ear­li­er review by the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion high­light­ed extreme­ly low lev­els of vot­er fraud across the coun­try. But the Post arti­cle soon played a cen­tral role in the talk­ing points of con­ser­v­a­tive influ­encers, Repub­li­can polit­i­cal groups and oth­er influ­encers pro­mot­ing the fraud claims on social media, accord­ing to POLITICO’s analy­sis.

    ...

    Two days after the arti­cle was pub­lished, Bre­it­bart News picked up the sto­ry in a Face­book post that was shared more than 37,000 times. Oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es, includ­ing the talk radio host Mark Levin, sim­i­lar­ly pro­mot­ed it to their large online audi­ences. Jon Levine, the author of the Post’s sto­ry, was inter­viewed on Fox News, while Trump’s offi­cial cam­paign repub­lished the arti­cle on its Face­book page, which has 1.6 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

    In total, the Post vot­er fraud alle­ga­tions have been shared more than 185,000 times on Face­book, gar­ner­ing 340,000 engage­ments such as com­ments and likes, based on Crowd­Tan­gle data.

    In con­trast, the best per­form­ing post on this top­ic from anoth­er tra­di­tion­al media out­let — an Axios arti­cle high­light­ing that the FBI had not seen any evi­dence of nation­al vot­er fraud — was shared just 15,000 times on Face­book and received just 52,000 col­lec­tive social media engage­ments.
    ...

    And when social media com­pa­nies made the deci­sion to pull social media posts that were pro­mot­ing the high­ly sus­pect ‘Octo­ber Surprise’-ish NY Post sto­ry about Hunter Biden’s lap­tops, we have Ben Shapiro, one of the biggest voic­es on social media, call­ing it the “mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of Democ­rats”. Shapiro’s Face­book page got more shares than Joe Biden’s in Octo­ber, and he’s com­plain­ing about the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of the Democ­rats:

    ...
    “What we are watch­ing — the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of social media on behalf of Democ­rats, and the overt sup­pres­sion of mate­r­i­al dam­ag­ing to Democ­rats to the cheer­ing of the press — is one of the sin­gle most dan­ger­ous polit­i­cal moments I have ever seen,” con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro wrote on Twit­ter on Oct. 15.

    But Shapiro’s own influ­ence appears undimmed. His Face­book posts gar­nered more than 33 mil­lion social media inter­ac­tions such as com­ments, shares and likes over the last 30 days, accord­ing to Crowd­Tan­gle, an ana­lyt­ics tool owned by Face­book. Biden’s page, in con­trast, received 19 mil­lion inter­ac­tions over the same peri­od.
    ...

    So what we’re obvi­ous­ly look­ing at here is a delib­er­ate intim­i­da­tion cam­paign intend­ed to pres­sure social media com­pa­nies from impos­ing the already lim­it­ed and tepid restric­tions they already have on right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion. An intim­i­da­tion cam­paign intend­ed to pres­sure social media com­pa­nies that’s large­ly waged on social media and large­ly relies on right-wing dom­i­na­tion of social media to ampli­fy the intim­i­da­tion. Again, it’s beyond Orwellian.

    With all that in mind, here’s a peek at what we can expect should the right-wing suc­ceed in remov­ing the already restrained cen­sor­ship of right-wing con­tent: the 4Chan-iza­tion of social media. Because as the fol­low­ing Vice arti­cle makes clear, once you have mod­er­a­tors who are com­mit­ted to inter­pret­ing right-wing con­tent in the most gen­er­ous light pos­si­ble and who are intent on find­ing rea­sons not to remove any­thing but the most extreme con­tent, it’s only a mat­ter of time before sites are effec­tive­ly turned into neo-Nazi recruit­ing zones, where the con­stant expo­sure to extrem­ist memes and images effec­tive­ly desen­si­tizes audi­ences while build­ing an echo-cham­ber for Big Lie prop­a­ga­tion. And it only takes a rel­a­tive hand­ful of active play­ers to cre­ate this envi­ron­ment. In the case of 4Chan, a site that start­ed as a rel­a­tive­ly pro­gres­sive forum for ani­me, it was the actions of a sin­gle lead mod­er­a­tor, known as “RapeApe”, who was giv­en the pow­er to hire and fire oth­er mod­er­a­tors (known as “jan­i­tors” on the site) after the site was sold to a new own­er in 2015. Under RapeApe’s rule, the “/pol/” pol­i­tics forum on the site became over­run with far right posters who soon start­ed “raid­ing” oth­er forums on the site, fill­ing those forums with “sieg heils” and oth­er far right con­tent. Even­tu­al­ly “/pol/” and “RapeApe” won and 4Chan has effec­tive­ly become one of the lead­ing far right meme fac­to­ries on the inter­net. It’s a reminder that the end result of the right-wing pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign to intim­i­date social media com­pa­nies into allow­ing any and all right-wing con­tent on social media is to turn inevitably the entire inter­net into 4Chan:

    Vice

    The Man Who Helped Turn 4chan Into the Inter­net’s Racist Engine
    4chan mod­er­a­tors and leaked chat logs show that the infa­mous image­board did­n’t become the hate­ful site it’s known as by acci­dent. A pow­er­ful mod­er­a­tor inten­tion­al­ly helped make it that way.

    by Rob Arthur
    Novem­ber 2, 2020, 8:39am

    In two decades, 4chan has evolved from a mes­sage board where peo­ple talked about ani­me to a casu­al­ly racist but influ­en­tial cre­ation engine of inter­net cul­ture, and now into a gen­er­a­tor of far-right pro­pa­gan­da, a place where dan­ger­ous con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries orig­i­nate, and an ampli­fi­er of online big­otry. This evo­lu­tion, accord­ing to 4chan mod­er­a­tors who spoke to Moth­er­board and leaked chat logs, is in large part because of an anony­mous admin­is­tra­tor who used mod­er­a­tion enforce­ment, or lack there­of, to allow the influ­en­tial web­site to become a cru­cial arm of the far-right.

    4chan attract­ed hordes of dis­af­fect­ed young men who trolled var­i­ous oth­er web­sites, cre­at­ing pop­u­lar memes (many of them racist or sex­ist) and orig­i­nat­ing a great deal of inter­net cul­ture. In recent years, how­ev­er, 4chan has evolved into some­thing active­ly sin­is­ter: a hive of big­otry, threats of vio­lence, and far right ide­ol­o­gy. This rapid and severe descent wasn’t dri­ven sole­ly by the mass action of dis­grun­tled young men.

    One cur­rent and three for­mer 4chan mod­er­a­tors believe the process was aid­ed along by the de fac­to admin­is­tra­tor of the site, a far right sup­port­er with the han­dle “RapeApe” who helped turn the site into a meme fac­to­ry for extreme pol­i­tics. Moth­er­board agreed to let the jan­i­tors speak anony­mous­ly because they said they signed non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments with 4chan.

    Because of 4chan’s often wild­ly offen­sive con­tent, many assume that the site is com­plete­ly unmod­er­at­ed. But 4chan has a corps of vol­un­teers, called “jan­i­tors,” “mods,” or “jan­nies,” whose job it is—theoretically—to make sure that con­tent on the site abides by the rules. (4chan draws a dis­tinc­tion between more senior “mod­er­a­tors,” who are respon­si­ble for all boards, and “jan­i­tors,” who patrol one or two; we refer to them inter­change­ably because jan­i­tors also mod­er­ate dis­cus­sion.) The jan­i­tors we spoke to and a major trove of leaked chat logs from the jan­i­tors’ pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel tell the sto­ry of RapeApe’s rise from junior jan­ny to some­one who could decide what kind of con­tent was allowed on the site and where, shap­ing 4chan into the hate­ful, rad­i­cal­iz­ing online com­mu­ni­ty it’s known for today.

    Start­ed in 2003 by Christo­pher Poole, 4chan was ini­tial­ly a place for peo­ple to dis­cuss ani­me. Since its found­ing, the site has expand­ed to include dis­cus­sion boards on every­thing from trav­el to fit­ness to video games to origa­mi. It now claims around 22 mil­lion vis­i­tors a month. Some parts of it are also recruit­ing grounds for Neo-Nazi groups.

    4chan’s more recent extrem­ist ele­ment can be traced back to an infa­mous board: “polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect,” which is list­ed as “/pol/” on the site. Osten­si­bly devot­ed to dis­cussing pol­i­tics, /pol/ threads often involve users call­ing each oth­er racist terms, argu­ing for the geno­cide of whole nations or eth­nic­i­ties, or debat­ing about whether dif­fer­ent con­cepts are “degenerate”—a Nazi term of art for mate­r­i­al (or peo­ple) that ought to be purged. Posters there cel­e­brate and lion­ize some of the most noto­ri­ous mass mur­der­ers of the last decade, from Anders Breivik to Dylann Roof.

    The forum has pop­u­lar­ized iconog­ra­phy like Pepe the Frog, a car­toon char­ac­ter reap­pro­pri­at­ed by some as a racist sym­bol of the far right that Pres­i­dent Trump’s son has tweet­ed images of. Accord­ing to aca­d­e­m­ic researchers, 4chan’s /pol/ has become one of the most prodi­gious fac­to­ries for con­tent on the inter­net. And the bound­aries of its influ­ence spread far beyond the bor­ders of 4chan itself, affect­ing every­thing from YouTube to Twit­ter to main­stream Repub­li­can pol­i­tics.

    The polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect board wasn’t always this bad. In fact, for­mer 4chan mod­er­a­tors told Moth­er­board that /pol/ wasn’t added to the site until 2011, eight years after the site start­ed. For the first few years of its exis­tence, accord­ing to two for­mer jan­i­tors, Poole intend­ed the /pol/ board to siphon off the racism from oth­er areas of the site so that oth­er users could enjoy their own, board-spe­cif­ic pur­suits.

    “It was start­ed as a con­tain­ment board,” one for­mer mod­er­a­tor told me about /pol/. Accord­ing to chat logs and for­mer mod­er­a­tors, in its ear­ly days, mod­er­a­tors at 4chan removed racist posts and users from oth­er boards while ignor­ing them with­in one board, “ran­dom” (/b/, which was sup­posed to be a kind of “no rules, any­thing goes” space. /b/ is where many ear­ly memes were born, and is where the hack­tivist group Anony­mous came from). Such posts also some­times slipped by on the /pol/ board as well, even though they tech­ni­cal­ly vio­lat­ed the rules there. “Enforce­ment was more active in the past,” a for­mer mod­er­a­tor said. In con­trast to its cur­rent far right polit­i­cal cli­mate, “4chan skewed extreme­ly pro­gres­sive when it first start­ed,” accord­ing to the mod, although the use of big­ot­ed and misog­y­nis­tic lan­guage was wide­spread even then.

    But 4chan has changed in recent years. Sev­er­al stud­ies of the site have shown that 4chan has become more racist, big­ot­ed, and tox­ic in recent years—especially the /pol/ board. Ide­olo­gies prop­a­gat­ed on /pol/ have become linked with vio­lence and domes­tic ter­ror­ism. 4chan jan­i­tors’ main job is to clean up and remove child pornog­ra­phy, lest 4chan draw the wrath of fed­er­al author­i­ties, but they also shape the dis­course there by set­ting the lim­its of accept­able dis­cus­sion. If a thread goes off-top­ic or starts to get too racist, the jan­i­tors have the respon­si­bil­i­ty for ask­ing mods to delete it and poten­tial­ly issue bans against spe­cif­ic users.

    Accord­ing to leaked logs and the 4chan jan­i­tors who spoke with Moth­er­board, the man­ag­er of 4chan’s jan­i­tors is RapeApe. Rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle is known about him, even by the jan­i­tors who spoke with us and worked for him, although he has been super­vis­ing 4chan’s day-to-day oper­a­tions for around a decade.

    In 2015, Poole announced that he had decid­ed to sell 4chan to a Japan­ese busi­ness­man named Hiroyu­ki Nishimu­ra. Nishimu­ra pre­vi­ous­ly owned 2chan, a Japan­ese web­site which inspired 4chan. Jan­i­tors who spoke with Moth­er­board described Nishimu­ra as being almost com­plete­ly hands off, leav­ing mod­er­a­tion of the site pri­mar­i­ly to RapeApe.

    “[RapeApe] basi­cal­ly ful­fills the role of an admin­is­tra­tor con­sid­er­ing Hiroyu­ki [Nishimu­ra], the actu­al admin, does­n’t touch the site,” a cur­rent jan­i­tor told me. Poole and Nishimu­ra did not respond to repeat­ed requests for com­ment. RapeApe respond­ed by send­ing an email that con­tained only a sin­gle link to a video of naked mus­cu­lar men danc­ing.

    Even pri­or to the site’s change in own­er­ship, RapeApe func­tioned as the pri­ma­ry judge of what con­sti­tut­ed accept­able con­tent on the site, as well as the per­son who edu­cat­ed the staff on what did and didn’t cross the line. As Gamer­gate became a sub­ject on the site in 2014, 4chan users began harass­ing women in the video game indus­try due to what they per­ceived as pro­gres­sive bias in report­ing on games. Even­tu­al­ly, RapeApe tried to stop 4chan’s cam­paign of intim­i­da­tion. “[Gamer­gate] is no longer allowed on the video game boards. So said [RapeApe],” one jan­i­tor informed anoth­er in the leaked chats. When oth­er jan­nies protest­ed, RapeApe rapid­ly shut them down: “This isn’t a democ­ra­cy,” RapeApe wrote. “Gamer­gate has over­stayed its wel­come. It is start­ing to cause a mas­sive bur­den for mod­er­a­tion.”

    In 2015, an anony­mous for­mer mod­er­a­tor leaked an exten­sive chat his­to­ry of the jan­i­tors from 2012–2015 to a file-shar­ing ser­vice. One of the for­mer jan­i­tors includ­ed in the chats con­firmed their authen­tic­i­ty. Accord­ing to a brief mes­sage post­ed with the logs, the leak­er was unhap­py with “the direc­tion of the site.” From those leaked logs and the cur­rent and for­mer jan­i­tors who spoke with Moth­er­board, RapeApe claims to be a mil­i­tary vet­er­an who served in Afghanistan as well as a vora­cious read­er, inter­est­ed in video games, guns, and Warham­mer: 40,000. He often com­plained about his fam­i­ly imped­ing his work and was afraid they would walk in on him look­ing at ques­tion­able or porno­graph­ic posts as he was mod­er­at­ing.

    Accord­ing to the jan­i­tor and chat logs (as well as a delet­ed Twit­ter account two staff mem­bers con­firmed was his), RapeApe is also polit­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive and racist. One for­mer jan­i­tor described him as “a typ­i­cal right winger and /pol/ dude.” His Twit­ter account fea­tured him respond­ing approv­ing­ly to Tuck­er Carl­son clips, urg­ing anoth­er user to buy an AR-15 rifle for self-defense, won­der­ing whether the state would force peo­ple to be homo­sex­u­al and sug­gest­ing that Twit­ter was “staffed by left­ists” who were delet­ing con­ser­v­a­tive users’ accounts. In con­ver­sa­tions with oth­er jan­i­tors in the leaked chats, he found humor in hor­ri­fy­ing news about riots, shoot­ings, and the Ebo­la epidemic—especially when that news involved Black peo­ple dying.

    But RapeApe isn’t just a typ­i­cal /pol/ user who hap­pens to run the site. Accord­ing to three cur­rent and for­mer staff mem­bers, RapeApe shaped 4chan into a reflec­tion of his own polit­i­cal beliefs. “RapeApe has an agen­da: he wants /pol/ to have influ­ence on the rest of the site and [its] pol­i­tics,” a cur­rent jan­i­tor said.

    Alone, RapeApe couldn’t steer 4chan to the far right. But he super­vis­es a staff of dozens of vol­un­teers who con­trol dis­course on the boards. Accord­ing to the leaked chats and jan­i­tors who spoke with Moth­er­board, he instruct­ed jan­i­tors on how to han­dle the more big­ot­ed con­tent on 4chan—and dis­missed them if they delet­ed con­tent he likes. He took a spe­cial inter­est in the /pol/ board, telling a novice jan­i­tor in the chat logs to “treat /pol/ with kid gloves. So long as they obey the rules, they are allowed to sup­port what­ev­er abom­inable polit­i­cal posi­tions they want.”

    4chan has an exten­sive list of rules post­ed on the site and each board has its own small­er set of edicts. A lit­tle-known and rarely enforced 4chan reg­u­la­tion, Glob­al Rule #3, pro­hibits racist con­tent on the site. But the leaked chat logs show many inci­dents of mod­er­a­tors and jan­i­tors dis­cussing when racism got severe enough that it ought to be banned. Indeed, RapeApe him­self delet­ed at least one thread for vio­lat­ing Rule #3 ear­ly on in his 4chan career, before he became a man­ag­er.

    Once he became head mod­er­a­tor, RapeApe began to post reminders that mod­er­a­tors ought to be as hands-off as pos­si­ble. In the leaked logs and accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer jan­i­tors, RapeApe pushed his staff into a posi­tion where almost no con­tent could run afoul of the rule against racism. Instruct­ing the jan­i­tors, RapeApe wrote, “And remem­ber that with racism we’re tar­get­ing the intent of the poster and not the words them­selves.” One cur­rent jan­i­tor told me that in prac­tice, with­in 4chan’s warped, irony-poi­soned cul­ture, this meant there was no way to ban a user for even the most fla­grant, big­ot­ed lan­guage or images. They could always claim that the intent wasn’t racist, even if the con­tent unques­tion­ably was.

    “The plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty excuse for racism—I was just jok­ing, I was just trolling—is bullsh it,” Whit­ney Phillips, an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Rhetor­i­cal Stud­ies at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty and author of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Map­ping the Rela­tion­ship Between Online Trolling and Main­stream Cul­ture, told Moth­er­board. “Intent can mat­ter when think­ing about the things peo­ple say, but it mat­ters very lit­tle when con­sid­er­ing con­se­quences. Whether or not some­one says a racist thing with hate in their heart, they’re still say­ing a racist thing and that still con­tributes to dehu­man­iza­tion and the nor­mal­iza­tion of harm. Any­way, the very cri­te­ri­on is absurd, as you can’t assess what’s in some­one’s heart just by look­ing at the things they post, espe­cial­ly to a place like 4chan. The only rea­son­able con­clu­sion is that, what­ev­er might have been writ­ten in the site rules, this mod­er­a­tor ensured that there was no pol­i­cy against racism. Instead it became a pro-racism pol­i­cy.”

    The leaked chat logs show that RapeApe did­n’t want /pol/ to be total­ly unmod­er­at­ed, despite allow­ing racist con­tent. He was con­cerned with mak­ing sure 4chan wasn’t host­ing ille­gal mate­r­i­al. “Most­ly I just want to keep the site legal,” he wrote to the staff in one mes­sage in the leaked chats. He post­ed fre­quent reminders to the chan­nel to “take it easy” and ignore, rather than ban, racist con­tent. In the leaked chats, RapeApe quotes judi­cial deci­sions on whether pho­tos depict­ing ani­mal abuse are ille­gal, con­clud­ing that they only rise to that lev­el if the abuse is sex­u­al in nature. In anoth­er case, he reluc­tant­ly told a jan­i­tor to delete some revenge porn, though not with­out belit­tling laws against it.

    Nishimura’s pur­chase of the site in 2016 and RapeApe’s ascen­sion to de fac­to admin­is­tra­tor of 4chan coin­cides with an incred­i­ble 40 per­cent in the vol­ume of racist and vio­lent lan­guage on /pol/. Oth­er, com­pa­ra­ble sites and com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels also pushed towards extreme con­ser­vatism inde­pen­dent­ly of 4chan, so RapeApe and /pol/ cer­tain­ly aren’t the only rea­sons why 4chan slid towards the far right. Some experts cred­it­ed 4chan’s evo­lu­tion to Don­ald Trump’s overt­ly-racist polit­i­cal cam­paign, oth­ers to an influx of new users, and still oth­ers to active inter­fer­ence and recruit­ing of 4channers by Neo-Nazi ele­ments.

    While oth­er web­sites also host increas­ing amounts of vio­lent and big­ot­ed lan­guage, 4chan is an out­lier even com­pared to oth­er inter­net gath­er­ing places filled with sim­i­lar ide­olo­gies. A VICE News analy­sis found that there was more hate speech on /pol/ than in the com­ments on one overt­ly Neo-Nazi site, the Dai­ly Stormer. Mass mur­der­ers have post­ed man­i­festos on 4chan. White nation­al­ists have used the site to coor­di­nate protests.

    When one Neo-Nazi group polled their sup­port­ers to dis­cov­er how they came to the move­ment, /pol/ was tied for the most com­mon gate­way. Gab, anoth­er far right hotbed, con­tains about half the rate of hate speech as /pol/, and 4chan has 20 times more users. The only pop­u­lar web­sites more tox­ic than 4chan are its much small­er off­spring sites, like 8chan, now 8kun.

    Accord­ing to one cur­rent and three for­mer jan­i­tors, RapeApe’s push for a hands-off approach com­bined with his pref­er­ence for jan­i­tors who shared his polit­i­cal beliefs has shift­ed the web­site fur­ther into the extremes of big­otry and threats of vio­lence in which it now oper­ates. “He wants 4chan to be more like /pol/,” said one for­mer jan­i­tor.

    Over time, /pol/ has come to dom­i­nate the pub­lic per­cep­tion of 4chan, over­shad­ow­ing the qui­eter, less vile top­ic areas which make up much of the activ­i­ty on the site. /pol/ is reg­u­lar­ly the most active board on the site, but even so, it makes up a small por­tion of the total posts. Under RapeApe’s man­age­ment, how­ev­er, /pol/’s big­otry has metas­ta­sized.

    “[W]hen RapeApe took over ful­ly after [Poole] left, he put in a ‘lais­sez-faire’ pol­i­cy of mod­er­a­tion, know­ing exact­ly what would hap­pen, that right wing ideas would dom­i­nate the site thanks to /pol/ spilling over onto oth­er boards,” said a cur­rent jan­i­tor.

    The /pol/ forum often hosts threads in which users talk about flood­ing oth­er, unre­lat­ed boards with racial slurs and big­ot­ed imagery. These “raids” expose users who were on 4chan to dis­cuss oth­er sub­jects to its uncon­ven­tion­al, far-right pol­i­tics. Posters who logged on to the site to chat about sports or browse pornog­ra­phy could find them­selves learn­ing about Neo-Nazi ide­ol­o­gy instead. Cyn­thia Miller-Idriss, a pro­fes­sor at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty and expert on far-right extrem­ism, describes this phe­nom­e­non as “gate­way con­tent.” Sim­ply by expos­ing peo­ple to hate speech, psy­chol­o­gists have found that it’s pos­si­ble to desen­si­tize them to fur­ther hate speech and dehu­man­ize out­groups. By raid­ing oth­er boards and giv­ing users a taste of their ide­ol­o­gy, /pol/ diehards hoped to bring them into their fold.

    In one inci­dent from the chat logs, when a mod­er­a­tor tried to clean up such an “inva­sion” of the sci­ence board, RapeApe wasn’t hav­ing it. Rather than delete the thread a jan­i­tor described as plan­ning a raid, RapeApe argued that they weren’t doing any­thing against the rules. “Are they actu­al­ly van­dal­is­ing or defac­ing any­thing, or harass­ing peo­ple?” RapeApe added: “Because if they’re just post­ing things, that’s not real­ly a raid.”

    Cur­rent and for­mer jan­i­tors say that one mod­er­a­tor named Mod­cat was fired for dis­agree­ing with­Ra­peApe’s lais­sez-faire mod­er­a­tion pol­i­cy.

    ...

    An analy­sis of the archives of the ani­me board (/a/) Mod­cat used to patrol, derived by scrap­ing its past threads, shows that Modcat’s depar­ture and replace­ment with anoth­er jan­i­tor had con­se­quences on the lan­guage used there. Moth­er­board used a 4chan archive and wrote a pro­gram to scrape data from the board over the last five years, count­ing the num­ber of instances of com­mon hate speech terms against Black, Lati­no, Jew­ish, and LGBTQ peo­ple each day, as well as Neo-Nazi slo­gans. This pro­gram scraped text only and so did not include instances of speech with­in images, a com­mon medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion on 4chan. Imme­di­ate­ly after his depar­ture, accord­ing to for­mer mod­er­a­tors, /pol/ users raid­ed the board, spam­ming Neo-Nazi slo­gans like “sieg heil” and “heil Hitler” in about one in every 50 posts. (Use of these terms had been neg­li­gi­ble before Mod­cat left.) Even after the ini­tial raid on /a/ sub­sided, there were long-term effects on the forum. Dur­ing Mod­cat’s brief tenure, the ani­me board had hate speech in only about one in every 50 posts over­all. Since his depar­ture, that has risen to about one in every 30 posts.

    ...

    Five years lat­er, the polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect board’s con­flict with the rest of 4chan has been set­tled: /pol/ won. After years of declin­ing vol­ume both there and on the site in gen­er­al, /pol/’s activ­i­ty (in terms of the num­ber of users and posts) is on the rise once again, accord­ing to a site that tracks 4chan. Jump­ing upwards in May 2020, /pol/ boast­ed the high­est num­ber of posts per day since elec­tion day in 2016, when ecsta­t­ic users cel­e­brat­ed Trump’s vic­to­ry by call­ing for a sec­ond Holo­caust and harass­ing jour­nal­ists.

    /pol/’s surg­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty coin­cides with a boost for the rest of the site as well. Accord­ing to Sim­i­lar­Web, a com­pa­ny that tracks web traf­fic, 4chan has risen to become one of the top 400 sites in the Unit­ed States in terms of engage­ment and vis­its. The domain now rivals or exceeds major news sites in terms of the num­ber of vis­i­tors: it gets more traf­fic than abcnews.com, for exam­ple.

    And the /pol/ chan­nel con­tin­ues to cre­ate mas­sive amounts of right-wing con­tent. RapeApe’s “meme fac­to­ry,” as he described /pol/ in one leaked chat log, is chug­ging along smooth­ly. “[RapeApe has] basi­cal­ly ful­filled his inten­tions,” a cur­rent jan­i­tor told me. “[4chan] exists as a ful­ly devel­oped polit­i­cal tool used for prop­a­gat­ing memes and pro­pa­gan­da.” 4chan’s con­tent some­times spreads beyond its eso­teric cor­ner of the inter­net into the main­stream dis­course, using a well-estab­lished pipeline run­ning through Red­dit and Twit­ter into more pop­u­lar chan­nels.

    ...

    ———–

    “The Man Who Helped Turn 4chan Into the Inter­net’s Racist Engine” by Rob Arthur; Vice; 11/02/2020

    “Because of 4chan’s often wild­ly offen­sive con­tent, many assume that the site is com­plete­ly unmod­er­at­ed. But 4chan has a corps of vol­un­teers, called “jan­i­tors,” “mods,” or “jan­nies,” whose job it is—theoretically—to make sure that con­tent on the site abides by the rules. (4chan draws a dis­tinc­tion between more senior “mod­er­a­tors,” who are respon­si­ble for all boards, and “jan­i­tors,” who patrol one or two; we refer to them inter­change­ably because jan­i­tors also mod­er­ate dis­cus­sion.) The jan­i­tors we spoke to and a major trove of leaked chat logs from the jan­i­tors’ pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel tell the sto­ry of RapeApe’s rise from junior jan­ny to some­one who could decide what kind of con­tent was allowed on the site and where, shap­ing 4chan into the hate­ful, rad­i­cal­iz­ing online com­mu­ni­ty it’s known for today.

    Once “RapeApe” had the pow­er to fire the oth­er mods, he basi­cal­ly sin­gle-hand­ed­ly turned the site into the inter­net’s home for far right rad­i­cal­iza­tion. Well, he did­n’t sin­gle-hand­ed­ly do it. All of the peo­ple cre­at­ing the far right con­tent played a role. But they could­n’t have pulled it off with­out RapeApe hav­ing their back. The site start­ed off, after all, as a fair­ly pro­gres­sive ani­me site. They start­ed the /pol/ forum lit­er­al­ly as a means of siphon­ing off the races from the rest of the site:

    ...
    The polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect board wasn’t always this bad. In fact, for­mer 4chan mod­er­a­tors told Moth­er­board that /pol/ wasn’t added to the site until 2011, eight years after the site start­ed. For the first few years of its exis­tence, accord­ing to two for­mer jan­i­tors, Poole intend­ed the /pol/ board to siphon off the racism from oth­er areas of the site so that oth­er users could enjoy their own, board-spe­cif­ic pur­suits.

    “It was start­ed as a con­tain­ment board,” one for­mer mod­er­a­tor told me about /pol/. Accord­ing to chat logs and for­mer mod­er­a­tors, in its ear­ly days, mod­er­a­tors at 4chan removed racist posts and users from oth­er boards while ignor­ing them with­in one board, “ran­dom” (/b/, which was sup­posed to be a kind of “no rules, any­thing goes” space. /b/ is where many ear­ly memes were born, and is where the hack­tivist group Anony­mous came from). Such posts also some­times slipped by on the /pol/ board as well, even though they tech­ni­cal­ly vio­lat­ed the rules there. “Enforce­ment was more active in the past,” a for­mer mod­er­a­tor said. In con­trast to its cur­rent far right polit­i­cal cli­mate, “4chan skewed extreme­ly pro­gres­sive when it first start­ed,” accord­ing to the mod, although the use of big­ot­ed and misog­y­nis­tic lan­guage was wide­spread even then.
    ...

    But thanks to RapeApe’s over­site — or enforced lack of over­sight — /pol/ ulti­mate­ly won out and its pol­i­tics now define the site. And yet, if we go by the inter­nal “jan­i­tor” chat logs, RapeApe did­n’t come across as an overt neo-Nazi. He came across as a typ­i­cal right-winger with a focus on guns, gays, and the alleged cen­sor­ship of con­ser­v­a­tives:

    ...
    Accord­ing to the jan­i­tor and chat logs (as well as a delet­ed Twit­ter account two staff mem­bers con­firmed was his), RapeApe is also polit­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive and racist. One for­mer jan­i­tor described him as “a typ­i­cal right winger and /pol/ dude.” His Twit­ter account fea­tured him respond­ing approv­ing­ly to Tuck­er Carl­son clips, urg­ing anoth­er user to buy an AR-15 rifle for self-defense, won­der­ing whether the state would force peo­ple to be homo­sex­u­al and sug­gest­ing that Twit­ter was “staffed by left­ists” who were delet­ing con­ser­v­a­tive users’ accounts. In con­ver­sa­tions with oth­er jan­i­tors in the leaked chats, he found humor in hor­ri­fy­ing news about riots, shoot­ings, and the Ebo­la epidemic—especially when that news involved Black peo­ple dying.

    But RapeApe isn’t just a typ­i­cal /pol/ user who hap­pens to run the site. Accord­ing to three cur­rent and for­mer staff mem­bers, RapeApe shaped 4chan into a reflec­tion of his own polit­i­cal beliefs. “RapeApe has an agen­da: he wants /pol/ to have influ­ence on the rest of the site and [its] pol­i­tics,” a cur­rent jan­i­tor said.

    Alone, RapeApe couldn’t steer 4chan to the far right. But he super­vis­es a staff of dozens of vol­un­teers who con­trol dis­course on the boards. Accord­ing to the leaked chats and jan­i­tors who spoke with Moth­er­board, he instruct­ed jan­i­tors on how to han­dle the more big­ot­ed con­tent on 4chan—and dis­missed them if they delet­ed con­tent he likes. He took a spe­cial inter­est in the /pol/ board, telling a novice jan­i­tor in the chat logs to “treat /pol/ with kid gloves. So long as they obey the rules, they are allowed to sup­port what­ev­er abom­inable polit­i­cal posi­tions they want.”
    ...

    And RapeApe man­aged to allow this far right takeover of the site despite its rules against post­ing racist con­tent. How did he man­age this? By set­ting a cri­te­ria so absurd almost all racist con­tent could be excused: con­tent only got banned if the poster appeared to have racist intent when post­ing it. It’s the per­fect excuse in the age of ‘jokey’ far right memes. You weren’t advo­cat­ing for anoth­er Holo­caust. You were just jok­ing about it, so it’s allowed:

    ...
    4chan has an exten­sive list of rules post­ed on the site and each board has its own small­er set of edicts. A lit­tle-known and rarely enforced 4chan reg­u­la­tion, Glob­al Rule #3, pro­hibits racist con­tent on the site. But the leaked chat logs show many inci­dents of mod­er­a­tors and jan­i­tors dis­cussing when racism got severe enough that it ought to be banned. Indeed, RapeApe him­self delet­ed at least one thread for vio­lat­ing Rule #3 ear­ly on in his 4chan career, before he became a man­ag­er.

    Once he became head mod­er­a­tor, RapeApe began to post reminders that mod­er­a­tors ought to be as hands-off as pos­si­ble. In the leaked logs and accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer jan­i­tors, RapeApe pushed his staff into a posi­tion where almost no con­tent could run afoul of the rule against racism. Instruct­ing the jan­i­tors, RapeApe wrote, “And remem­ber that with racism we’re tar­get­ing the intent of the poster and not the words them­selves.” One cur­rent jan­i­tor told me that in prac­tice, with­in 4chan’s warped, irony-poi­soned cul­ture, this meant there was no way to ban a user for even the most fla­grant, big­ot­ed lan­guage or images. They could always claim that the intent wasn’t racist, even if the con­tent unques­tion­ably was.

    “The plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty excuse for racism—I was just jok­ing, I was just trolling—is bullsh it,” Whit­ney Phillips, an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Rhetor­i­cal Stud­ies at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty and author of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Map­ping the Rela­tion­ship Between Online Trolling and Main­stream Cul­ture, told Moth­er­board. “Intent can mat­ter when think­ing about the things peo­ple say, but it mat­ters very lit­tle when con­sid­er­ing con­se­quences. Whether or not some­one says a racist thing with hate in their heart, they’re still say­ing a racist thing and that still con­tributes to dehu­man­iza­tion and the nor­mal­iza­tion of harm. Any­way, the very cri­te­ri­on is absurd, as you can’t assess what’s in some­one’s heart just by look­ing at the things they post, espe­cial­ly to a place like 4chan. The only rea­son­able con­clu­sion is that, what­ev­er might have been writ­ten in the site rules, this mod­er­a­tor ensured that there was no pol­i­cy against racism. Instead it became a pro-racism pol­i­cy.”

    ...

    Over time, /pol/ has come to dom­i­nate the pub­lic per­cep­tion of 4chan, over­shad­ow­ing the qui­eter, less vile top­ic areas which make up much of the activ­i­ty on the site. /pol/ is reg­u­lar­ly the most active board on the site, but even so, it makes up a small por­tion of the total posts. Under RapeApe’s man­age­ment, how­ev­er, /pol/’s big­otry has metas­ta­sized.

    “[W]hen RapeApe took over ful­ly after [Poole] left, he put in a ‘lais­sez-faire’ pol­i­cy of mod­er­a­tion, know­ing exact­ly what would hap­pen, that right wing ideas would dom­i­nate the site thanks to /pol/ spilling over onto oth­er boards,” said a cur­rent jan­i­tor.
    ...

    As a con­se­quence of these mod­er­a­tion stan­dards, 4Chan is now arguably the biggest neo-Nazi recruit­ing ground on the inter­net:

    ...
    While oth­er web­sites also host increas­ing amounts of vio­lent and big­ot­ed lan­guage, 4chan is an out­lier even com­pared to oth­er inter­net gath­er­ing places filled with sim­i­lar ide­olo­gies. A VICE News analy­sis found that there was more hate speech on /pol/ than in the com­ments on one overt­ly Neo-Nazi site, the Dai­ly Stormer. Mass mur­der­ers have post­ed man­i­festos on 4chan. White nation­al­ists have used the site to coor­di­nate protests.

    When one Neo-Nazi group polled their sup­port­ers to dis­cov­er how they came to the move­ment, /pol/ was tied for the most com­mon gate­way. Gab, anoth­er far right hotbed, con­tains about half the rate of hate speech as /pol/, and 4chan has 20 times more users. The only pop­u­lar web­sites more tox­ic than 4chan are its much small­er off­spring sites, like 8chan, now 8kun.
    ...

    We can’t say we weren’t warned. 4Chan isn’t just an apoc­ryphal over-the-top sto­ry about the per­ils of unre­strict­ed far right pro­pa­gan­da. It’s a very real over-the-top sto­ry about the per­ils of unre­strict­ed far right pro­pa­gan­da, which is why it’s a warn­ing of what’s to come for the rest of the inter­net should the right-wing media and Repub­li­cans man­age to suc­cess­ful­ly cre­ate a stan­dard where ‘any­thing goes’ for right-wing con­tent.

    But on the plus side, at least the sit­u­a­tion can’t prob­a­bly get too much worse. After all, it’s not as if right-wing con­tent does­n’t already dom­i­nate social media. And it’s not as if social media giants haven’t already become neo-Nazi recruit­ing grounds. And it’s not as if right-wing threats of polit­i­cal vio­lence aren’t tol­er­at­ed, as Mark Zucker­berg made clear dur­ing his con­gres­sion­al hear­ing last week where he refused to ban Steve Ban­non from Face­book despite Ban­non’s seem­ing­ly sin­cere pub­lic calls for the behead­ing of Christo­pher Wray and Antho­ny Fau­ci. The cur­rent pro­pa­gan­da about right-wing cen­sor­ship isn’t real­ly about intim­i­dat­ing Big Tech into relax­ing exist­ing stan­dards so much as it’s about intim­i­dat­ing Big Tech into main­tain­ing the cur­rent­ly relaxed stan­dards while their plat­forms con­tin­ue to act as far right rad­i­cal­iza­tion plat­forms.

    Still, it’s pos­si­ble that the QAnon move­ment, for exam­ple, could be giv­en free reign to post what­ev­er it wants wher­ev­er it wants to across social media and that would be a real gain for the far right. QAnon is, after all, basi­cal­ly the reshashed Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion. Sim­i­lar­ly, Pres­i­dent Trump’s tweets filled with dis­in­for­ma­tion might no longer get those dis­in­for­ma­tion warn­ings. There real­ly are plen­ty of areas where the lim­it­ed forms of con­tent mod­er­a­tion that cur­rent­ly keep out the worst far right con­tent get pulled and a whole new flood of garbage is allowed to spew across major social media plat­forms. In oth­er words, while Face­book might be 50% 4chan at this point, that oth­er 50% that it’s hold­ing back real­ly is the most awful con­tent. And if the right-wing suc­ceeds in its intim­i­da­tion cam­paign the full 4chan-iza­tion of the inter­net will be just a mat­ter of time.

    In relat­ed news, a right-wing out­let is now so upset with Fox News host Tuck­er Carl­son over his calls for the Trump cam­paign to show actu­al evi­dence of wide­spread vot­er fraud that they’ve decid­ed to #Piz­za­Gate Carl­son. Like, lit­er­al­ly tie him to the whole #Piz­za­Gate garbage con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry from 2016. It’s actu­al­ly kind of incred­i­ble to see giv­en the cru­cial role Carl­son plays in the main­stream­ing of far right con­tent. But he clear­ly hit a nerve and now he has to pay in the form of being #Piz­za­Gat­ed by his fel­low far right media brethren. We bet­ter hope no social media out­lets do any­thing to hin­der the spread of this alle­ga­tion and show their anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 21, 2020, 5:59 pm
  18. With all of the focus on the role far right com­mu­ni­ca­tion apps like Par­ler played in plan­ning and coor­di­nat­ing the Jan­u­ary 6 insur­rec­tion, here’s an inter­est­ing piece in Buz­zFeed that looks at the role Mark Zucker­berg has been direct­ly play­ing in pro­tect­ing the pur­vey­ors of right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion from Face­book’s own inter­nal rule enforcers for years. And as we’ll see, Face­book’s own employ­ees tasked with enforc­ing those rules are now com­ing for­ward claim­ing that it was Mark Zucker­berg’s pre­vi­ous actions that effec­tive­ly facil­i­tate the uti­liza­tion of Face­book by the insur­rec­tion­ists to car­ry out the insur­rec­tion in real-time. Specif­i­cal­ly, it was the direct inter­ven­tions by Zucker­berg to pro­tect fig­ures like Alex Jones and Ben Shapiro from Face­book’s rules that inject­ed so much uncer­tain­ty into the enforce­ment process when it came to enforc­ing Face­book’s rules for con­ser­v­a­tive users — Zucker­berg was report­ed­ly ter­ri­fied of right-wing cam­paigns blam­ing Face­book with ‘shad­ow-ban­ning’ con­ser­v­a­tives — that Face­book’s employ­ees found them­selves effec­tive­ly forced to allow the insur­rec­tion­ists free reign of the plat­form.

    But it’s not just Zucker­berg in Face­book’s lead­er­ship who has been spear­head­ing the efforts to carve out a spe­cial rule exemp­tion for con­ser­v­a­tives. Joe Kaplan, the for­mer White House aide to George W. Bush who now serves as Facebook’s glob­al pol­i­cy chief, has also been act­ing as the inter­nal guardian of right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion on the plat­form. Recall how we’ve already seen how Kaplan arranged to have the far right Dai­ly Caller out­let added to Face­book’s list of ‘fact-check­ers”. Hir­ing The Onion would have been more respon­si­ble.

    We’re told that, in the weeks pri­or to the elec­tion, there was so much mis­in­for­ma­tion under­min­ing trust in the integri­ty of the vote spread­ing across Face­book that exec­u­tives decid­ed the site would empha­size the News Ecosys­tem Qual­i­ty (NEQ) inter­nal score the com­pa­ny gives pub­lish­ers based on assess­ments of their jour­nal­ism for deter­min­ing what arti­cles show up in peo­ple’s news feeds. Imple­ment­ing this NEQ fea­ture did so much to improve the qual­i­ty of the news being pushed to users’ new feeds that the vice pres­i­dent respon­si­ble for devel­op­ing the NEQ sys­tem pushed to have it con­tin­ued indef­i­nite­ly. And then Joe Kaplan inter­vened and the fea­ture was removed. It was only in the days after the insur­rec­tion that Face­book renewed the NEQ news­feed fea­ture.

    It sounds like at least six Face­book employ­ees have resigned since the Novem­ber elec­tion with farewell posts that called out Face­book’s lead­er­ship for fail­ing the heed the com­pa­ny’s own experts on mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech. And four of those depart­ing employ­ees cit­ed the fact that Joe Kaplan is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly head of the pub­lic pol­i­cy team — which over­sees lob­by­ing and gov­ern­ment rela­tions — and the con­tent pol­i­cy team that sets and enforces the platform’s rules.

    So between Zucker­berg and Kaplan, Face­book’s own employ­ees tasked with enforc­ing the plat­forms rules are find­ing them­selves unable to enforce those rules against con­ser­v­a­tives, cul­mi­nat­ing in Face­book being used as a key plat­form for the insur­rec­tion­ists. And this sit­u­a­tion has, in turn, report­ed­ly led to some severe morale issues in the rules-enforce­ment depart­ment, hence the whistle­blow­ing we’re now hear­ing:

    Buz­zFeed News

    “Mark Changed The Rules”: How Face­book Went Easy On Alex Jones And Oth­er Right-Wing Fig­ures

    Facebook’s rules to com­bat mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech are sub­ject to the whims and polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions of its CEO and his pol­i­cy team leader.

    Ryan Mac Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    Craig Sil­ver­man Buz­zFeed News Reporter

    Last updat­ed on Feb­ru­ary 22, 2021, at 1:14 p.m. ET
    Post­ed on Feb­ru­ary 21, 2021, at 9:59 a.m. ET

    In April 2019, Face­book was prepar­ing to ban one of the internet’s most noto­ri­ous spread­ers of mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate, Infowars founder Alex Jones. Then CEO Mark Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly inter­vened.

    Jones had gained infamy for claim­ing that the 2012 Sandy Hook ele­men­tary school mas­sacre was a “giant hoax,” and that the teenage sur­vivors of the 2018 Park­land shoot­ing were “cri­sis actors.” But Face­book had found that he was also relent­less­ly spread­ing hate against var­i­ous groups, includ­ing Mus­lims and trans peo­ple. That behav­ior qual­i­fied him for expul­sion from the social net­work under the com­pa­ny’s poli­cies for “dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions,” which required Face­book to also remove any con­tent that expressed “praise or sup­port” for them.

    But Zucker­berg didn’t con­sid­er the Infowars founder to be a hate fig­ure, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the deci­sion, so he over­ruled his own inter­nal experts and opened a gap­ing loop­hole: Face­book would per­ma­nent­ly ban Jones and his com­pa­ny — but would not touch posts of praise and sup­port for them from oth­er Face­book users. This meant that Jones’ legions of fol­low­ers could con­tin­ue to share his lies across the world’s largest social net­work.

    “Mark per­son­al­ly didn’t like the pun­ish­ment, so he changed the rules,” a for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ee told Buz­zFeed News, not­ing that the orig­i­nal rule had already been in use and rep­re­sent­ed the prod­uct of untold hours of work between mul­ti­ple teams and experts.

    “That was the first time I expe­ri­enced hav­ing to cre­ate a new cat­e­go­ry of pol­i­cy to fit what Zucker­berg want­ed. It’s some­what demor­al­iz­ing when we have estab­lished a pol­i­cy and it’s gone through rig­or­ous cycles. Like, what the fu ck is that for?” said a sec­ond for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ee who, like the first, asked not to be named so they could speak about inter­nal mat­ters.

    “Mark called for a more nuanced pol­i­cy and enforce­ment strat­e­gy,” Face­book spokesper­son Andy Stone said of the Alex Jones deci­sion, which also affect­ed the bans of oth­er extrem­ist fig­ures.

    Zuckerberg’s “more nuanced pol­i­cy” set off a cas­cad­ing effect, the two for­mer employ­ees said, which delayed the company’s efforts to remove right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions such as the Oath Keep­ers, which were involved the Jan. 6 insur­rec­tion at the US Capi­tol. It is also a case study in Facebook’s will­ing­ness to change its rules to pla­cate America’s right wing and avoid polit­i­cal back­lash.

    Inter­nal doc­u­ments obtained by Buz­zFeed News and inter­views with 14 cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees show how the company’s pol­i­cy team — guid­ed by Joel Kaplan, the vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pub­lic pol­i­cy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exert­ed out­size influ­ence while obstruct­ing con­tent mod­er­a­tion deci­sions, stymieing prod­uct roll­outs, and inter­ven­ing on behalf of pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive fig­ures who have vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules.

    In Decem­ber, a for­mer core data sci­en­tist wrote a memo titled, “Polit­i­cal Influ­ences on Con­tent Pol­i­cy.” Seen by Buz­zFeed News, the memo stat­ed that Kaplan’s pol­i­cy team “reg­u­lar­ly pro­tects pow­er­ful con­stituen­cies” and list­ed sev­er­al exam­ples, includ­ing: remov­ing penal­ties for mis­in­for­ma­tion from right-wing pages, blunt­ing attempts to improve con­tent qual­i­ty in News Feed, and briefly block­ing a pro­pos­al to stop rec­om­mend­ing polit­i­cal groups ahead of the US elec­tion.

    Since the Novem­ber vote, at least six Face­book employ­ees have resigned with farewell posts that have called out leadership’s fail­ures to heed its own experts on mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech. Four depart­ing employ­ees explic­it­ly cit­ed the pol­i­cy orga­ni­za­tion as an imped­i­ment to their work and called for a reor­ga­ni­za­tion so that the pub­lic pol­i­cy team, which over­sees lob­by­ing and gov­ern­ment rela­tions, and the con­tent pol­i­cy team, which sets and enforces the platform’s rules, would not both report to Kaplan.

    Face­book declined to make Kaplan or oth­er exec­u­tives avail­able for an inter­view. Stone, the com­pa­ny spokesper­son, dis­missed con­cerns about the vice president’s influ­ence.

    “Recy­cling the same warmed over con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about the influ­ence of one per­son at Face­book doesn’t make them true,” he said. “The real­i­ty is big deci­sions at Face­book are made with input from peo­ple across dif­fer­ent teams who have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and exper­tise in dif­fer­ent areas. To sug­gest oth­er­wise is absurd.”

    An integri­ty researcher who worked on Facebook’s efforts to pro­tect the demo­c­ra­t­ic process and rein in rad­i­cal­iza­tion said the com­pa­ny caused direct harm to users by reject­ing prod­uct changes due to con­cerns of polit­i­cal back­lash.

    “Out of fears over poten­tial pub­lic and pol­i­cy stake­hold­er respons­es, we are know­ing­ly expos­ing users to risks of integri­ty,” they wrote in an inter­nal note seen by Buz­zFeed News. They quit in August.

    Those most affect­ed by Jones’ rhetoric have tak­en notice, too. Lenny Pozn­er, whose 6‑year-old son Noah was the youngest vic­tim of the Sandy Hook shoot­ing, called the rev­e­la­tion that Zucker­berg weak­ened penal­ties fac­ing the Infowars founder “dis­heart­en­ing, but not sur­pris­ing.” He said the com­pa­ny had made a promise to do bet­ter in deal­ing with hate and hoax­es fol­low­ing a 2018 let­ter from HONR Net­work, his orga­ni­za­tion for sur­vivors of mass casu­al­ty events. Yet Face­book con­tin­ues to fail to remove harm­ful con­tent.

    “At some point,” Pozn­er told Buz­zFeed News, “Zucker­berg has to be held respon­si­ble for his role in allow­ing his plat­form to be weaponized and for ensur­ing that the ludi­crous and the dan­ger­ous are giv­en equal impor­tance as the fac­tu­al.”

    “Dif­fer­ent Views on Dif­fer­ent Things”

    Kaplan’s close rela­tion­ship with Zucker­berg has led the CEO to weigh pol­i­tics more heav­i­ly when mak­ing high-pro­file con­tent pol­i­cy enforce­ment deci­sions, cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees said. Kaplan’s efforts to court the Trump White House over the past four years — from his wide­ly pub­li­cized sup­port for Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh to his inter­ven­tions on behalf of right-wing influ­encers in Face­book pol­i­cy deci­sions — have also made him a tar­get for civ­il rights groups and Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers.

    In June 2020, three Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors asked in a let­ter what role Kaplan played “in Facebook’s deci­sion to shut down and de-pri­or­i­tize inter­nal efforts to con­tain extrem­ist and hyper­po­lar­iz­ing activ­i­ty.” Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren called him out for over­see­ing a lob­by­ing effort that spends mil­lions of dol­lars to influ­ence politi­cians. With a new pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion in place and a spate of ongo­ing antitrust law­suits, Zucker­berg must now grap­ple with the fact that his top polit­i­cal advis­er may no longer be a Wash­ing­ton, DC asset but a poten­tial lia­bil­i­ty.

    “I think that every­body in DC hates Face­book. They have burned every bridge,” said Sarah Miller, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Eco­nom­ic Lib­er­ties Project and a for­mer mem­ber of Joe Biden’s pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion team. Democ­rats are incensed with the platform’s tol­er­ance of hate speech and mis­in­for­ma­tion, while “pulling Trump off the plat­form” has brought new life to Repub­li­can gripes with the com­pa­ny, she said.

    “Face­book has fires to put out all across the polit­i­cal spec­trum,” Miller added.

    When Kaplan joined Face­book to lead its DC oper­a­tion in 2011, he had the con­nec­tions and pedi­gree the com­pa­ny need­ed to court the Amer­i­can right. A for­mer clerk for con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court Jus­tice Antonin Scalia, he served as a White House deputy chief of staff under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush after par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Brooks Broth­ers riot dur­ing the 2000 Flori­da pres­i­den­tial elec­tion dis­pute. Dur­ing a Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in 2003 for a post with the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, Kaplan was ques­tioned about his role in the event, which sought to stop the tal­ly­ing of votes dur­ing the Flori­da recount.

    Though he ini­tial­ly main­tained a low pub­lic pro­file at Face­book, Kaplan — COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Har­vard class­mate and for­mer boyfriend — was val­ued by Zucker­berg for his under­stand­ing of GOP pol­i­cy­mak­ers and con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­cans, who the CEO believed were under­rep­re­sent­ed by a lib­er­al-lean­ing lead­er­ship team and employ­ee base.

    By 2014, he’d been pro­mot­ed to vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pub­lic pol­i­cy. In that role, Kaplan over­saw the company’s gov­ern­ment rela­tions around the world as well as its con­tent pol­i­cy team. That arrange­ment raised eye­brows, as oth­er com­pa­nies, includ­ing Google and Twit­ter, typ­i­cal­ly keep pub­lic pol­i­cy and lob­by­ing efforts sep­a­rate from teams that cre­ate and enforce con­tent rules.

    The can­di­da­cy and elec­tion of Don­ald Trump made Kaplan even more valu­able to the com­pa­ny. He served as Zuckerberg’s pol­i­cy con­sigliere, help­ing Face­book nav­i­gate the sea of lies and hate the for­mer pres­i­dent con­jured on the plat­form as well as the out­raged pub­lic response to it. In Decem­ber 2015, fol­low­ing a Face­book post from Trump call­ing for a “total and com­plete shut­down” of Mus­lims enter­ing the US — the first of many that forced the com­pa­ny to grap­ple with the then candidate’s racist and some­times vio­lent rhetoric — Kaplan and oth­er exec­u­tives advised Facebook’s CEO to do noth­ing.

    “Don’t poke the bear,” Kaplan said, accord­ing to the New York Times, argu­ing that tak­ing action against Trump’s account would invite a right-wing back­lash and accu­sa­tions that the site was lim­it­ing free speech. It’s an argu­ment he’d repeat in var­i­ous forms over the ensu­ing five years, with Zucker­berg often in agree­ment.

    Dur­ing that time, Kaplan rarely com­mu­ni­cat­ed open­ly on Facebook’s inter­nal mes­sage boards or spoke at com­pa­ny­wide meet­ings, accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees. When he did, how­ev­er, his appear­ances were cloud­ed in con­tro­ver­sy.

    After a Face­book team led by then–chief secu­ri­ty offi­cer Alex Sta­mos found evi­dence of Russ­ian inter­fer­ence on the plat­form dur­ing and after the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Kaplan was part of a lead­er­ship group that argued against dis­clos­ing the full extent of the Kremlin’s influ­ence oper­a­tion. When the com­pa­ny did end up pub­licly releas­ing fur­ther infor­ma­tion about it in Octo­ber 2017, it was Kaplan, not Sta­mos, who answered employ­ee ques­tions dur­ing an inter­nal town hall.

    “They could have sent me,” said Sta­mos, who sub­se­quent­ly left the com­pa­ny over dis­agree­ments relat­ed to Russ­ian inter­fer­ence. “The per­son who was pre­sent­ing [evi­dence of the Russ­ian cam­paign] to VPs was me.”

    It was Kaplan’s appear­ance at Kavanaugh’s Sep­tem­ber 2018 Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, how­ev­er, that pushed him into the nation­al spot­light. Sit­ting behind the nom­i­nee, he was vis­i­ble in TV cov­er­age of the event. Employ­ees were furi­ous; they believed Kaplan’s atten­dance made it look like Face­book sup­port­ed the nom­i­nee, while dis­miss­ing the alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al assault against him.

    Kaplan sub­se­quent­ly addressed the inci­dent at a com­pa­ny­wide meet­ing via video­con­fer­ence, where angry work­ers, who felt his on-cam­era appear­ance was inten­tion­al, ham­mered him with ques­tions. The con­fir­ma­tion also caused deep wounds inside Kaplan’s own orga­ni­za­tion. Dur­ing a Face­book pub­lic pol­i­cy team meet­ing that fall to address the hear­ing and the vice pres­i­den­t’s appear­ance, one long­time man­ag­er tear­ful­ly argued to a male col­league “It doesn’t mat­ter how well you know some­one; it doesn’t mean they didn’t do what some­body said they did,” after writ­ing a blog post detail­ing her expe­ri­ence of being sex­u­al­ly assault­ed.

    None of this changed Kaplan’s stand­ing with Zucker­berg. The CEO went to DC in Sep­tem­ber 2019 and was shep­herd­ed around by Kaplan on a trip that includ­ed a meet­ing with Trump. Kaplan remained friend­ly with the Trump White House, which at one point con­sid­ered him to run the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

    In May, when Zucker­berg decid­ed to not touch Trump’s “when the loot­ing starts, the shoot­ing starts” incite­ment dur­ing the work­ers became incensed. At a sub­se­quent com­pa­ny­wide meet­ing, one of the most upvot­ed ques­tions from employ­ees direct­ly called Kaplan out. “Many peo­ple feel that Joel Kaplan has too much pow­er over our deci­sions,” the ques­tion read, ask­ing that the vice pres­i­dent explain his role and val­ues.

    Zucker­berg seemed irked by the ques­tion and dis­put­ed the notion that any one per­son could influ­ence the “rig­or­ous” process by which the com­pa­ny made deci­sions. Diver­si­ty, the CEO argued, means tak­ing into account all polit­i­cal views.

    “That basi­cal­ly asked whether Joel can be in this role, or can be doing this role, on the basis of the fact that he is a Repub­li­can … and I have to say that I find that line of ques­tion­ing to be very trou­bling,” Zucker­berg said, ignor­ing the ques­tion. “If we want to actu­al­ly do a good job of serv­ing peo­ple, [we have to take] into account that there are dif­fer­ent views on dif­fer­ent things.”

    Face­book employ­ees said Zucker­berg remains stal­wart in his sup­port for Kaplan, but inter­nal pres­sure is build­ing to reduce the pub­lic pol­i­cy team’s influ­ence. Col­leagues “feel pres­sure to ensure their rec­om­men­da­tions align with the inter­ests of pol­i­cy­mak­ers,” Samidh Chakrabar­ti, head of Facebook’s civic integri­ty team, wrote in an inter­nal note in June, bemoan­ing the dif­fi­cul­ty of bal­anc­ing such inter­ests while deliv­er­ing on the team’s man­date: stop­ping abuse and elec­tion inter­fer­ence on the plat­form. The civic integri­ty team was dis­band­ed short­ly after the elec­tion, as report­ed by the Infor­ma­tion.

    “They attribute this to the orga­ni­za­tion­al incen­tives of hav­ing the con­tent pol­i­cy and pub­lic pol­i­cy teams share a com­mon root,” Chakrabar­ti said. “As long as this is the case, we will be pre­ma­ture­ly pri­or­i­tiz­ing reg­u­la­to­ry inter­ests over com­mu­ni­ty pro­tec­tion.”

    Sta­mos, who is now head of the Stan­ford Inter­net Obser­va­to­ry, said the pol­i­cy team’s struc­ture will always present a prob­lem in its cur­rent form.

    “You don’t want plat­form pol­i­cy peo­ple report­ing to some­one who’s in charge of keep­ing peo­ple in gov­ern­ment hap­py,” he said. “Joel comes from the Bush White House, and gov­ern­ment rela­tions does not have a neu­tral posi­tion on speech requests.”

    “Fear of Antag­o­niz­ing Pow­er­ful Polit­i­cal Actors”

    In August, a Face­book prod­uct man­ag­er who over­sees the News Feed updat­ed his col­leagues on the company’s prepa­ra­tions for the 2020 US elec­tion.

    Inter­nal research had shown that peo­ple on Face­book were being polar­ized on the site in polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion groups, which were also breed­ing grounds for mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate. To com­bat this, Face­book employ­ees who were tasked with pro­tect­ing elec­tion integri­ty pro­posed the plat­form stop rec­om­mend­ing such groups in a mod­ule called “Groups You Should Join.”

    But the pub­lic pol­i­cy team was afraid of pos­si­ble polit­i­cal blow­back.

    “Although the Prod­uct rec­om­men­da­tion would have improved imple­men­ta­tion of the civic fil­ter, it would have cre­at­ed thrash in the polit­i­cal ecosys­tem dur­ing [ the 2020 US elec­tion,]” the prod­uct man­ag­er wrote on Face­book’s inter­nal mes­sage board. “We have decid­ed to not make any changes until the elec­tion is over.”

    The social net­work even­tu­al­ly paused polit­i­cal group rec­om­men­da­tions — just weeks before the Novem­ber elec­tion — and removed them per­ma­nent­ly only after the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion on Jan. 6. Cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees said Face­book’s deci­sion to ignore its integri­ty team’s guid­ance and ini­tial­ly leave group rec­om­men­da­tions untouched exem­pli­fies how polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions often quashed com­pa­ny ini­tia­tives that could have blunt­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion and rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

    In that same update about group rec­om­men­da­tions, the prod­uct man­ag­er also explained how lead­ers decid­ed against mak­ing changes to a fea­ture called In Feed Rec­om­men­da­tions (IFR) due to poten­tial polit­i­cal wor­ries. Designed to insert posts into people’s feeds from accounts they don’t fol­low, IFR was intend­ed to fos­ter new con­nec­tions or inter­ests. For exam­ple, if a per­son fol­lowed the Face­book page for a foot­ball team like the Kansas City Chiefs, IFR might add a post from the NFL to their feed, even if that per­son didn’t fol­low the NFL.

    One thing IFR was not sup­posed to do was rec­om­mend polit­i­cal con­tent. But ear­li­er that spring, Face­book users began com­plain­ing that they were see­ing posts from con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ties includ­ing Ben Shapiro in their News Feeds even though they had nev­er engaged with that type of con­tent.

    When the issue was flagged inter­nal­ly, Facebook’s con­tent pol­i­cy team warned that remov­ing such sug­ges­tions for polit­i­cal con­tent could reduce those pages’ engage­ment and traf­fic, and pos­si­bly inspire com­plaints from pub­lish­ers. A News Feed prod­uct man­ag­er and a pol­i­cy team mem­ber reit­er­at­ed this argu­ment in an August post to Facebook’s inter­nal mes­sage board.

    “A notice­able drop in dis­tri­b­u­tion for these pro­duc­ers (via traf­fic insights for rec­om­men­da­tions) is like­ly to result in high-pro­file esca­la­tions that could include accu­sa­tions of shad­ow-ban­ning and/or FB bias against cer­tain polit­i­cal enti­ties dur­ing the US 2020 elec­tion cycle,” they explained. Shad­ow-ban­ning, or the lim­it­ing of a page’s cir­cu­la­tion with­out inform­ing its own­ers, is a com­mon accu­sa­tion lev­eled by right-wing per­son­al­i­ties against social media plat­forms.

    Through­out 2020, the “fear of antag­o­niz­ing pow­er­ful polit­i­cal actors,” as the for­mer core data sci­en­tist put it in their memo, became a key pub­lic pol­i­cy team ratio­nal­iza­tion for for­go­ing action on poten­tial­ly viola­tive con­tent or rolling out prod­uct changes ahead of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. They also said they had seen “a dozen pro­pos­als to mea­sure the objec­tive qual­i­ty of con­tent on News Feed dilut­ed or killed because … they have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact across the US polit­i­cal spec­trum, typ­i­cal­ly harm­ing con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent more.”

    The data sci­en­tist, who spent more than five years at the com­pa­ny before leav­ing late last year, not­ed that while strides had been made since 2016, the state of polit­i­cal con­tent on News Feed was “still gen­er­al­ly agreed to be bad.” Accord­ing to Face­book data, they added, 1 of every 100 views on con­tent about US pol­i­tics was for some type of hoax, while the major­i­ty of views for polit­i­cal mate­ri­als were on par­ti­san posts. Yet the com­pa­ny con­tin­ued to give known spread­ers of false and mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion a pass if they were deemed “‘sen­si­tive’ or like­ly to retal­i­ate,” the data sci­en­tist said.

    “In the US it appears that inter­ven­tions have been almost exclu­sive­ly on behalf of con­ser­v­a­tive pub­lish­ers,” they wrote, attribut­ing this to polit­i­cal pres­sure or a reluc­tance to upset sen­si­tive pub­lish­ers and high-pro­file users.

    As Buz­zFeed News report­ed last sum­mer, mem­bers of Facebook’s pol­i­cy team — includ­ing Kaplan — inter­vened on behalf of right-wing fig­ures and pub­li­ca­tions such as Char­lie Kirk, Bre­it­bart, and Prager Uni­ver­si­ty, in some cas­es push­ing for the removal of mis­in­for­ma­tion strikes against their pages or accounts. Strikes, which are applied at the rec­om­men­da­tion of Facebook’s third-par­ty fact-check­ers, can result in a range of penal­ties, from a decrease in how far their posts are dis­trib­uted to the removal of the page or account.

    Kaplan’s oth­er inter­ven­tions are well doc­u­ment­ed. In 2018, the Wall Street Jour­nal revealed that he helped kill a project to con­nect Amer­i­cans who have polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences. The paper said Kaplan had object­ed “when briefed on inter­nal Face­book research that found right-lean­ing users tend­ed to be more polar­ized, or less exposed to dif­fer­ent points of view, than those on the left.” Last year, the New York Times report­ed that pol­i­cy exec­u­tives declined to expand a fea­ture called “cor­rect the record” — which noti­fied users when they inter­act­ed with con­tent that was lat­er labeled false by Facebook’s fact-check­ing part­ners — out of fear that it would “dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly show noti­fi­ca­tions to peo­ple who shared false news from right-wing web­sites.”

    Pol­i­cy exec­u­tives also report­ed­ly helped over­ride an ini­tia­tive pro­posed by the company’s now-dis­band­ed civic integri­ty unit to throt­tle the reach of mis­lead­ing polit­i­cal posts, accord­ing to the Infor­ma­tion.

    Such inter­ven­tions were hard­ly a sur­prise for those who have worked on efforts at the com­pa­ny to reduce harm and mis­in­for­ma­tion. In a Decem­ber depar­ture note pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed by Buz­zFeed News, an integri­ty researcher detailed how right-wing pages, includ­ing those for Bre­it­bart and Fox News, had become hubs of dis­cus­sion filled with death threats and hate speech — in clear vio­la­tion of Face­book pol­i­cy. They ques­tioned why the com­pa­ny con­tin­ued to work with such pub­li­ca­tions in offi­cial capac­i­ties.

    “When the com­pa­ny has a very appar­ent inter­est in prop­ping up actors who are fan­ning the flames of the very fire we are try­ing to put out, it makes it hard to be vis­i­bly proud of where I work,” the researcher wrote.

    A Line From Alex Jones to the US Capi­tol

    The strate­gic response team that had gath­ered evi­dence for the Alex Jones and Infowars ban in spring 2019 drew upon years of exam­ples of his hate speech against Mus­lims, trans­gen­der peo­ple, and oth­er groups. Under the com­pa­ny’s poli­cies for dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions, Jones and Infowars would be per­ma­nent­ly banned and Face­book would have to remove con­tent that expressed sup­port for the con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist and his site.

    In April 2019, a pro­pos­al for the rec­om­mend­ed ban — com­plete with exam­ples and com­ments from the pub­lic pol­i­cy, legal, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions teams — was sent by email to Moni­ka Bick­ert, Face­book’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, and her boss, Kaplan. The pro­pos­al was then passed on to top com­pa­ny lead­er­ship, includ­ing Zucker­berg, sources said.

    The Face­book CEO balked at remov­ing posts that praised Jones and his ideas.

    “Zucker­berg basi­cal­ly took the deci­sion that he did not want to use this pol­i­cy against Jones because he did not per­son­al­ly think he was a hate fig­ure,” said a for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ee.

    The teams were direct­ed to cre­ate an entire­ly new des­ig­na­tion for Jones to fit the CEO’s request, and when the com­pa­ny announced the ban on May 2, it did not say it had changed its rules at Zuckerberg’s behest. The deci­sions, how­ev­er, would have far-reach­ing impli­ca­tions, set­ting off a chain of events that ulti­mate­ly con­tributed to the vio­lent after­math of the 2020 elec­tion.

    Two for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ees said the process made con­tent pol­i­cy teams hes­i­tant to rec­om­mend new actions, result­ing in a “freeze” on new des­ig­na­tions for dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions for rough­ly a year. In the inter­im, many extrem­ist groups used the plat­form to orga­nize and grow their mem­ber­ship through­out 2020. The for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ees said the delay in label­ing such groups effec­tive­ly enabled them to use Face­book to recruit and orga­nize through most of 2020.

    Once the Alex Jones thing had blown over, they froze des­ig­na­tions, and that last­ed for close to a year, and they were very rarely will­ing to push through any­thing. That impact­ed the lead-up to the elec­tion last year. Teams should have been review­ing the Oath Keep­ers and Three Per­centers, and essen­tial­ly these peo­ple weren’t allowed to,” said the pol­i­cy employ­ee, refer­ring to right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions that Face­book start­ed to remove in August 2020.

    The Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed on Sat­ur­day that the Jus­tice Depart­ment and FBI are inves­ti­gat­ing links between Jones and the Capi­tol riot­ers.

    The com­pa­ny could have act­ed much ear­li­er, one Face­book researcher wrote on the inter­nal mes­sage board when they quit in August. The note came with a warn­ing: “Integri­ty teams are fac­ing increas­ing bar­ri­ers to build­ing safe­guards.” They wrote of how pro­posed plat­form improve­ments that were backed by strong research and data had been “pre­ma­ture­ly sti­fled or severe­ly con­strained … often based on fears of pub­lic and pol­i­cy stake­hold­er respons­es.”

    “We’ve known for over a year now that our rec­om­men­da­tion sys­tems can very quick­ly lead users down the path to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and groups,” they wrote, crit­i­ciz­ing the com­pa­ny for being hes­i­tant to take action against the QAnon mass delu­sion. “In the mean­time, the fringe group/set of beliefs has grown to nation­al promi­nence with QAnon con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates and QAnon hash­tags and groups trend­ing in the main­stream. We were will­ing to act only *after* things had spi­raled into a dire state.”

    Though the 2020 elec­tion is long over, cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees say pol­i­tics con­tin­ue to seep into Face­book prod­uct and fea­ture deci­sions. Four sources said they were con­cerned about Kaplan’s influ­ence over which con­tent is rec­om­mend­ed in News Feed. Giv­en his role court­ing politi­cians, they said, there is a fun­da­men­tal con­flict of inter­est in both appeas­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials or can­di­dates and decid­ing what peo­ple see on the plat­form.

    For weeks pri­or to the elec­tion, mis­in­for­ma­tion was spread­ing across Face­book, under­min­ing trust in the integri­ty of how votes would be count­ed. To improve the qual­i­ty of con­tent in the News Feed, exec­u­tives decid­ed the site would empha­size News Ecosys­tem Qual­i­ty (NEQ), an inter­nal score giv­en to pub­lish­ers based on assess­ments of their jour­nal­ism, in its rank­ing algo­rithm, accord­ing to the New York Times.

    This and oth­er “break glass” mea­sures improved the qual­i­ty of con­tent on people’s News Feeds so much that John Hege­man, the vice pres­i­dent respon­si­ble for the fea­ture, pushed to con­tin­ue them indef­i­nite­ly, accord­ing to three peo­ple famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion who spoke to Buz­zFeed News. Yet Hegeman’s sug­ges­tion was opposed by Kaplan and mem­bers of the pol­i­cy team. The tem­po­rary mea­sures even­tu­al­ly expired.

    ...

    In the days fol­low­ing the insur­rec­tion, Face­book reem­pha­sized NEQ in its News Feed rank­ing algo­rithm again. Face­book spokesper­son Andy Stone said that change was tem­po­rary and has already been “rolled back.”

    “Our Lead­er­ship Isn’t Doing Enough”

    In the after­math of the 2020 elec­tion, some depart­ing Face­book have open­ly crit­i­cized lead­er­ship as they’ve exit­ed. “I’ve grown more dis­il­lu­sioned about our com­pa­ny and the role we play in soci­ety,” a near­ly eight-year vet­er­an said, adding that they were sad­dened and infu­ri­at­ed by leadership’s fail­ure to rec­og­nize or min­i­mize the “real neg­a­tives” the com­pa­ny intro­duces to the world.

    “I think the peo­ple work­ing in these areas are work­ing as hard as they can and I com­mend them for their efforts,” they wrote. “How­ev­er, I do think our lead­er­ship isn’t doing enough.”

    Beyond a pro­found con­cern over the influ­ence of Kaplan’s pol­i­cy team, a num­ber of Face­book employ­ees attrib­uted the com­pa­ny’s con­tent pol­i­cy prob­lems to Zucker­berg and his view that the plat­form must always be a bal­ance of right and left.

    “Ide­ol­o­gy is not, and should not be, a pro­tect­ed class,” a con­tent pol­i­cy employ­ee who left weeks after the elec­tion wrote. “White suprema­cy is an ide­ol­o­gy; so is anar­chism. Nei­ther view is immutable, nor should either be beyond scruti­ny. The idea that our con­tent rank­ing deci­sions should be bal­anced on a scale from right to left is imprac­ti­ca­ble … and frankly can be dan­ger­ous, as one side of that scale active­ly chal­lenges core demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions and fails to rec­og­nize the results of a free and fair elec­tion.”

    In Octo­ber 2020, Face­book respond­ed to ongo­ing crit­i­cism of its pol­i­cy deci­sions by intro­duc­ing an Over­sight Board, an inde­pen­dent pan­el to hear appeals on con­tent take­downs. But the for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ee with insight into the Alex Jones ban said that sig­nif­i­cant changes to rules and enforce­ment will always come down to Zucker­berg.

    “Joel [Kaplan] has influ­ence for sure, but at the end of the day Mark owns this stuff,” they said. “Mark has con­sol­i­dat­ed so much of this polit­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing pow­er in him­self.”

    UPDATE
    Feb­ru­ary 22, 2021, at 12:14 p.m.

    This sto­ry has been updat­ed to clar­i­fy that an employ­ee’s call for empa­thy for vic­tims of sex­u­al assault dur­ing a Face­book pol­i­cy meet­ing in the fall of 2018 were direct­ed at a col­league not Joel Kaplan.

    ———–

    ““Mark Changed The Rules”: How Face­book Went Easy On Alex Jones And Oth­er Right-Wing Fig­ures” by Ryan Mac and Craig Sil­ver­man; Buz­zFeed; 02/21/2021

    “Zuckerberg’s “more nuanced pol­i­cy” set off a cas­cad­ing effect, the two for­mer employ­ees said, which delayed the company’s efforts to remove right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions such as the Oath Keep­ers, which were involved the Jan. 6 insur­rec­tion at the US Capi­tol. It is also a case study in Facebook’s will­ing­ness to change its rules to pla­cate America’s right wing and avoid polit­i­cal back­lash.”

    A “more nuanced pol­i­cy”. It’s a dark­ly amus­ing way of char­ac­ter­iz­ing Mark Zucker­berg’s demands that Face­book carve out spe­cial exemp­tions for fig­ures like Alex Jones. But Zucker­berg was­n’t the only high-lev­el exec­u­tive mak­ing these demands of Face­book’s employ­ees. Joe Kaplan report­ed­ly guid­ed Zucker­berg through this process of mak­ing right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion super-spread­ers a pro­tect­ed class on the plat­form:

    ...
    Inter­nal doc­u­ments obtained by Buz­zFeed News and inter­views with 14 cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees show how the company’s pol­i­cy team — guid­ed by Joel Kaplan, the vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pub­lic pol­i­cy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exert­ed out­size influ­ence while obstruct­ing con­tent mod­er­a­tion deci­sions, stymieing prod­uct roll­outs, and inter­ven­ing on behalf of pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive fig­ures who have vio­lat­ed Facebook’s rules.

    In Decem­ber, a for­mer core data sci­en­tist wrote a memo titled, “Polit­i­cal Influ­ences on Con­tent Pol­i­cy.” Seen by Buz­zFeed News, the memo stat­ed that Kaplan’s pol­i­cy team “reg­u­lar­ly pro­tects pow­er­ful con­stituen­cies” and list­ed sev­er­al exam­ples, includ­ing: remov­ing penal­ties for mis­in­for­ma­tion from right-wing pages, blunt­ing attempts to improve con­tent qual­i­ty in News Feed, and briefly block­ing a pro­pos­al to stop rec­om­mend­ing polit­i­cal groups ahead of the US elec­tion.

    Since the Novem­ber vote, at least six Face­book employ­ees have resigned with farewell posts that have called out leadership’s fail­ures to heed its own experts on mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech. Four depart­ing employ­ees explic­it­ly cit­ed the pol­i­cy orga­ni­za­tion as an imped­i­ment to their work and called for a reor­ga­ni­za­tion so that the pub­lic pol­i­cy team, which over­sees lob­by­ing and gov­ern­ment rela­tions, and the con­tent pol­i­cy team, which sets and enforces the platform’s rules, would not both report to Kaplan.

    ...

    Kaplan’s close rela­tion­ship with Zucker­berg has led the CEO to weigh pol­i­tics more heav­i­ly when mak­ing high-pro­file con­tent pol­i­cy enforce­ment deci­sions, cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees said. Kaplan’s efforts to court the Trump White House over the past four years — from his wide­ly pub­li­cized sup­port for Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh to his inter­ven­tions on behalf of right-wing influ­encers in Face­book pol­i­cy deci­sions — have also made him a tar­get for civ­il rights groups and Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers.

    ...

    When Kaplan joined Face­book to lead its DC oper­a­tion in 2011, he had the con­nec­tions and pedi­gree the com­pa­ny need­ed to court the Amer­i­can right. A for­mer clerk for con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court Jus­tice Antonin Scalia, he served as a White House deputy chief of staff under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush after par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Brooks Broth­ers riot dur­ing the 2000 Flori­da pres­i­den­tial elec­tion dis­pute. Dur­ing a Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in 2003 for a post with the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, Kaplan was ques­tioned about his role in the event, which sought to stop the tal­ly­ing of votes dur­ing the Flori­da recount.

    Though he ini­tial­ly main­tained a low pub­lic pro­file at Face­book, Kaplan — COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Har­vard class­mate and for­mer boyfriend — was val­ued by Zucker­berg for his under­stand­ing of GOP pol­i­cy­mak­ers and con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­cans, who the CEO believed were under­rep­re­sent­ed by a lib­er­al-lean­ing lead­er­ship team and employ­ee base.

    By 2014, he’d been pro­mot­ed to vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pub­lic pol­i­cy. In that role, Kaplan over­saw the company’s gov­ern­ment rela­tions around the world as well as its con­tent pol­i­cy team. That arrange­ment raised eye­brows, as oth­er com­pa­nies, includ­ing Google and Twit­ter, typ­i­cal­ly keep pub­lic pol­i­cy and lob­by­ing efforts sep­a­rate from teams that cre­ate and enforce con­tent rules.
    ...

    And despite all of the pub­lic and inter­nal blow­back Face­book is expe­ri­enc­ing as a result of the role it con­tin­ues to play in spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion, Zucker­berg report­ed­ly remains stal­wart in his sup­port for Kaplan. But Kaplan influ­ence over how Face­book imple­ments its inter­nal rules isn’t lim­it­ed to his rela­tion­ship with Zucker­berg. Kaplan is lit­er­al­ly in charge of lob­by­ing gov­ern­ments and enforc­ing rules. So Face­book basi­cal­ly designed a cor­po­rate struc­ture that ensures Face­book’s rules will be imple­ment­ed in a man­ner the most polit­i­cal­ly palat­able to key gov­ern­ments:

    ...
    Face­book employ­ees said Zucker­berg remains stal­wart in his sup­port for Kaplan, but inter­nal pres­sure is build­ing to reduce the pub­lic pol­i­cy team’s influ­ence. Col­leagues “feel pres­sure to ensure their rec­om­men­da­tions align with the inter­ests of pol­i­cy­mak­ers,” Samidh Chakrabar­ti, head of Facebook’s civic integri­ty team, wrote in an inter­nal note in June, bemoan­ing the dif­fi­cul­ty of bal­anc­ing such inter­ests while deliv­er­ing on the team’s man­date: stop­ping abuse and elec­tion inter­fer­ence on the plat­form. The civic integri­ty team was dis­band­ed short­ly after the elec­tion, as report­ed by the Infor­ma­tion.

    “They attribute this to the orga­ni­za­tion­al incen­tives of hav­ing the con­tent pol­i­cy and pub­lic pol­i­cy teams share a com­mon root,” Chakrabar­ti said. “As long as this is the case, we will be pre­ma­ture­ly pri­or­i­tiz­ing reg­u­la­to­ry inter­ests over com­mu­ni­ty pro­tec­tion.”
    ...

    But we don’t have to mere­ly look at warped cor­po­rate struc­ture to real­ize there’s a major prob­lem with how Face­book enforces the rules against right-wing fig­ures. We just have to look at the end­less­ly grow­ing list of exam­ples of Face­book bend­ing over back­wards to appease far right dis­in­for­ma­tion out­lets. An end­less that keeps grow­ing in large part due to the steady stream of demor­al­ized Face­boook employ­ees and ex-Face­book employ­ees blow­ing the whis­tle. For exam­ple, there was the deci­sion to con­tin­ue with the “Groups You Should Join” fea­ture in August of 2020 after it was deter­mined by that the fea­ture was lead­ing to grow­ing polit­i­cal polar­iza­tion. It was Kaplan’s pub­lic pol­i­cy team that pre­vent­ed the end­ing of the fea­ture until after the elec­tion over con­cerns that doing so before­hand “would have cre­at­ed thrash in the polit­i­cal ecosys­tem” dur­ing the elec­tion. Yes, Face­book deferred imple­ment­ing a pol­i­cy change until after the elec­tion that would have reduced polit­i­cal polar­iza­tion over fears of a polit­i­cal back­lash:

    ...
    In August, a Face­book prod­uct man­ag­er who over­sees the News Feed updat­ed his col­leagues on the company’s prepa­ra­tions for the 2020 US elec­tion.

    Inter­nal research had shown that peo­ple on Face­book were being polar­ized on the site in polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion groups, which were also breed­ing grounds for mis­in­for­ma­tion and hate. To com­bat this, Face­book employ­ees who were tasked with pro­tect­ing elec­tion integri­ty pro­posed the plat­form stop rec­om­mend­ing such groups in a mod­ule called “Groups You Should Join.”

    But the pub­lic pol­i­cy team was afraid of pos­si­ble polit­i­cal blow­back.

    “Although the Prod­uct rec­om­men­da­tion would have improved imple­men­ta­tion of the civic fil­ter, it would have cre­at­ed thrash in the polit­i­cal ecosys­tem dur­ing [ the 2020 US elec­tion,]” the prod­uct man­ag­er wrote on Face­book’s inter­nal mes­sage board. “We have decid­ed to not make any changes until the elec­tion is over.”

    The social net­work even­tu­al­ly paused polit­i­cal group rec­om­men­da­tions — just weeks before the Novem­ber elec­tion — and removed them per­ma­nent­ly only after the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion on Jan. 6. Cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees said Face­book’s deci­sion to ignore its integri­ty team’s guid­ance and ini­tial­ly leave group rec­om­men­da­tions untouched exem­pli­fies how polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions often quashed com­pa­ny ini­tia­tives that could have blunt­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion and rad­i­cal­iza­tion.
    ...

    But the “Groups You Should Join” fea­ture was­n’t the only fea­ture Kaplan’s group decid­ed to keep dur­ing this time. The “In Feed Rec­om­men­da­tions” fea­ture was also kept, despite the fact that the prod­uct was push­ing right-wing out­lets even though the fea­ture was­n’t sup­posed to be push­ing polit­i­cal con­tent. Once again, it was fears of con­ser­v­a­tive accu­sa­tions of ‘shad­ow-ban­ning’ that appar­ent­ly drove these deci­sions. And what’s more remark­able is that we are hear­ing that Face­book’s employ­ees explic­it­ly stat­ed these fears as the rea­sons for not imple­ment­ing these changes. It’s one thing to infor­mal­ly make these deci­sion based on fears of ‘shad­ow-ban­ning’ and come up with a dif­fer­ent for­mal excuse. But it’s anoth­er lev­el of capit­u­la­tion if Face­book’s own inter­nal mem­os cit­ed these fears of ‘shad­ow-ban­ning’ charges as the explic­it rea­son to keep these poli­cies in place. Face­book effec­tive­ly ‘shad­ow-unbanned’ the far right:

    ...
    In that same update about group rec­om­men­da­tions, the prod­uct man­ag­er also explained how lead­ers decid­ed against mak­ing changes to a fea­ture called In Feed Rec­om­men­da­tions (IFR) due to poten­tial polit­i­cal wor­ries. Designed to insert posts into people’s feeds from accounts they don’t fol­low, IFR was intend­ed to fos­ter new con­nec­tions or inter­ests. For exam­ple, if a per­son fol­lowed the Face­book page for a foot­ball team like the Kansas City Chiefs, IFR might add a post from the NFL to their feed, even if that per­son didn’t fol­low the NFL.

    One thing IFR was not sup­posed to do was rec­om­mend polit­i­cal con­tent. But ear­li­er that spring, Face­book users began com­plain­ing that they were see­ing posts from con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ties includ­ing Ben Shapiro in their News Feeds even though they had nev­er engaged with that type of con­tent.

    When the issue was flagged inter­nal­ly, Facebook’s con­tent pol­i­cy team warned that remov­ing such sug­ges­tions for polit­i­cal con­tent could reduce those pages’ engage­ment and traf­fic, and pos­si­bly inspire com­plaints from pub­lish­ers. A News Feed prod­uct man­ag­er and a pol­i­cy team mem­ber reit­er­at­ed this argu­ment in an August post to Facebook’s inter­nal mes­sage board.

    “A notice­able drop in dis­tri­b­u­tion for these pro­duc­ers (via traf­fic insights for rec­om­men­da­tions) is like­ly to result in high-pro­file esca­la­tions that could include accu­sa­tions of shad­ow-ban­ning and/or FB bias against cer­tain polit­i­cal enti­ties dur­ing the US 2020 elec­tion cycle,” they explained. Shad­ow-ban­ning, or the lim­it­ing of a page’s cir­cu­la­tion with­out inform­ing its own­ers, is a com­mon accu­sa­tion lev­eled by right-wing per­son­al­i­ties against social media plat­forms.

    Through­out 2020, the “fear of antag­o­niz­ing pow­er­ful polit­i­cal actors,” as the for­mer core data sci­en­tist put it in their memo, became a key pub­lic pol­i­cy team ratio­nal­iza­tion for for­go­ing action on poten­tial­ly viola­tive con­tent or rolling out prod­uct changes ahead of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. They also said they had seen “a dozen pro­pos­als to mea­sure the objec­tive qual­i­ty of con­tent on News Feed dilut­ed or killed because … they have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact across the US polit­i­cal spec­trum, typ­i­cal­ly harm­ing con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent more.”

    The data sci­en­tist, who spent more than five years at the com­pa­ny before leav­ing late last year, not­ed that while strides had been made since 2016, the state of polit­i­cal con­tent on News Feed was “still gen­er­al­ly agreed to be bad.” Accord­ing to Face­book data, they added, 1 of every 100 views on con­tent about US pol­i­tics was for some type of hoax, while the major­i­ty of views for polit­i­cal mate­ri­als were on par­ti­san posts. Yet the com­pa­ny con­tin­ued to give known spread­ers of false and mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion a pass if they were deemed “‘sen­si­tive’ or like­ly to retal­i­ate,” the data sci­en­tist said.

    “In the US it appears that inter­ven­tions have been almost exclu­sive­ly on behalf of con­ser­v­a­tive pub­lish­ers,” they wrote, attribut­ing this to polit­i­cal pres­sure or a reluc­tance to upset sen­si­tive pub­lish­ers and high-pro­file users.
    ...

    Final­ly, we have the exam­ple of Kaplan’s team­ing active­ly thwart­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of the News Ecosys­tem Qual­i­ty (NEQ) met­ric that could have kept the worst dis­in­for­ma­tion sources out of peo­ple’s news feeds. It was only after the insur­rec­tion that Face­book allowed the changes to take place:

    ...
    For weeks pri­or to the elec­tion, mis­in­for­ma­tion was spread­ing across Face­book, under­min­ing trust in the integri­ty of how votes would be count­ed. To improve the qual­i­ty of con­tent in the News Feed, exec­u­tives decid­ed the site would empha­size News Ecosys­tem Qual­i­ty (NEQ), an inter­nal score giv­en to pub­lish­ers based on assess­ments of their jour­nal­ism, in its rank­ing algo­rithm, accord­ing to the New York Times.

    This and oth­er “break glass” mea­sures improved the qual­i­ty of con­tent on people’s News Feeds so much that John Hege­man, the vice pres­i­dent respon­si­ble for the fea­ture, pushed to con­tin­ue them indef­i­nite­ly, accord­ing to three peo­ple famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion who spoke to Buz­zFeed News. Yet Hegeman’s sug­ges­tion was opposed by Kaplan and mem­bers of the pol­i­cy team. The tem­po­rary mea­sures even­tu­al­ly expired.

    ...

    In the days fol­low­ing the insur­rec­tion, Face­book reem­pha­sized NEQ in its News Feed rank­ing algo­rithm again. Face­book spokesper­son Andy Stone said that change was tem­po­rary and has already been “rolled back.”
    ...

    But it was­n’t always Kaplan enforc­ing this pro­tec­tion rack­et. When it came to Alex Jones, it was Zucker­berg him­self who stepped in to pre­vent Jones’s deplat­form­ing. Why? Because Zucker­berg did­n’t seem to actu­al­ly see Jones as a hate fig­ure. So they had to carve out an entire new rule sys­tem to allow Jones to stay on the plat­form, an action that employ­ees are direct­ly attribut­ing to the extreme hes­i­tan­cy to enforce the rules in 2020:

    ...
    The strate­gic response team that had gath­ered evi­dence for the Alex Jones and Infowars ban in spring 2019 drew upon years of exam­ples of his hate speech against Mus­lims, trans­gen­der peo­ple, and oth­er groups. Under the com­pa­ny’s poli­cies for dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions, Jones and Infowars would be per­ma­nent­ly banned and Face­book would have to remove con­tent that expressed sup­port for the con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist and his site.

    In April 2019, a pro­pos­al for the rec­om­mend­ed ban — com­plete with exam­ples and com­ments from the pub­lic pol­i­cy, legal, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions teams — was sent by email to Moni­ka Bick­ert, Face­book’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, and her boss, Kaplan. The pro­pos­al was then passed on to top com­pa­ny lead­er­ship, includ­ing Zucker­berg, sources said.

    The Face­book CEO balked at remov­ing posts that praised Jones and his ideas.

    “Zucker­berg basi­cal­ly took the deci­sion that he did not want to use this pol­i­cy against Jones because he did not per­son­al­ly think he was a hate fig­ure,” said a for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ee.

    The teams were direct­ed to cre­ate an entire­ly new des­ig­na­tion for Jones to fit the CEO’s request, and when the com­pa­ny announced the ban on May 2, it did not say it had changed its rules at Zuckerberg’s behest. The deci­sions, how­ev­er, would have far-reach­ing impli­ca­tions, set­ting off a chain of events that ulti­mate­ly con­tributed to the vio­lent after­math of the 2020 elec­tion.

    Two for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ees said the process made con­tent pol­i­cy teams hes­i­tant to rec­om­mend new actions, result­ing in a “freeze” on new des­ig­na­tions for dan­ger­ous indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions for rough­ly a year. In the inter­im, many extrem­ist groups used the plat­form to orga­nize and grow their mem­ber­ship through­out 2020. The for­mer pol­i­cy employ­ees said the delay in label­ing such groups effec­tive­ly enabled them to use Face­book to recruit and orga­nize through most of 2020.

    Once the Alex Jones thing had blown over, they froze des­ig­na­tions, and that last­ed for close to a year, and they were very rarely will­ing to push through any­thing. That impact­ed the lead-up to the elec­tion last year. Teams should have been review­ing the Oath Keep­ers and Three Per­centers, and essen­tial­ly these peo­ple weren’t allowed to,” said the pol­i­cy employ­ee, refer­ring to right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions that Face­book start­ed to remove in August 2020.
    ...

    It’s the kind of anec­dote about Zucker­berg that rais­es a ques­tion rarely asked about the guy: so what does he actu­al­ly believe? Like, does he have some sort of polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion? If so, what is it? Because it’s long seemed like Zucker­berg sim­ply had no dis­cernible moral core beyond car­ing about mak­ing mon­ey and amass­ing pow­er. And pro­tect­ing Alex Jones has a clear com­mer­cial motive for Face­book. But when we learn about his seem­ing­ly warm feel­ings towards Alex Jones, we have to ask: is Zucker­berg straight up red-pilled? Because it’s not exact­ly a huge leap to go from ‘assh*le who only cares about mon­ey and pow­er’ to ‘far right ide­o­logue aligned with Alex Jones’. It’s arguably not a leap at all.

    So is the own­er of the great­est dis­sem­i­na­tor of far right pro­pa­gan­da in his­to­ry also a con­sumer of that pro­pa­gan­da? It would explain a lot. Not that being an assh*le who only cares about mon­ey and pow­er would­n’t also explain a lot. Still, giv­en that Face­book has made itself into the pre­mier glob­al pur­vey­or of right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion under Zucker­berg’s rules, the ques­tion of whether or not Zucker­berg him­self is actu­al­ly a far right nut job is a pret­ty impor­tant ques­tion. Espe­cial­ly now that Face­book has tran­si­tion from being the dis­in­for­ma­tion pur­vey­or’s plat­form-of-choice to the insur­rec­tion­ist’s plat­form of choice:

    Forbes

    Sheryl Sand­berg Down­played Facebook’s Role In The Capi­tol Hill Siege—Justice Depart­ment Files Tell A Very Dif­fer­ent Sto­ry

    Thomas Brew­ster
    Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty
    Asso­ciate edi­tor at Forbes, cov­er­ing cyber­crime, pri­va­cy, secu­ri­ty and sur­veil­lance.

    Feb 7, 2021,10:54am EST

    Just after the Capi­tol Hill riots on Jan­u­ary 6, Sheryl Sand­berg, Face­book chief oper­at­ing offi­cer admit­ted the company’s abil­i­ty to enforce its own rules was “nev­er per­fect.” About the shock­ing events of the day, she added: “I think these events were large­ly orga­nized on plat­forms that don’t have our abil­i­ties to stop hate and don’t have our stan­dards and don’t have our trans­paren­cy,” said Sheryl Sand­berg, Face­book chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, short­ly after the Capi­tol Hill riots on Jan­u­ary 6.

    Sand­berg was lat­er crit­i­cized for down­play­ing her employer’s role as a plat­form for the orga­niz­ers of the siege. But Face­book was far and away the most cit­ed social media site in charg­ing doc­u­ments the Jus­tice Depart­ment filed against mem­bers of the Capi­tol Hill mob, pro­vid­ing fur­ther evi­dence that Sand­berg was, per­haps, mis­tak­en in her claim. Face­book, how­ev­er, claims that the doc­u­ments show the social media com­pa­ny has been espe­cial­ly forth­com­ing in assist­ing law enforce­ment in inves­ti­gat­ing users who breached the Capi­tol.

    Forbes reviewed data from the Pro­gram on Extrem­ism at the George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, which has col­lat­ed a list of more than 200 charg­ing doc­u­ments filed in rela­tion to the siege. In total, the charg­ing doc­u­ments refer to 223 indi­vid­u­als in the Capi­tol Hill riot inves­ti­ga­tion. Of those doc­u­ments, 73 ref­er­ence Face­book. That’s far more ref­er­ences than oth­er social net­works. YouTube was the sec­ond most-ref­er­enced on 24. Insta­gram, a Face­book-owned com­pa­ny, was next on 20. Par­ler, the app that pledged pro­tec­tion for free speech rights and gar­nered a large far-right user­base, was men­tioned in just eight.

    The ref­er­ences are a mix of pub­lic posts and pri­vate mes­sages sent on each plat­form, dis­cussing plans to go to the Stop the Steal march, some con­tain­ing threats of vio­lence, as well as images, videos and livestreams from the breach of the Capi­tol build­ing.

    Livestream­ing crime on Face­book

    Whilst the data doesn’t show defin­i­tive­ly what app was the most pop­u­lar amongst riot­ers, it does strong­ly indi­cate Face­book was riot­ers’ the pre­ferred plat­form. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Forbes had report­ed on cas­es where Face­book users had pub­licly post­ed their inten­tion to attend the riots. One includ­ed the image of a bul­let with the cap­tion, “By Bul­let or Bal­lot, Restora­tion of the Repub­lic is Com­ing.” The man who post­ed the image was lat­er arrest­ed after post­ing images of him­self at the Capi­tol on Jan­u­ary 6, accord­ing to inves­ti­ga­tors. In oth­er cas­es, the FBI found Face­book users had livestreamed their attack on the build­ing. As the Wash­ing­ton Post pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, the #StopTheSteal hash­tag was seen across Face­book in the days around Jan­u­ary 6, with 128,000 users talk­ing about it, accord­ing to data pro­vid­ed by Eric Fein­berg, a vice pres­i­dent with the Coali­tion for a Safer Web.

    In var­i­ous cas­es, the accused used a mix of social media sites to pro­mote their involve­ment in the riot. For instance, in charges filed on Jan­u­ary 27, an alleged mem­ber of the Oath Keep­ers mili­tia, Thomas Cald­well, was found to have post­ed on Face­book from the riot, not­ing in one post: “We are surg­ing for­ward. Doors breached.” Mean­while, a fel­low Oath Keep­er, Jes­si­ca Watkins, wrote on Par­ler: “Me before forc­ing entry into the Capi­tol Build­ing. #stopthesteal2 #stormthe­capi­tol #oath­keep­ers #ohiomili­tia.” (Cald­well, a Navy vet­er­an, told a court in Jan­u­ary that “every sin­gle charge is false,” accord­ing to Reuters. Watkins told a judge she under­stood the charges against her, but “I don’t under­stand how I got them”.)

    A Face­book spokesper­son told Forbes the com­pa­ny was pro­vid­ing data to law enforce­ment on those present at the riot and was remov­ing accounts of those who were involved in the storm­ing of the Capi­tol. The spokesper­son also not­ed that pri­or to the mob attack, as of Novem­ber 30, Face­book had removed about 3,200 Pages, 18,800 groups, 100 events, 23,300 Face­book pro­files and 7,400 Insta­gram accounts for vio­lat­ing its pol­i­cy against mil­i­ta­rized social move­ments. The pol­i­cy was launched in August.

    ...

    As Forbes report­ed in Jan­u­ary, Face­book has been pre­serv­ing riot­ers’ data, includ­ing their pri­vate mes­sages, so that it can be hand­ed to law enforce­ment when they make a legal request. Face­book isn’t alone in help­ing law enforce­ment in gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion on sus­pects. Oth­er plat­forms and tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies, from Apple and Google to Par­ler, have been fur­nish­ing the feds with data on users who were at the riots.

    ————–

    “Sheryl Sand­berg Down­played Facebook’s Role In The Capi­tol Hill Siege—Justice Depart­ment Files Tell A Very Dif­fer­ent Sto­ry” by Thomas Brew­ster; Forbes; 02/07/2021

    Whilst the data doesn’t show defin­i­tive­ly what app was the most pop­u­lar amongst riot­ers, it does strong­ly indi­cate Face­book was riot­ers’ the pre­ferred plat­form. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Forbes had report­ed on cas­es where Face­book users had pub­licly post­ed their inten­tion to attend the riots. One includ­ed the image of a bul­let with the cap­tion, “By Bul­let or Bal­lot, Restora­tion of the Repub­lic is Com­ing.” The man who post­ed the image was lat­er arrest­ed after post­ing images of him­self at the Capi­tol on Jan­u­ary 6, accord­ing to inves­ti­ga­tors. In oth­er cas­es, the FBI found Face­book users had livestreamed their attack on the build­ing. As the Wash­ing­ton Post pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, the #StopTheSteal hash­tag was seen across Face­book in the days around Jan­u­ary 6, with 128,000 users talk­ing about it, accord­ing to data pro­vid­ed by Eric Fein­berg, a vice pres­i­dent with the Coali­tion for a Safer Web.”

    Face­book: the insur­rec­tion­ist’s pre­fer plat­form. The num­bers don’t lie.

    Now, on the one hand, it is true that Face­book prob­a­bly has the largest foot­print in the DOJ fil­ings because it’s the biggest social media plat­form that’s most wide­ly used. But on the oth­er hand, it’s also the case that Face­book has remained the most wide­ly used social media plat­form for the right-wing pre­cise­ly because of the steps tak­en by Face­book exec­u­tives like Zucker­berg and Kaplan to ensure the plat­form does­n’t crack down too hard on the Nazis, fas­cists, and any­one else with an inter­net con­nec­tion. Or at least any­one else with an inter­net con­nec­tion espous­ing right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 5, 2021, 3:39 pm
  19. Fol­low­ing up on recent reports about Mark Zucker­berg’s and Joel Kaplan’s inter­fer­ence with the enforce­ment of Face­book’s rules in order to allow right-wing fig­ures like Ben Shapiro to con­tin­ue to get pushed on unsus­pect­ing users by Face­book’s algo­rithm using the In Feed Rec­om­men­da­tions (IFR) despite a ban on IFR polit­i­cal con­tent, here’s a report about a far more alarm­ing exam­ple of Face­book’s ‘rec­om­mend­ed’ con­tent push­ing users towards rad­i­cal­ism:

    The final wit­ness in the pros­e­cu­tion of the Michi­gan COVID kid­nap­ping plot­ters — the inter­state mili­tia plot to kid­nap Michi­gan’s Gov­er­nor Whit­mer, hold her on tri­al, and exe­cute her — tes­ti­fied on Fri­day dur­ing the case’s pre­lim­i­nary exam. The con­fi­den­tial FBI infor­mant went only by “Dan” dur­ing the tes­ti­mo­ny. “Dan” became an FBI infor­mant after he became aware of the plot and agreed to coop­er­ate with law enforce­ment.

    So how did “Dan”, a self-describe lib­er­tar­i­an, become part of this plot? That’s where it gets scan­dalous for Face­book, in a scan­dalous­ly typ­i­cal man­ner: Face­book’s algo­rithm appears to have served up a sug­ges­tion to Dan that he join a Face­book group called the “Wolver­ine Watch­men”. When Dan click on the sug­gest­ed page, a few ques­tions popped up for him to answer. After answer­ing the ques­tions in a pre­sum­ably sat­is­fac­to­ry man­ner, Dan was admit­ted into the group and told to down­load an encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app called Wire. The app pro­hibits screen­shots and peri­od­i­cal­ly deletes all mes­sages so it’s basi­cal­ly designed for sen­si­tive group com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

    After join­ing the group, Dan began what is described as a jour­ney from lock­down protests at the Michi­gan state Capi­tol to rur­al train­ing exer­cis­es with mem­bers of the group who expressed a desire to hurt and kill law enforce­ment and politi­cians. In an echo of the numer­ous reports of far right ‘Booga­loo’ mem­bers join­ing the anti-police-bru­tal­i­ty protests over the sum­mer in the hopes of insti­gat­ing more may­hem and vio­lence, Dan reports attend­ing a Black Lives Mat­ter protest in Detroit, with the group going there envi­sion a pos­si­ble gun­fight with police if pep­per spray was used on pro­test­ers.

    So all it required for Dan to go from ran­dom lib­er­tar­i­an to domes­tic-ter­ror­ist plot­ter was a Face­book group sug­ges­tion. That was it. Face­book’s basi­cal­ly recruit­ed ‘Dan’ into this ter­ror­ist group. It rais­es the obvi­ous and alarm­ing ques­tion of how many oth­er ‘Dans’ are out there? Espe­cial­ly ‘Dans’ who don’t decide to go to the FBI and just remain part of the plot. How many oth­ers ‘Dans’ did Face­book’s algo­rithms attempt to recruit into a far right domes­tic ter­ror group last year? 10? 1,000? 10,000? We have no idea. We just know that at least one per­son, ‘Dan’, was recruit­ed into a domes­tic ter­ror plot by Face­book’s ‘sug­gest­ed groups’ algo­rithm and ‘Dan’ prob­a­bly was­n’t the only one:

    Detroit Free Press

    Whit­mer kid­nap­ping plot hear­ing live feed: Con­fi­den­tial FBI infor­mant tes­ti­fies

    Joe Guillen
    Omar Abdel-Baqui
    Pub­lished 8:50 a.m. ET Mar. 5, 2021 | Updat­ed 9:59 a.m. ET Mar. 6, 2021

    A con­fi­den­tial FBI infor­mant tes­ti­fied Fri­day in a Jack­son court about being embed­ded for months along­side lead­ers of a group accused of plot­ting to kid­nap Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer.

    The informant’s iden­ti­ty was con­cealed for his safe­ty. Intro­duced only as “Dan,” an online video feed of Friday’s hear­ing was cut off dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny so court observers only could hear him.

    Dan described learn­ing of the group — known as the Wolver­ine Watch­men — through a Face­book algo­rithm that he believed made the sug­ges­tion based on his inter­ac­tions with oth­er Face­book pages that sup­port the Sec­ond Amend­ment and firearms train­ing.

    “I was scrolling through Face­book one day and they popped up as a sug­ges­tion post,” Dan said. “I clicked on the page and it had a few ques­tions to answer.”

    After answer­ing the ques­tions sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly, Dan, an Army vet­er­an who described him­self as a Lib­er­tar­i­an, was admit­ted into the group and told to down­load an encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app called Wire so he could com­mu­ni­cate in secret with oth­er mem­bers. The app pro­hib­it­ed screen­shots and would peri­od­i­cal­ly delete all mes­sages.

    Dan’s accep­tance into the Face­book group was the begin­ning of his jour­ney as a con­fi­den­tial FBI “human source” that took him to protests at the state Capi­tol and to rur­al train­ing exer­cis­es with mem­bers of the group who expressed a desire to hurt and kill law enforce­ment offi­cers and politi­cians. Dan tes­ti­fied he some­times wore a wire and feared for his safe­ty, even­tu­al­ly decid­ing to sell his house when his address became known.

    Dan and the group’s mem­bers also attend­ed what he described as a Black Lives Mat­ter protest in Detroit. The group went to the protest envi­sion­ing a pos­si­ble gun­fight with police if pep­per spray was used on pro­test­ers, he tes­ti­fied. The group wait­ed in a park­ing lot but even­tu­al­ly left the protest with­out inci­dent.

    Dan told a friend in law enforce­ment about the group short­ly after learn­ing of its desires to harm police offi­cers. The FBI then approached him and he agreed to coop­er­ate, he tes­ti­fied, adding that he did not ask for mon­ey.

    As an FBI source, Dan became famil­iar with the three defen­dants in court today on charges they sup­port­ed a plot to kid­nap Whit­mer.

    Dan tes­ti­fied at the pre­lim­i­nary exam­i­na­tion for Pete Musi­co, 43; his son-in-law, Joseph Mor­ri­son, 26; and Paul Bel­lar, 22.

    The men are just three of the 14 men said to have plot­ted to tar­get Whit­mer over her restric­tions to stop the spread of the nov­el coro­n­avirus. Six of the 14 men were charged fed­er­al­ly, and eight were charged at the state lev­el over two coun­ties.

    Defense attor­neys attempt­ed to dis­tance the accused from the sur­veil­lance activ­i­ties to fur­ther the plot to kid­nap Whit­mer.

    Bel­lar had left the Wolver­ine Watch­men to live with his father in South Car­oli­na last sum­mer, well before the plans advanced in the ensu­ing months, his attor­ney, Andrew Kirk­patrick, said dur­ing cross-exam­i­na­tion of the infor­mant.

    Dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny, Dan con­firmed that oth­er mem­bers in the group sus­pect­ed Bel­lar of coop­er­at­ing with law enforce­ment after his depar­ture from Michi­gan.

    Dan tes­ti­fied for about six hours on Fri­day, and he was the final wit­ness to be called in the pre­lim­i­nary exam.

    ...

    ———–


    Whit­mer kid­nap­ping plot hear­ing live feed: Con­fi­den­tial FBI infor­mant tes­ti­fies” by Joe Guillen and Omar Abdel-Baqui; Detroit Free Press; 03/05/2021

    “Dan described learn­ing of the group — known as the Wolver­ine Watch­men — through a Face­book algo­rithm that he believed made the sug­ges­tion based on his inter­ac­tions with oth­er Face­book pages that sup­port the Sec­ond Amend­ment and firearms train­ing.”

    Face­book just can’t help itself. It sim­ply must con­nect world, includ­ing the world of ter­ror­ists. How many oth­er peo­ple liv­ing in Michi­gan who inter­act­ed with Sec­ond Amend­ment and firearms train­ing pages got the same sug­ges­tion? It’s almost sur­pris­ing the Michi­gan coup plot was­n’t big­ger in light of this rev­e­la­tion.

    Then there’s the ques­tion of just how preva­lent were these kinds of mili­tia groups at the var­i­ous police bru­tal­i­ty protests across the sum­mer of 2020. We just keep learn­ing about these far right infil­tra­tors:

    ...
    Dan’s accep­tance into the Face­book group was the begin­ning of his jour­ney as a con­fi­den­tial FBI “human source” that took him to protests at the state Capi­tol and to rur­al train­ing exer­cis­es with mem­bers of the group who expressed a desire to hurt and kill law enforce­ment offi­cers and politi­cians. Dan tes­ti­fied he some­times wore a wire and feared for his safe­ty, even­tu­al­ly decid­ing to sell his house when his address became known.

    Dan and the group’s mem­bers also attend­ed what he described as a Black Lives Mat­ter protest in Detroit. The group went to the protest envi­sion­ing a pos­si­ble gun­fight with police if pep­per spray was used on pro­test­ers, he tes­ti­fied. The group wait­ed in a park­ing lot but even­tu­al­ly left the protest with­out inci­dent.
    ...

    But per­haps the biggest ques­tion raised by this dis­turb­ing sto­ry is the ques­tion of just how often oth­er ter­ror plots have been orches­trat­ed in this man­ner over Face­book over the past year or so as the ‘Booga­loo’ move­ment tran­si­tioned into the Trumpian ‘Stop the Steal’ post-elec­tion insur­rec­tion? Was the “Wolver­ine Watch­men” group the only Face­book domes­tic ter­ror group that was casu­al­ly using a sim­ple ques­tion­naire to fil­ter recruits? Because it real­ly is quite remark­able how easy it was for ‘Dan’ to join this group. Face­book served up the sug­ges­tion for join the group and upon click­ing the sug­gest­ed link you get a few ques­tions. Answer the ques­tions in a pre­dictably ‘cor­rect’ man­ner and you’re in? That’s it? Is this typ­i­cal for far right mili­tia groups? Because if it is typ­i­cal­ly, there’s prob­a­bly A LOT more groups like this out there. One of the nat­ur­al bar­ri­ers to domes­tic ter­ror plots is the fact that you have to get two or more peo­ple who are crazy enough to attempt such a plot to already know each oth­er before the plot­ting starts and this mod­el of casu­al inter­net recruit­ment breaks that bar­ri­er. You know, kind of like the ISIS recruit­ment mod­el. Except in this case, the plot­ters got togeth­er to meet in per­son. ISIS typ­i­cal­ly recruits, rad­i­cal­izes, and gives orders from afar. So what took place with this Michi­gan sto­ry is like a wild­ly more suc­cess­ful ver­sion of the ISIS recruit­ment mod­el. A wild­ly more suc­cess­ful ver­sion of the ISIS recruit­ment mod­el that would­n’t have been pos­si­ble with­out Face­book.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 8, 2021, 5:19 pm
  20. Of all the dis­turb­ing ques­tions raised by the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol insur­rec­tion, one of the most dis­turb­ing ques­tion is whether or not any of the high-lev­el orches­tra­tors of the event — from Roger Stone to then-Pres­i­dent Trump — will face any legal reper­cus­sions over the roles they played into mak­ing it hap­pen. But per­haps an even more dis­turb­ing ques­tion is the ques­tion of whether any of these lead­ing fig­ures will face reper­cus­sions after the next mili­tia upris­ing they insti­gate. Because it’s hard to imag­ine Jan 6 was a one-off event, espe­cial­ly if the peo­ple who led it remain free to lead anoth­er one. The Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence issued a report a cou­ple of weeks ago iden­ti­fy­ing “mili­tia vio­lent extrem­ists” as being among the “most lethal” pub­lic safe­ty threats, after all. A threat that per­sists long after the insur­rec­tion. Any­one who played a lead­er­ship role in that insur­rec­tion and con­tin­ues to defend it has basi­cal­ly been play­ing a lead­er­ship role in all of the yet-to-come mili­tia vio­lence that author­i­ties are now warn­ing us is com­ing too.

    But, of course, the lead­er­ship roles in the lead up to the insur­rec­tion should­n’t be lim­it­ed to polit­i­cal fig­ures like Trump or Stone. What about Face­book’s role in insti­gat­ing the Jan­u­ary 6 insur­rec­tion? As we’ve seen, the plat­form has been con­sis­tent­ly behind-the-curve in address­ing long-stand­ing com­plaints that its allow­ing itself to oper­ate as a rad­i­cal­iza­tion too. It’s a pat­tern exem­pli­fied by the sto­ry of how one of the mem­bers of Michi­gan mili­tia plot to kid­nap and exe­cute Gov­er­nor Whit­mer was effec­tive­ly recruit­ed into the plot via Face­book’s algo­rith­mic sug­ges­tions.

    So what sort of lead­er­ship role is Face­book play­ing today in the mili­tia move­men­t’s ongo­ing recruit­ment and rad­i­cal­iza­tion cam­paigns? Well, accord­ing to a new report by Buz­zFeed and the Tech Trans­paren­cy Project (TTP), Face­book con­tin­ues to lead the way as the pre­mier mili­tia recruit­ment and rad­i­cal­iza­tion plat­form. Accord­ing to their report, as of March 18, Face­book host­ed more than 200 mili­tia pages and groups and at least 140 includ­ed the word “mili­tia” in their name.

    But is Face­book still prompt­ing users to join mili­tia groups, as was report­ed with the Michi­gian mili­tia kid­nap­ping case? Yep! For exam­ple, when Buz­zFeed vis­it­ed the “East Ken­tucky Mali­tia” page, Face­book sug­gest­ed to vis­it the pages of Fair­fax Coun­ty Mili­tia and the KY Moun­tain Rangers. When Buz­zFeed vis­it­ed the KY Moun­tain Rangers page, it then led to the page for the Texas Free­dom Force, one of the groups cur­rent­ly under inves­ti­ga­tion for the role its mem­bers played in the insur­rec­tion. Oth­er mili­tias are con­tin­u­ing to use Face­book for orga­niz­ing events, like the DFW Bea­con Unit recent­ly post­ing about hold­ing a train­ing ses­sion. Face­book is even auto­mat­i­cal­ly cre­at­ing pages for mili­tias that don’t already have a page, based on the con­tent that peo­ple are shar­ing. Even mili­tia that aren’t using Face­book to recruit are prob­a­bly get­ting recruits thanks to the plat­form. This is all still hap­pen­ing. Because of course it is. This is Face­book. It would be weird if they weren’t some­how pro­mot­ing the far right:

    Buz­zFeed News

    Hun­dreds Of Far-Right Mili­tias Are Still Orga­niz­ing, Recruit­ing, And Pro­mot­ing Vio­lence On Face­book

    A new report iden­ti­fied more than 200 mili­tia pages and groups on Face­book as of March 18, more than two months after the insur­rec­tion at the Capi­tol.

    Christo­pher Miller
    Buz­zFeed News Reporter

    Post­ed on March 24, 2021, at 1:00 p.m. ET
    Last updat­ed on March 24, 2021, at 2:17 p.m. ET

    When Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg faces Con­gress on Thurs­day, to tes­ti­fy about extrem­ism online, he will do so as hun­dreds of far-right mili­tias, includ­ing some whose mem­bers were charged in the dead­ly insur­rec­tion on the US Capi­tol, con­tin­ue to orga­nize, recruit, and pro­mote vio­lence on the plat­form.

    More than 200 mili­tia pages and groups were on Face­book as of March 18, accord­ing to a new report pub­lished Wednes­day by the Tech Trans­paren­cy Project (TTP), a non­prof­it watch­dog orga­ni­za­tion, and addi­tion­al research by Buz­zFeed News. Of them, at least 140 includ­ed the word “mili­tia” in their name.

    Face­book banned some mil­i­tant groups and oth­er extrem­ist move­ments tied to vio­lence last August, after the FBI warned that such groups had become domes­tic ter­ror­ism threats.

    TPP found that Face­book is auto­mat­i­cal­ly cre­at­ing pages for some of the mili­tias from con­tent that peo­ple are shar­ing, expand­ing the reach of the groups. This is not a new prob­lem for the site, which in 2019 came under crit­i­cism for auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ing pages for ISIS. In addi­tion, Buz­zFeed News and TTP found that the plat­form was direct­ing peo­ple who “like” cer­tain mili­tia pages to check out oth­ers, effec­tive­ly help­ing these move­ments recruit and rad­i­cal­ize new mem­bers.

    Many of the groups ana­lyzed by Buz­zFeed News and TTP shared images of guns and vio­lence. Some post­ed anti-gov­ern­ment mes­sages in sup­port of the mob inspired by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that attacked the Capi­tol on Jan. 6. Oth­ers shared mis­in­for­ma­tion about the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and racist memes tar­get­ing Black Lives Mat­ter activists.

    ...

    The find­ings come as the Biden admin­is­tra­tion moves to crack down on domes­tic vio­lent extrem­ism. The Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence issued a report this month that iden­ti­fied “mili­tia vio­lent extrem­ists” as being among the “most lethal” pub­lic safe­ty threats.

    The US Attorney’s office has charged more than 300 peo­ple with par­tic­i­pat­ing in the insur­rec­tion, and the gov­ern­ment has said it expects to bring cas­es against at least 100 more.

    Zucker­berg is also set to give his first tes­ti­mo­ny before Con­gress since the events of Jan. 6. Along with Alpha­bet CEO Sun­dar Pichai and Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey, Zucker­berg will be ques­tioned by House law­mak­ers about social media’s role in pro­mot­ing extrem­ism and mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    Facebook’s ongo­ing strug­gles with mili­tia con­tent on its plat­form paint a trou­bling back­drop for the hear­ing. As both Buz­zFeed News and TTP report­ed in Jan­u­ary, Face­book allowed far-right domes­tic extrem­ists to open­ly dis­cuss weapons and tac­tics, coor­di­nate activ­i­ties, and spread calls to over­throw the gov­ern­ment for months ahead of the Capi­tol attack.

    The new report­ing by Buz­zFeed News and TTP shows that Facebook’s prob­lems with mili­tia activ­i­ty per­sist despite the com­pa­ny vow­ing in August 2020 to take action against them and oth­er extrem­ist groups that pose risks to pub­lic safe­ty.

    More than 20 of the mili­tia groups men­tioned in TTP’s report were cre­at­ed after Facebook’s ini­tial crack­down. Some of them were formed in Decem­ber 2020 or lat­er, as the pro-Trump Stop the Steal move­ment was gain­ing steam.

    One group, the Texas Mili­tia, launched its page on the after­noon of Jan. 6, as the attack on the Capi­tol was under way. The cre­ator and admin­is­tra­tor of the group warned at the time that “mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy has enabled rad­i­cals to sub­vert the process by which we elect our rep­re­sen­ta­tives.”

    “We must be prepared…to defend our rights and pre­vent [the] takeover of our great nation by rad­i­cals, uphold the Con­sti­tu­tion, and pre­serve our way of life,” he added.

    TTP found that in recent weeks, some of the mili­tia groups have cir­cu­lat­ed pro­pa­gan­da posts for the Proud Boys, which Face­book has banned since 2018.

    One of the posts came from C.A.M.P., which stands for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Amer­i­can Mili­tia Project. On March 13, the group’s admin­is­tra­tor post­ed a three-minute high­light reel of Proud Boys attacks on Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers as well as footage from the Capi­tol riot.

    At least 19 lead­ers, mem­bers, or asso­ciates of the Proud Boys have been charged in fed­er­al court with con­spir­a­cy and oth­er offens­es relat­ed to the Jan. 6 attack. On Tues­day, two Proud Boys, Joe Big­gs and Ethan Nordean, plead­ed not guilty to fed­er­al charges accus­ing them of help­ing to plan and lead the insur­rec­tion.

    The mili­tia pages not only per­sist on Face­book, but the plat­form is actu­al­ly push­ing peo­ple toward them, TTP and Buz­zFeed News found. In doing so, Face­book is expand­ing the reach of the move­ments and “help­ing these orga­ni­za­tions poten­tial­ly recruit and rad­i­cal­ize users,” TPP’s report stat­ed.

    For instance, when Buz­zFeed News vis­it­ed the East Ken­tucky Mali­tia (the mis­spelling appears delib­er­ate; groups and pages often alter spellings of their names to avoid detec­tion), it was sug­gest­ed to vis­it the pages of Fair­fax Coun­ty Mili­tia and the KY Moun­tain Rangers.

    The Moun­tain Rangers page then led to the Texas Free­dom Force, an out­fit that fed­er­al author­i­ties inves­ti­gat­ing the Jan. 6 attack have called a “mili­tia extrem­ist group.” One of its mem­bers, Guy Ref­fitt, has been charged for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Jan. 6 Capi­tol attack.

    Ref­fitt, 48, of Wylie, Texas, plead­ed not guilty last week to three charges of obstruct­ing an offi­cial pro­ceed­ing, tres­pass­ing, and wit­ness tam­per­ing.

    Accord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, Reffitt’s wife shared with author­i­ties that he also belongs to the Three Per­centers, an anti-gov­ern­ment extrem­ist fac­tion of the mili­tia move­ment, accord­ing to the Anti-Defama­tion League. Sev­er­al Three Per­centers have been charged along­side Ref­fitt for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Capi­tol attack. Many pages for the group were found by TTP and Buz­zFeed News to still be active on Face­book.

    Mem­bers of these groups are also using Face­book to orga­nize events, despite rev­e­la­tions that Face­book failed to act on a Kenosha Guard event page that urged peo­ple to bring firearms to a Black Lives Mat­ter protest which result­ed in two peo­ple being fatal­ly shot. Four peo­ple are suing Face­book for its alleged role in enabling the vio­lence that over­took the city of Kenosha.

    One such group, the DFW Bea­con Unit in Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, which describes itself as a “legit­i­mate mili­tia,” post­ed on Mon­day about hold­ing a train­ing ses­sion.

    Some of the pages sug­gest efforts to coor­di­nate with law enforce­ment. One page called “Carter Coun­ty Okla­homa Mili­tia” post­ed on Jan. 5 that it had changed its name after speak­ing with the local sher­iff. It said the sher­iff is look­ing for “reserve deputies” and that peo­ple inter­est­ed in being a reservist should con­tact the page man­ag­er.

    ———-

    “Hun­dreds Of Far-Right Mili­tias Are Still Orga­niz­ing, Recruit­ing, And Pro­mot­ing Vio­lence On Face­book” by Christo­pher Miller; Buz­zFeed News; 03/24/2021

    “More than 200 mili­tia pages and groups were on Face­book as of March 18, accord­ing to a new report pub­lished Wednes­day by the Tech Trans­paren­cy Project (TTP), a non­prof­it watch­dog orga­ni­za­tion, and addi­tion­al research by Buz­zFeed News. Of them, at least 140 includ­ed the word “mili­tia” in their name.

    These aren’t exact­ly stealth mili­tias. But Face­book is hap­py to host them. Months after the Jan 6 insur­rec­tion. It’s clear­ly an impor­tant mar­ket for the com­pa­ny. So impor­tant that Face­book’s algo­rithm con­tin­ues to cre­ate pages for mili­tias that don’t yet have them:

    ...
    TPP found that Face­book is auto­mat­i­cal­ly cre­at­ing pages for some of the mili­tias from con­tent that peo­ple are shar­ing, expand­ing the reach of the groups. This is not a new prob­lem for the site, which in 2019 came under crit­i­cism for auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ing pages for ISIS. In addi­tion, Buz­zFeed News and TTP found that the plat­form was direct­ing peo­ple who “like” cer­tain mili­tia pages to check out oth­ers, effec­tive­ly help­ing these move­ments recruit and rad­i­cal­ize new mem­bers.

    ...

    The find­ings come as the Biden admin­is­tra­tion moves to crack down on domes­tic vio­lent extrem­ism. The Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence issued a report this month that iden­ti­fied “mili­tia vio­lent extrem­ists” as being among the “most lethal” pub­lic safe­ty threats.

    ...

    The new report­ing by Buz­zFeed News and TTP shows that Facebook’s prob­lems with mili­tia activ­i­ty per­sist despite the com­pa­ny vow­ing in August 2020 to take action against them and oth­er extrem­ist groups that pose risks to pub­lic safe­ty.

    More than 20 of the mili­tia groups men­tioned in TTP’s report were cre­at­ed after Facebook’s ini­tial crack­down. Some of them were formed in Decem­ber 2020 or lat­er, as the pro-Trump Stop the Steal move­ment was gain­ing steam.
    ...

    And then there’s the con­tin­ued algo­rith­mic “sug­ges­tions” that push users to mili­tia pages, pre­sum­ably when­ev­er they vis­it a page also fre­quent­ed by mili­tia mem­bers:

    ...
    The mili­tia pages not only per­sist on Face­book, but the plat­form is actu­al­ly push­ing peo­ple toward them, TTP and Buz­zFeed News found. In doing so, Face­book is expand­ing the reach of the move­ments and “help­ing these orga­ni­za­tions poten­tial­ly recruit and rad­i­cal­ize users,” TPP’s report stat­ed.

    For instance, when Buz­zFeed News vis­it­ed the East Ken­tucky Mali­tia (the mis­spelling appears delib­er­ate; groups and pages often alter spellings of their names to avoid detec­tion), it was sug­gest­ed to vis­it the pages of Fair­fax Coun­ty Mili­tia and the KY Moun­tain Rangers.

    The Moun­tain Rangers page then led to the Texas Free­dom Force, an out­fit that fed­er­al author­i­ties inves­ti­gat­ing the Jan. 6 attack have called a “mili­tia extrem­ist group.” One of its mem­bers, Guy Ref­fitt, has been charged for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Jan. 6 Capi­tol attack.

    Ref­fitt, 48, of Wylie, Texas, plead­ed not guilty last week to three charges of obstruct­ing an offi­cial pro­ceed­ing, tres­pass­ing, and wit­ness tam­per­ing.

    Accord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, Reffitt’s wife shared with author­i­ties that he also belongs to the Three Per­centers, an anti-gov­ern­ment extrem­ist fac­tion of the mili­tia move­ment, accord­ing to the Anti-Defama­tion League. Sev­er­al Three Per­centers have been charged along­side Ref­fitt for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Capi­tol attack. Many pages for the group were found by TTP and Buz­zFeed News to still be active on Face­book.
    ...

    So as we can see, Face­book is liv­ing up to its mis­sion state­ment of con­nect­ing the world. Like con­nect­ing peo­ple to mili­tias. Even after Face­book promised it would stop doing this. It just keeps hap­pen­ing. Almost like the com­pa­ny can’t con­trol itself. It’s like a new form of Face­book addic­tion just for Face­book. An addic­tion so pow­er­ful that Face­book appears to have been large­ly unable to do any­thing to address its pro­mo­tion of mili­tia groups months after Buz­zFeed and TTP issued basi­cal­ly the same report back in Octo­ber. Yes, five months before Buz­zFeed and TTP issued this, and two and a half months before the Jan 6 insur­rec­tion, they issued basi­cal­ly the same report, detail­ing how Face­book was con­tin­u­ing to host mili­tia pages despite pledges to remove them from the site. Mili­tia pages were still there, some new­ly cre­at­ed, and still get­ting recruits over Face­book. Oh, and still able to pur­chase ads for their mili­tias. Tar­get­ed ads that uti­lize Face­book’s micro-tar­get­ing algo­rithms to ensure that the peo­ple most like­ly to join the mili­tia are the ones who see it:

    Buz­zFeed News

    Face­book Con­tin­ues To Host Mil­i­tant Groups And Ads Despite A Ban On Right-Wing Extrem­ism

    A new report finds “Face­book is rou­tine­ly behind the curve in crack­ing down on domes­tic extrem­ists on its plat­form.”

    Sal­vador Her­nan­dez Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    Ryan Mac Buz­zFeed News Reporter

    Post­ed on Octo­ber 19, 2020, at 9:10 a.m. ET
    Last updat­ed on Octo­ber 20, 2020, at 2:14 a.m. ET

    “Booga­loo” mem­bers, an anti-gov­ern­ment extrem­ist move­ment, dur­ing a ral­ly at the Michi­gan State Capi­tol in Lans­ing, Oct. 17, 2020.

    Despite efforts by Face­book to ban right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions, a new report pub­lished Mon­day has found that some of those groups con­tin­ue to orga­nize and run pages on the social net­work. Face­book also con­tin­ues to prof­it from ads placed by extrem­ists despite an announce­ment ear­li­er this year that said it would ban all ads that “praise, sup­port or rep­re­sent mil­i­ta­rized social move­ments.”

    The report from the Trans­paren­cy Tech Project (TTP), a non­prof­it watch­dog orga­ni­za­tion, dis­cov­ered, for exam­ple, that the Amer­i­can Patri­ot Coun­cil, a right-wing group that advo­cat­ed for the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of Michigan’s gov­er­nor because of her imple­men­ta­tion of stay-at-home orders dur­ing the ear­ly days of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, ran an ad ear­li­er this month that encour­aged mil­i­tants to attend Oct. 24 ral­lies in Michi­gan and New York.

    “We The Peo­ple gath­er across Amer­i­ca in a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty and demand eman­ci­pa­tion from the bondage of tyran­ny,” read the ad, which cost less than $100 and had the poten­tial to reach between 500,000 and 1 mil­lion peo­ple, accord­ing to Facebook’s own met­rics. “(Law­ful car­ry & Mili­tia strong­ly encour­aged.)”

    Face­book announced in August that it was ban­ning right-wing mil­i­tant, anar­chist, and QAnon groups from its plat­form. But TTP found 45 pages and eight groups asso­ci­at­ed with right-wing extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions two months lat­er. Researchers at TTP also found that Face­book had accept­ed a hand­ful of ads over the last two years that were used by extrem­ists to bol­ster their ranks and sum­mon peo­ple to armed ral­lies.

    “Face­book has been direct­ly prof­it­ing from this kind of paid mes­sag­ing on its plat­form,” the report said. “The dis­turb­ing find­ings show that Face­book is rou­tine­ly behind the curve in crack­ing down on domes­tic extrem­ists on its plat­form.”

    Accord­ing to TTP, 13 of the pages and groups it found have “mili­tia” in their name, while six pages and one group were cre­at­ed after the company’s August ban of “mil­i­ta­rized social move­ments.”

    ...

    The TTP inves­ti­ga­tion comes less than two weeks after fed­er­al and state pros­e­cu­tors in Michi­gan revealed they had charged 14 peo­ple in a bizarre plot to kid­nap and pos­si­bly kill Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer. Those indi­vid­u­als alleged­ly con­spired using Face­book.

    In the Michi­gan plot, Face­book said it reached out to law enforce­ment six months before the 14 men were arrest­ed, and that a Face­book group tied to those indi­vid­u­als had been banned in June. Still, a day after author­i­ties announced the Whit­mer plot, Buz­zFeed News report­ed that Face­book con­tin­ued to host mul­ti­ple pages run by Michi­gan mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions, while the social net­work’s rec­om­men­da­tion tools con­tin­ued to direct users to fol­low pages espous­ing extrem­ist mes­sages.

    Face­book has made numer­ous efforts this year to coun­ter­act the use of its plat­form by vio­lent extrem­ists. The com­pa­ny said it had delet­ed more than 6,500 pages and groups “tied to more than 300 Mil­i­ta­rized Social Move­ments” as of Oct. 6. But it did not com­plete­ly erad­i­cate the prob­lem. Some groups, as TTP found, escaped the ban. Oth­ers sim­ply reap­peared with new pages under slight­ly altered names.

    TTP also iden­ti­fied oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that have kept a pres­ence on Face­book, includ­ing some asso­ci­at­ed with the Three Per­centers, whose mem­bers have been involved in armed con­fronta­tions with fed­er­al agents in Neva­da in 2014 and Ore­gon in 2016.

    One group, Vir­ginia Mili­tia, paid for 61 adver­tise­ments before it was removed from the social net­work, includ­ing an ad in Feb­ru­ary call­ing for a “Muster Call.”

    “Are you going to give up your rights or fight?” the ad read.

    In June, Buz­zFeed News found Face­book had been prof­it­ing from “booga­loo” ads that pro­mot­ed extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions that want­ed to “fight the state.” Rad­i­cals linked to the “booga­loo move­ment” — a catch­phrase for anti-gov­ern­ment extrem­ists who have advo­cat­ed for anoth­er Civ­il War in the US — have been linked to vio­lence this year includ­ing the alleged killing of a fed­er­al offi­cer.

    The report also found that some users had issued direct threats against pub­lic offi­cials in pri­vate Face­book groups with­out action from the com­pa­ny. In one group titled “Pro-Police, Pro-Mil­i­tary, Pro-Trump,” a post sug­gest­ed that Min­neso­ta Rep. Ilhan Omar should be sent to Guan­tá­namo Bay, prompt­ing oth­ers to respond with “Just shoot the bitch” and “She needs a drone strike.” The post remained active as of Oct. 13.

    In anoth­er group called “Trump’s Army” with near­ly 100,000 mem­bers, one indi­vid­ual wrote of peo­ple demon­strat­ing against the police killing of Bre­on­na Tay­lor, “All Trump sup­port­ers should shoot them and kill them.”

    It’s unclear what impact Facebook’s ban will have on mil­i­ta­rized groups who have been using the social net­work for years as part of their recruit­ment and orga­niz­ing.

    The head of the nation­al Three Per­centers’ group called Facebook’s ban a “purge of con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions.” But when the group itself was banned, lead­ers of the orga­ni­za­tion sim­ply direct­ed its mem­bers to a pri­vate forum on its own web­site.

    ———–

    “Face­book Con­tin­ues To Host Mil­i­tant Groups And Ads Despite A Ban On Right-Wing Extrem­ism” by Sal­vador Her­nan­dez and Ryan Mac; Buz­zFeed News; 10/19/2020

    “Despite efforts by Face­book to ban right-wing mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions, a new report pub­lished Mon­day has found that some of those groups con­tin­ue to orga­nize and run pages on the social net­work. Face­book also con­tin­ues to prof­it from ads placed by extrem­ists despite an announce­ment ear­li­er this year that said it would ban all ads that “praise, sup­port or rep­re­sent mil­i­ta­rized social move­ments.”

    Face­book just can’t cut the habit. Sell­ing ads for extrem­ists is what it does. Remark­ably afford­able ads with a shock­ing reach: for $100 you can poten­tial­ly send your pro-mili­tia mes­sage to 500,000 to 1 mil­lion peo­ple. And not just ran­dom peo­ple. Tar­get­ed peo­ple select­ed by Face­book’s algo­rithms to be the most like­ly to react to that ad. Rad­i­cal­iza­tion made afford­able:

    ...
    The report from the Trans­paren­cy Tech Project (TTP), a non­prof­it watch­dog orga­ni­za­tion, dis­cov­ered, for exam­ple, that the Amer­i­can Patri­ot Coun­cil, a right-wing group that advo­cat­ed for the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of Michigan’s gov­er­nor because of her imple­men­ta­tion of stay-at-home orders dur­ing the ear­ly days of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, ran an ad ear­li­er this month that encour­aged mil­i­tants to attend Oct. 24 ral­lies in Michi­gan and New York.

    “We The Peo­ple gath­er across Amer­i­ca in a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty and demand eman­ci­pa­tion from the bondage of tyran­ny,” read the ad, which cost less than $100 and had the poten­tial to reach between 500,000 and 1 mil­lion peo­ple, accord­ing to Facebook’s own met­rics. “(Law­ful car­ry & Mili­tia strong­ly encour­aged.)”

    ...

    One group, Vir­ginia Mili­tia, paid for 61 adver­tise­ments before it was removed from the social net­work, includ­ing an ad in Feb­ru­ary call­ing for a “Muster Call.”

    “Are you going to give up your rights or fight?” the ad read.

    In June, Buz­zFeed News found Face­book had been prof­it­ing from “booga­loo” ads that pro­mot­ed extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions that want­ed to “fight the state.” Rad­i­cals linked to the “booga­loo move­ment” — a catch­phrase for anti-gov­ern­ment extrem­ists who have advo­cat­ed for anoth­er Civ­il War in the US — have been linked to vio­lence this year includ­ing the alleged killing of a fed­er­al offi­cer.
    ...

    Again, this BuzzFeed/TTP report was released back in Octo­ber, two and a half months before the insur­rec­tion. Five months lat­er, we get a new report and noth­ing changed. Well, except the insur­rec­tion hap­pened, inspir­ing these groups to even greater ambi­tions at the same time main­stream con­ser­v­a­tives became even more rad­i­cal­ized under a wave of pro­pa­gan­da telling them the elec­tion was stolen and the insur­rec­tion was either jus­ti­fied or did­n’t actu­al­ly hap­pen. So that’s new.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 31, 2021, 4:40 pm
  21. Here’s a pair of arti­cles about the seem­ing­ly ever-grow­ing influ­ence and pow­er of Peter Thiel and the role he’s play­ing in shap­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty. The first arti­cle is a report about the inter­est Thiel has tak­en in cer­tain Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry races. Specif­i­cal­ly, Thiel is back­ing pri­ma­ry chal­lengers to the dwin­dling num­ber of Repub­li­cans who have voiced oppo­si­tion to role Don­ald Trump played in foment­ing the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol insur­rec­tion. As the arti­cle notes, this comes a month after Thiel report­ed­ly met with Trump pri­vate­ly for over an hour at Trump’s Bed­min­ster golf club. So Thiel is ful­ly on board with the GOP’s MAGA purge and now financ­ing it. He donat­ed the max­i­mum-allowed, $5,800 check to Har­ri­et Hage­man, who is run­ning to unseat Liz Cheney in Wyoming, and also donat­ed to a chal­lenger to Rep. Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, who, like Cheney, vot­ed for Trump’s impeach­ment in Jan­u­ary.

    It’s the kind of report that rais­es a ques­tion we prob­a­bly should have been ask­ing all along: so what role did Thiel play in foment­ing the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion? After all, not only does­n’t Thiel have the kind of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy that would have no objec­tion to seiz­ing pow­er via a polit­i­cal insur­rec­tion, it’s hard to think of some­thing that’s more on brand for Thiel. This is the anti-democ­ra­cy oli­garch, after all. The guy’s life is basi­cal­ly a slow-motion coup against soci­ety. It’s almost incon­ceiv­able that Thiel would­n’t have ful­ly endorsed Trump suc­ceed­ing with a coup attempt. The only thing that could plau­si­bly give Thiel pause about whether or not to back such an act is if he thought it did­n’t stand a chance of work­ing.

    But even then, those fears of fail­ure would real­ly only be a bar­ri­er to Thiel open­ly back­ing the insur­rec­tion. What about secret sup­port? Just imag­ine how much rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion a com­pa­ny like Palan­tir, for exam­ple, could have devel­oped in rela­tion to the insur­rec­tion. Or how about Thiel’s influ­ence at Face­book? As we’ve seen, Face­book played a cru­cial role in facil­i­tat­ing the insur­rec­tion by ensur­ing the ‘stolen elec­tion’ dis­in­for­ma­tion was allowed to flow freely. So we real­ly have to ask: what role in Thiel play in those deci­sions by Face­book? And that brings us to a recent except from a new biog­ra­phy on Thiel by Max Chafkin that describes the incred­i­ble influ­ence Thiel has over Zucker­berg and, there­fore, all of Face­book. As Chafkin notes, when Thiel made his ini­tial $500,000 invest­ment in Face­book, he did it under the con­di­tion that Face­book be reor­ga­nized to make Zucker­berg a kind of cor­po­rate dic­ta­tor. And as Chafkin details, in one instance after anoth­er Zucker­berg has demon­strat­ed a remark­able loy­al­ty to Thiel and views him as a polit­i­cal ally. So for all of the jus­ti­fi­able heat Zucker­berg And Sharyle Sand­berg have tak­en over Face­book’s pro-insur­rec­tion role, we real­ly should be ask­ing just what was Thiel doing to pro­mote the insur­rec­tion lead­ing up to Jan­u­ary 6. And since Thiel is clear­ly still on Team Trump and active­ly purg­ing the GOP of anti-insur­rec­tion­ists, we have to also ask what steps Thiel is cur­rent­ly tak­ing to ensure the next insur­rec­tion works:

    Politi­co

    Peter Thiel lines up against Liz Cheney

    Cheney out­raised her pri­ma­ry chal­lenger last quar­ter, but promi­nent Trump fundrais­ers are lin­ing up against the impeach­ment backer.

    By ALEX ISENSTADT
    10/13/2021 04:30 AM EDT

    Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s pri­ma­ry chal­lenger land­ed for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s endorse­ment before she even offi­cial­ly launched her cam­paign. Now, she’s cash­ing big checks from Trump’s biggest donors — includ­ing tech bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel.

    Thiel has con­tributed the max­i­mum-allowed, $5,800 check to Har­ri­et Hage­man, the Trump-endorsed attor­ney run­ning against Cheney in next year’s Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry. The for­mer pres­i­dent has made Cheney, an out­spo­ken crit­ic who vot­ed for his impeach­ment in Jan­u­ary, his top tar­get in the 2022 elec­tion, and now big-mon­ey bene­fac­tors like Thiel are pil­ing into the race.

    The list of major Trump donors includ­ed on Hageman’s third-quar­ter fundrais­ing report, which is set to be pub­licly released Fri­day, also includes Wyoming trans­porta­tion exec­u­tive Tim­o­thy Mel­lon, who was the sin­gle biggest giv­er to the prin­ci­pal pro-Trump super PAC, Amer­i­ca First Action, dur­ing the 2020 elec­tion. Dal­las real estate exec­u­tive James Mabrey, Apple asso­ciate gen­er­al coun­sel Dou­glas Vet­ter and Flori­da med­ical com­pa­ny exec­u­tive Peter Lame­las also gave to Hage­man. Oth­er big names include Lynette Friess, the wid­ow of Repub­li­can mega-donor and promi­nent Trump backer Fos­ter Friess.

    The high-pro­file pri­ma­ry promis­es to be an expen­sive affair. Hage­man, who entered the race in Sep­tem­ber, raised around $300,000 dur­ing the first three weeks of her cam­paign, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the totals. Cheney has cap­i­tal­ized on her deep con­nec­tions in the Repub­li­can donor world to rake in mon­ey for her tough­est race yet, already bring­ing in more than $5 mil­lion this year, her cam­paign announced Tues­day.

    While Cheney’s totals and hefty lead — she raised $1.7 mil­lion in the third quar­ter alone — show that she still has pow­er­ful con­nec­tions in a fast-chang­ing Repub­li­can Par­ty, the list of promi­nent Trump donors throw­ing in with Hage­man high­lights his dom­i­nant influ­ence in the GOP. And it demon­strates Trump and his allies are mobi­liz­ing togeth­er to pun­ish the hand­ful of Repub­li­cans who vot­ed to impeach him after the Jan. 6 Capi­tol riot.

    Thiel, one of the most sought-after GOP donors, has emerged as a finan­cial force behind the effort to unseat Trump crit­ics.

    He has also con­tributed to army vet­er­an Joe Kent, a chal­lenger to Rep. Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler (R‑Wash.), who, like Cheney, vot­ed for Trump’s impeach­ment in Jan­u­ary. Thiel, a Pay­Pal co-founder and ear­ly Face­book investor, met with Trump for over an hour at his Bed­min­ster golf club last month, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with the sit-down. The meet­ing was first report­ed by the Wall Street Jour­nal.

    Cheney, the daugh­ter of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, has her own high-pro­file finan­cial help: For­mer Pres­i­dent George W. Bush is head­lin­ing a fundrais­er for her in Texas lat­er this month. The event will also fea­ture oth­er big polit­i­cal names from the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, includ­ing polit­i­cal strate­gist Karl Rove.

    Trump spent months search­ing for a chal­lenger to take on Cheney, ulti­mate­ly lead­ing him to Hage­man after a lengthy inter­view process with oth­er con­gres­sion­al hope­fuls. She has inher­it­ed the for­mer president’s polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus: Two top offi­cials on Trump’s 2020 reelec­tion cam­paign, Nick Train­er and Tim Mur­taugh, are play­ing lead­ing roles steer­ing her cam­paign. Two oth­er Repub­li­can strate­gists involved in Trump’s orbit, Andy Sura­bi­an and James Blair, are run­ning a pro-Hage­man super PAC.

    That out­fit, Wyoming Val­ues PAC, doesn’t have to dis­close its fundrais­ing activ­i­ty until Jan­u­ary. But it is expect­ed to become an out­let for major Hage­man to fun­nel size­able checks. Unlike Hageman’s cam­paign, the super PAC does not have any con­tri­bu­tion lim­its. And many of her ear­ly cam­paign back­ers have shown a will­ing­ness to back the Trump cause with six- or sev­en-fig­ure dona­tions in the past.

    ...

    ————

    “Peter Thiel lines up against Liz Cheney” by ALEX ISENSTADT; Politi­co; 10/13/2021

    “Thiel, one of the most sought-after GOP donors, has emerged as a finan­cial force behind the effort to unseat Trump crit­ics.”

    Remem­ber all those reports from July 2020 about Thiel giv­ing up on Trump? He clear­ly had a change of heart. But giv­en all the events that tran­spired since then, the ques­tion we real­ly should be ask­ing is whether or not those announce­ments were actu­al­ly part of a plan by Thiel to hide his sup­port for Trump. Don’t for­get that it was already look­ing like the Trump team might effec­tive­ly try to can­cel the 2020 elec­tion over pan­dem­ic con­cerns by that point in time. The writ­ing was already on the wall that the 2020 elec­tion was­n’t going to end well. So we have to ask: did Thiel fore­see the insur­rec­tion, or some­thing as extreme like a can­celed elec­tion, and con­scious­ly dis­tance him­self from Trump in antic­i­pa­tion of that? Because as Thiel is mak­ing abun­dant­ly clear how, he’s total­ly cool with Trump and every­thing that Trump­ism is about these days. And Trump­ism is basi­cal­ly about the ‘stolen elec­tion’ Big Lie these days. That’s it. So Thiel is clear­ly ful­ly on board with the ‘Stolen Elec­tion’ nar­ra­tive, enough so to finance the move­ment to ensure that’s the core plank of the GOP going for­ward:

    ...
    Thiel has con­tributed the max­i­mum-allowed, $5,800 check to Har­ri­et Hage­man, the Trump-endorsed attor­ney run­ning against Cheney in next year’s Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry. The for­mer pres­i­dent has made Cheney, an out­spo­ken crit­ic who vot­ed for his impeach­ment in Jan­u­ary, his top tar­get in the 2022 elec­tion, and now big-mon­ey bene­fac­tors like Thiel are pil­ing into the race.

    The list of major Trump donors includ­ed on Hageman’s third-quar­ter fundrais­ing report, which is set to be pub­licly released Fri­day, also includes Wyoming trans­porta­tion exec­u­tive Tim­o­thy Mel­lon, who was the sin­gle biggest giv­er to the prin­ci­pal pro-Trump super PAC, Amer­i­ca First Action, dur­ing the 2020 elec­tion. Dal­las real estate exec­u­tive James Mabrey, Apple asso­ciate gen­er­al coun­sel Dou­glas Vet­ter and Flori­da med­ical com­pa­ny exec­u­tive Peter Lame­las also gave to Hage­man. Oth­er big names include Lynette Friess, the wid­ow of Repub­li­can mega-donor and promi­nent Trump backer Fos­ter Friess.

    ...

    He has also con­tributed to army vet­er­an Joe Kent, a chal­lenger to Rep. Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler (R‑Wash.), who, like Cheney, vot­ed for Trump’s impeach­ment in Jan­u­ary. Thiel, a Pay­Pal co-founder and ear­ly Face­book investor, met with Trump for over an hour at his Bed­min­ster golf club last month, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with the sit-down. The meet­ing was first report­ed by the Wall Street Jour­nal.
    ...

    So if Thiel is an insur­rec­tion­ist, we have to ask: if Peter Thiel had indeed want­ed to assist the coup attempt, what could he have done giv­en his incred­i­ble access to gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion and influ­ence over Face­book? These are the kinds of ques­tions the teams inves­ti­gat­ing the insur­rec­tion real­ly should be ask­ing. Because as Max Chafk­in’s biog­ra­phy makes clear, sup­port­ing polit­i­cal insur­rec­tion is about as ‘on brand’ an action as we could pos­si­bly expect from Thiel giv­en his life­time of embrac­ing an ide­ol­o­gy of cheat­ing to get what you want:

    New York Mag­a­zine

    Peter Thiel’s Ori­gin Sto­ry
    His ide­ol­o­gy dom­i­nates Sil­i­con Val­ley. It began to form when he was an angry young man.

    By Max Chafkin
    Sept. 20, 2021

    Some­time around the spring of 1988, sev­er­al mem­bers of the Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty chess team trav­eled to a tour­na­ment in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia, in an old Volk­swa­gen Rab­bit. To get across the San­ta Cruz Moun­tains, they took California’s Route 17, a four-lane high­way that is regard­ed as one of the state’s most dan­ger­ous because of its tight curves, bad weath­er, and wild-ani­mal cross­ings. The chess team had no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to hur­ry, but the 20-year-old dri­ver of the Rab­bit weaved in and out of lanes, near­ly rear-end­ing cars as he slipped past them. For large por­tions of the trip, he seemed to be floor­ing the accel­er­a­tor.

    Peter Thiel was at the wheel. Thin, dys­pep­tic, and humor­less, he had seemed like an alien to his class­mates since arriv­ing at Stan­ford two and a half years ear­li­er. He didn’t drink, didn’t date, didn’t crack jokes, and he seemed to pos­sess both an insa­tiable ambi­tion and a sense, deeply held, that the world was against him. He was bril­liant and ter­ri­fy­ing. He was, recalled one class­mate, Megan Maxwell, “a strange, strange boy.”

    Thiel looked up when, pre­dictably, the lights of a police cruis­er appeared in his rearview mir­ror. He pulled the Rab­bit over, rolled down the win­dow, and lis­tened as a state troop­er asked if he knew how fast he was going. The oth­er young men in the car — relieved to have been stopped but also afraid of how this might play out — looked at each oth­er ner­vous­ly.

    Thiel addressed the sta­tie cool­ly in his usu­al unin­flect­ed bari­tone. “Well,” he said, “I’m not sure if the con­cept of a speed lim­it makes sense. It may be uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. And it’s def­i­nite­ly an infringe­ment on lib­er­ty.”

    Unbe­liev­ably, the troop­er seemed to accept this. He told Thiel to slow down and have a nice day. Even more unbe­liev­ably: As soon as he drove out of sight, Thiel hit the gas ped­al again, just as hard as before. To his aston­ished pas­sen­gers, it was as if he believed that not only did the laws of Cal­i­for­nia not apply to him — but that the laws of physics didn’t either. “I don’t remem­ber any of the games we played,” said the team­mate who was rid­ing shot­gun, a man who is now in his 50s. “But I will nev­er for­get that dri­ve.”

    Any­one who has fol­lowed Thiel’s career will find much to rec­og­nize in the Route 17 encounter. The reflex­ive con­trar­i­an­ism, the unearned con­fi­dence, the impos­si­bly favor­able out­come — they feel famil­iar, both in Thiel him­self and the com­pa­nies he helped cre­ate. Today, of course, that scrawny chess nerd is the bil­lion­aire co-founder of Pay­Pal and Palan­tir and arguably the great­est ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist of his gen­er­a­tion, with a side­line as patron of such far-right caus­es as the 2016 can­di­da­cy of Don­ald Trump. Thiel (who did not com­ment for this arti­cle, which is adapt­ed from my new biog­ra­phy, The Con­trar­i­an) is per­haps the most impor­tant influ­ence in the world’s most influ­en­tial indus­try. Oth­er Sil­i­con Val­ley per­sonas may be bet­ter known to the gen­er­al pub­lic, includ­ing Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and even a few who don’t reg­u­lar­ly launch rock­ets into space. But Thiel is the Valley’s true idol — the sin­gle per­son whom tech’s young aspi­rants and mil­len­ni­al moguls most seek to flat­ter and to emu­late, the cult leader of the cult of dis­rup­tion.

    The blitzs­cal­ing strat­e­gy he and his employ­ees pio­neered at Pay­Pal cre­at­ed the growth play­book for an entire gen­er­a­tion of start-ups, from Airbnb to WeWork. His most leg­endary bet — loan­ing $500,000 to a social­ly inept Har­vard sopho­more in exchange for 10 per­cent of a web­site called TheFacebook.com — is sig­nif­i­cant less for the orders-of-mag­ni­tude eco­nom­ic return he real­ized and more for the terms he embed­ded in the deal. Thiel ensured that Mark Zucker­berg would be the company’s absolute dic­ta­tor. No one, not even Facebook’s board of direc­tors, could ever over­rule him. Sim­i­lar maneu­vers were adopt­ed at many of Thiel’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, includ­ing Stripe and SpaceX, and today, across the indus­try, it’s more the norm than the excep­tion.

    Thiel hasn’t just act­ed in a cer­tain way and left it for oth­ers to notice and fol­low. He taught his meth­ods to founders-in-train­ing at Stan­ford, cod­i­fy­ing the lessons from the fleet of com­pa­nies found­ed by his for­mer employ­ees — the so-called Pay­Pal Mafia. He lat­er col­lect­ed his think­ing in a book, Zero to One. It became a best sell­er, part­ly because it promised a path to Thiel-scale wealth and part­ly because it devel­oped the idio­syn­crasies that had been present in the col­lege-age Thiel into a full-blown ide­ol­o­gy. The book argues, among oth­er things, that founders are god­like, that monar­chies are more effi­cient than democ­ra­cies, and that cults are a bet­ter orga­ni­za­tion­al mod­el than man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cies. More than any­thing, it cel­e­brates rule-break­ing. Thiel bragged that of PayPal’s six founders, four had built bombs in high school.

    The ideas were out there, but they were, unde­ni­ably, dif­fer­ent. For decades, Sil­i­con Val­ley had been dom­i­nat­ed by the mythol­o­gy of Steve Jobs. The acid-drop­ping hip­pie CEO had argued that tech­nol­o­gy could be a form of cre­ative expres­sion, and he con­vinced a gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs that they should invent prod­ucts that would improve the lives of their cus­tomers. This was the “‘bicy­cle for the mind’ val­ue sys­tem,” says Roger McNamee, the founder of the ven­ture-cap­i­tal firm Ele­va­tion Part­ners, and it fil­tered into many of the most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies of the ’90s and ’00s.

    Thiel despis­es the coun­ter­cul­ture (he dates the pre­cise begin­ning of Amer­i­can decline to Wood­stock) and is con­temp­tu­ous of the notion of cre­ativ­i­ty for its own sake. For Thiel, the pur­pose of found­ing a com­pa­ny is to con­trol your own des­tiny. “A start­up is the largest endeav­or over which you can have def­i­nite mas­tery,” he wrote. A new gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs, com­ing of age in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis, embraced his ideas. Thiel told them to flout norms and seek lucre, not impact. “Only one thing can allow a busi­ness to tran­scend the dai­ly brute strug­gle for sur­vival,” he wrote. “Monop­oly prof­its.” Per­haps his sin­gle best stu­dent has been Mark Zucker­berg, who built a monop­oly in his indus­try and used it to crush com­peti­tors and charge pro­gres­sive­ly high­er fees to adver­tis­ers — all while telling the world that this essen­tial­ly preda­to­ry behav­ior was a social good.

    With Thiel’s encour­age­ment, tech would “move fast and break things,” as the Face­book mot­to put it, and exec­u­tives believed it was bet­ter to ask for­give­ness than per­mis­sion. The indus­try that devel­oped would be defined by these clichés, con­vinc­ing itself that “dis­rup­tion” wasn’t just an unfor­tu­nate con­se­quence of inno­va­tion but an end in itself. Thielism would show up even at com­pa­nies where he was not an investor: at Juul, the e‑cigarette com­pa­ny that mar­ket­ed to chil­dren; at Robin­hood, which tempt­ed novice investors with volatile invest­ment prod­ucts; and at Uber, which paid dri­vers less than min­i­mum wage and vio­lat­ed statutes with appar­ent glee.

    McNamee, an ear­ly advis­er to Zucker­berg who turned apos­tate and pub­lished Zucked: Wak­ing Up to the Face­book Cat­a­stro­phe, sees this recent his­to­ry as an expres­sion of Thiel’s val­ues. As he put it to me, “The Pay­Pal Mafia phi­los­o­phy became the found­ing prin­ci­ple for an entire gen­er­a­tion of tech com­pa­nies.”

    Peter Thiel was not a pop­u­lar boy. In the mid­dle-class San Fran­cis­co sub­urb of Fos­ter City, his high-school class­mates were awed by his intel­li­gence but found him inscrutable and haughty — qual­i­ties that made him a tar­get for abuse. “It’s obvi­ous in ret­ro­spect that what we were doing was bul­ly­ing,” one of his reg­u­lar tor­men­tors told me. “I’ve always thought he might have a list of peo­ple he’s going to kill some­where and that I’m on it.” Thiel got more assured as he matured phys­i­cal­ly, although he was not con­fi­dent so much as dis­dain­ful, walk­ing around with an expres­sion that said, accord­ing to a friend, “Fu ck you, world.”

    Thiel nev­er actu­al­ly swore, but once, dur­ing his fresh­man year at Stan­ford, he quot­ed one of his room­mates doing so dur­ing an argu­ment. The room­mate respond­ed by print­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tive sign and tap­ing it to the ceil­ing. It had the date, Jan­u­ary 1986, and declared, “Under this spot, Peter Thiel first said the word fu ck.” It stayed there for the rest of the semes­ter, elic­it­ing laughs from the rest of the hall — except for Thiel, who didn’t notice and wasn’t told. In May, he was all packed up and prepar­ing to leave the dorm for the final time when some­one point­ed to the sign. Word­less, Thiel moved his desk under the paper, stepped up, tore it down, and left for the sum­mer. “God,” a col­lege acquain­tance told me. “We were such dicks to him.”

    The mock­ery wasn’t about pol­i­tics, at least not ini­tial­ly, but that was how Thiel processed it. He had been raised by Evan­gel­i­cal Ger­man immi­grants and fan­cied him­self an aspir­ing William F. Buck­ley. It wasn’t unusu­al to be con­ser­v­a­tive at Stan­ford — it housed the Hoover Insti­tu­tion — but Thiel con­sid­ered it a hot­house of lefty antag­o­nists. “He viewed lib­er­als through a lens as peo­ple who were not nice to him,” said a class­mate. “The way peo­ple treat­ed him at Stan­ford had a huge impact. That’s still with him.” Thiel began to embrace a new iden­ti­ty — that of the right-wing provo­ca­teur. He joked about start­ing a fake char­i­ty, Lib­er­als for Peace, that would raise mon­ey based on a vague agen­da and then do absolute­ly noth­ing except pay him. And he told class­mates that con­cern about South African apartheid, per­haps the sin­gle buzzi­est issue on Amer­i­can cam­pus­es, was overblown. “It works,” he told Maxwell. (Thiel’s spokesman has said that Thiel doesn’t remem­ber being asked his views on apartheid and nev­er sup­port­ed it.)

    In 1987, Thiel poured his sense of griev­ance into the launch of a right-wing news­pa­per, the Stan­ford Review. It was his first entre­pre­neur­ial ven­ture and the begin­ning of a net­work that would even­tu­al­ly expand and dom­i­nate Sil­i­con Val­ley. Thiel’s pri­ma­ry inno­va­tion with the Review was to con­nect the parochial con­cerns of a small elite — con­ser­v­a­tive Stan­ford under­grad­u­ates— to main­stream nation­al pol­i­tics. Thus the option­al $29 per year dues charged by the stu­dent sen­ate became a micro­cosm of tax-and-spend lib­er­al­ism and a plan to add non-white authors, like Zora Neale Hurston, to Stanford’s West­ern Cul­ture course became a civ­i­liza­tion-lev­el threat. A fundrais­ing let­ter lat­er sent to old­er alum­ni warned that a pro­fes­sor was teach­ing a course on Black hair­styles. It led to a flood of dona­tions. These sorts of antics helped draw the atten­tion of Ronald Reagan’s sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion, who came to speak at a Review event and made nation­al news recap­ping it on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer New­sHour.

    ...

    It start­ed on a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day in 1998. Thiel was in a class­room at Stanford’s engi­neer­ing cen­ter, attempt­ing to chat up an awk­ward but bril­liant coder. Max Levchin was 23, and he’d come to a lec­ture Thiel was deliv­er­ing on cur­ren­cies pri­mar­i­ly for the air con­di­tion­ing. The two young men got to talk­ing, and with­in a day, Thiel, who had been man­ag­ing a pool of cap­i­tal he’d raised from friends and fam­i­ly as a hedge fund, told Levchin that he want­ed to invest in his embry­on­ic start-up. It made soft­ware for Palm Pilots. At the end of that year, they began exper­i­ment­ing with a way for own­ers of the devices to trans­mit IOUs to one anoth­er. They called the ser­vice Pay­Pal, and Thiel, who took over the ven­ture before the year was out, quick­ly saw its sub­ver­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties.

    Once you got mon­ey via Pay­Pal, you could trans­fer your bal­ance to a bank. Or you could keep the funds inside Pay­Pal and use them to pay oth­er peo­ple. This, Thiel real­ized, made the ser­vice a kind of untrack­able dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy. It was the equiv­a­lent of a Swiss bank account in one’s pock­et, he believed, boast­ing to a Wired reporter that it could lead to “the ero­sion of the nation-state.” Thiel staffed the com­pa­ny with for­mer Stan­ford Review edi­tors and imposed his lib­er­tar­i­an ideas in ways large and small. Pay­Pal employ­ees were free to show up late to meet­ings as long as they paid $1 for every minute they were tardy, and Ayn Rand was some­thing like required read­ing.

    The com­pa­ny leased its first office above a sta­tionery store and a French bak­ery in down­town Palo Alto. At the time, the Val­ley was so full of com­pet­ing pay­ments com­pa­nies that there was a sec­ond one on the same floor. X.com was bet­ter fund­ed than Pay­Pal, with a famous investor — Michael Moritz of Sequoia Cap­i­tal — and a charis­mat­ic founder who’d already sold anoth­er start-up for some $300 mil­lion. His name was Elon Musk.

    Musk didn’t know that the engi­neers across the land­ing were also work­ing on dig­i­tal mon­ey trans­fers. (The sign on their door bore the name of a par­ent com­pa­ny.) X and Pay­Pal shared a trash bin in the alley behind their build­ing, and Pay­Pal engi­neers lat­er bragged to a group of X employ­ees that they found doc­u­ments that described X’s pay­ments scheme, which used the web, rather than Palm Pilots, as well as a sys­tem for gen­er­at­ing refer­rals by giv­ing cus­tomers cash. They incor­po­rat­ed the ideas into PayPal’s strat­e­gy. Some X employ­ees I spoke with took this boast lit­er­al­ly, though Musk cast doubt on the sto­ry. “It’s pos­si­ble, I sup­pose,” he told me. “But it’s a bit like say­ing, ‘You stole my idea for going to the moon.’” Even though he has long since moved on to run­ning Tes­la and SpaceX, Musk has com­pli­cat­ed feel­ings about Thiel, in part because of what hap­pened next.

    Shift­ing PayPal’s focus to the web and pay­ing new users refer­ral fees juiced the company’s growth. Some of Thiel’s coders made a lit­tle soft­ware app to track how many peo­ple had cre­at­ed new accounts, which appeared on his screen as a lit­tle box titled “World Dom­i­na­tion Index.” Every time a new user joined, the app played the sound of a bell. In Novem­ber 1999, PayPal’s cus­tomer base was a few thou­sand. By spring, the index was up to 1 mil­lion. That was a near­ly unprece­dent­ed rate of growth, but it meant that Pay­Pal had spent some­thing like $20 mil­lion on refer­ral fees out of the $28 mil­lion it had raised. The loss­es, and the sim­i­lar­i­ty of their busi­ness­es, per­suad­ed Thiel and Musk to com­bine their com­pa­nies.

    Thiel left short­ly after the merg­er. “I wouldn’t say we’re oil and water, but there are some pret­ty big dif­fer­ences,” Musk, who became CEO, told me. “Peter likes the games­manship of invest­ing — like we’re all play­ing chess. I don’t mind that, but I’m fun­da­men­tal­ly into doing engi­neer­ing and design. I’m not an inves­tor. I feel like using oth­er people’s mon­ey is not cool.” A per­son who has talked to each man about the oth­er put it more suc­cinct­ly: “Musk thinks Peter is a sociopath, and Peter thinks Musk is a fraud and a brag­gart.”

    It seemed as if Musk won the pow­er strug­gle, but Thiel had laid a trap, installing most of his deputies — includ­ing Levchin and the author of the Review’s “Rape Issue” — in the exec­u­tive ranks. Musk didn’t real­ize he was sur­round­ed by a team that was more loy­al to Thiel than to him. Lat­er that year, Musk left town for a two-week trip. While he was in the air, a group of Thiel-aligned con­spir­a­tors con­front­ed the company’s major backer, Moritz, at his office on Sand Hill Road. They demand­ed their patron be put in charge.

    After Moritz reluc­tant­ly agreed, Thiel pressed his advan­tage. At a board meet­ing, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple famil­iar with what hap­pened, he sug­gest­ed that Pay­Pal turn over all its cash to Thiel Cap­i­tal, the hedge fund he was still run­ning on the side, so that he could take advan­tage of the eco­nom­ic upheaval of the post-dot-com bub­ble. Moritz assumed Thiel was jok­ing, but Thiel calm­ly explained that he had a plan to bet on inter­est rates falling. Thiel’s idea was shot down, but Moritz was furi­ous. Risk­ing a start-up’s lim­it­ed cash on spec­u­la­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly spec­u­la­tion that had the poten­tial to per­son­al­ly enrich the CEO — was some­thing no ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, nor any self-respect­ing tech entre­pre­neur, would even con­sid­er sug­gest­ing. The fact that Thiel would pro­pose it not long after snag­ging the CEO job in a man­ner that was not exact­ly hon­or­able was dou­bly galling. It sug­gest­ed to Moritz and oth­ers on the board a lack of a moral com­pass.

    Thiel and Moritz con­tin­ued to clash. It may have been part­ly per­son­al — Moritz had orig­i­nal­ly invest­ed in Musk’s com­pa­ny, not Thiel’s. But it also reflect­ed the ways in which Thiel was dif­fer­ent from Moritz, Musk, and pret­ty much every impor­tant fig­ure in Sil­i­con Val­ley who’d come before him. “At heart,” Moritz told me, “Peter is a hedge-fund man” — not an entre­pre­neur. Founders were expect­ed to pour all of them­selves into their com­pa­nies in order to grow as big as pos­si­ble and, at least if you buy into the mythol­o­gy of Sil­i­con Val­ley, to change the world for the bet­ter. By this log­ic, Thiel should’ve been bleed­ing for Pay­Pal, not schem­ing to grow his invest­ment port­fo­lio. But Thiel didn’t care about Sil­i­con Valley’s sense of pro­pri­ety. And it opened up a uni­verse of strate­gies that his pre­de­ces­sors had nev­er been brazen enough to try.

    Under Thiel, PayPal’s will­ing­ness to dis­re­gard bank­ing rules became a key strate­gic advan­tage. Finan­cial insti­tu­tions are required to ver­i­fy that cus­tomers are who they say they are by check­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tions, but Pay­Pal, which con­tend­ed it wasn’t tech­ni­cal­ly a bank, made lit­tle effort to do so. (When a reporter not­ed to Thiel that many of his com­peti­tors com­plied with the reg­u­la­tions, he called them “insane.”) It also did lit­tle to stop peo­ple from using the mon­ey they put into their accounts for illic­it pur­pos­es. The refund mech­a­nism that Pay­Pal used to return cus­tomers’ cash was tech­ni­cal­ly banned by the cred­it-card com­pa­nies. When those com­pa­nies com­plained, Pay­Pal sim­ply offered an apol­o­gy and nego­ti­at­ed. Today, the use of unsus­tain­able or eth­i­cal­ly dubi­ous tricks to make a start-up insur­mount­ably big­ger than its rivals is known as “growth hack­ing.” It’s wide­ly cred­it­ed to Thiel and his exec­u­tives and cel­e­brat­ed by entre­pre­neurs across the indus­try. They’re all chas­ing what Thiel got. The year after he became CEO of Pay­Pal, eBay acquired the com­pa­ny for $1.5 bil­lion.

    Twen­ty years lat­er, Thielism is the dom­i­nant ethos in Sil­i­con Val­ley. That’s part­ly because Thiel has been effec­tive at seed­ing the indus­try with pro­tégés — none of them more promi­nent than Mark Zucker­berg. Hav­ing pur­sued a grow-at-all-costs, con­se­quences-be-damned expan­sion strat­e­gy, the Face­book CEO is now attempt­ing to cre­ate his own coin. Diem (née Libra) is a cryp­tocur­ren­cy that, if all goes accord­ing to plan, will func­tion as a sort of replace­ment for the U.S. dol­lar inside Face­book (rough­ly 3 bil­lion users), What­sApp (2 bil­lion), Insta­gram (1 bil­lion), and its oth­er apps, as well as those of any oth­er com­pa­nies that adopt it. The effort has gen­er­at­ed con­sid­er­able con­cern from the U.S. Fed­er­al Reserve, which is under­stand­ably com­mit­ted to the dol­lar, and from crit­ics across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, who express shock at the audac­i­ty of a com­pa­ny with Facebook’s track record for pri­va­cy vio­la­tions attempt­ing to put itself at the cen­ter of glob­al com­merce.

    Long­time Thiel asso­ciates, though, weren’t sur­prised at all. “No one seems to have con­nect­ed the dots to Peter’s orig­i­nal grand vision for Pay­Pal,” a source who’d worked with Thiel for years wrote to me in June 2019, short­ly after the cur­ren­cy was announced. This per­son, and oth­ers I spoke with, saw Thiel’s ide­ol­o­gy — and his appar­ent belief that cor­po­rate pow­er should sub­sume the author­i­ty of gov­ern­ments — in Facebook’s actions. “There’s a direct influ­ence,” this source said.

    Thiel doesn’t con­trol Zucker­berg, and their rela­tion­ship is com­pli­cat­ed, to say the least. Thiel unloaded most of his stock as soon as the com­pa­ny went pub­lic. (The shares were falling and morale was low. To ral­ly the staff, Zucker­berg invit­ed Thiel to an all-hands meet­ing at head­quar­ters, but he just end­ed up insult­ing them. “My gen­er­a­tion was promised colonies on the moon,” Thiel told them. “Instead we got Face­book.”) But in the years since, Thiel has remained a trust­ed con­fi­dant to Zucker­berg — despite per­son­al­ly cul­ti­vat­ing Face­book antag­o­nists, includ­ing James O’Keefe, the right-wing provo­ca­teur who pro­duced under­cov­er videos attempt­ing to expose Facebook’s sup­posed bias against con­ser­v­a­tives, and Charles John­son, who helped start the face-recog­ni­tion com­pa­ny Clearview AI.

    Clearview assem­bled its gar­gan­tu­an data­base of faces by scrap­ing pho­tos from Face­book pro­files, which Face­book con­sid­ers a vio­la­tion of its terms of ser­vice. John­son told me that when he raised mon­ey from Thiel, he pre­sent­ed Clearview as both a promis­ing busi­ness and as a back­door way to “destroy” Face­book by expos­ing its lax pri­va­cy stan­dards. Thiel, who as a Face­book board mem­ber has a duty to act in the company’s best inter­ests, invest­ed in Clearview any­way. John­son also says that Thiel used him as a con­duit to leak emails between Thiel and Reed Hast­ings, anoth­er Face­book board mem­ber, who’d crit­i­cized Thiel for back­ing Don­ald Trump.

    At any nor­mal com­pa­ny, such dis­loy­al­ty might be grounds for dis­missal. But it was Hast­ings, not Thiel, who resigned from the board, and Zucker­berg nev­er pun­ished his men­tor. Accord­ing to two for­mer Face­book staffers, this was part­ly because he appre­ci­at­ed Thiel’s unvar­nished advice and part­ly because Zucker­berg saw Thiel as a polit­i­cal ally. Zucker­berg had been crit­i­cized by con­ser­v­a­tive media before the 2016 elec­tion and, with Thiel’s encour­age­ment, had sought to cater to them.

    In 2019, while on a trip to Wash­ing­ton to answer ques­tions from Con­gress about his dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy, Thiel joined Zucker­berg, Jared Kush­n­er, Trump, and their spous­es at the White House. The specifics of the dis­cus­sion were secret — but, as I report in my book, Thiel lat­er told a con­fi­dant that Zucker­berg came to an under­stand­ing with Kush­n­er dur­ing the meal. Face­book, he promised, would con­tin­ue to avoid fact-check­ing polit­i­cal speech — thus allow­ing the Trump cam­paign to claim what­ev­er it want­ed. If the com­pa­ny fol­lowed through on that promise, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would lay off on any heavy-hand­ed reg­u­la­tions.

    After the din­ner, Zucker­berg took a hands-off approach to con­ser­v­a­tive sites. In late Octo­ber, after he detailed the pol­i­cy in a speech at George­town, Face­book launched a news app that show­cased what the com­pa­ny called “deeply report­ed and well-sourced” out­lets. Among the list of rec­om­mend­ed pub­li­ca­tions was Bre­it­bart, Steve Bannon’s site, even though it had pro­mot­ed itself as allied with the alt-right and had once includ­ed a sec­tion ded­i­cat­ed to “Black crime.” Face­book also seemed to go out of its way to help the Dai­ly Wire, a younger, hip­per ver­sion of Bre­it­bart that would become one of the biggest pub­lish­ers on the plat­form. Face­book had long seen itself as a gov­ern­ment unto itself; now, thanks to the under­stand­ing bro­kered by Thiel, the site would push what the Thiel con­fi­dant called “state-sanc­tioned con­ser­vatism.”

    Zucker­berg denied that there had been any deal with Trump, call­ing the notion “pret­ty ridicu­lous,” though Facebook’s actions in the run-up to the elec­tion would make the denial seem not entire­ly cred­i­ble. Dur­ing Black Lives Mat­ter protests, Twit­ter hid a post by the pres­i­dent that seemed to con­done vio­lence: “When the loot­ing starts, the shoot­ing starts”; Face­book allowed it. In the days lead­ing up to the Jan­u­ary 6 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, Face­book most­ly ignored calls to lim­it the spread of “Stop the Steal” groups, which claimed that Trump had actu­al­ly won the elec­tion.

    In the months since, jour­nal­ists, pol­i­cy-mak­ers, and even some Face­book employ­ees have strug­gled to explain why the com­pa­ny remains indif­fer­ent to the objec­tions of reg­u­la­tors and law­mak­ers as well as those raised by com­mon sense. Why is Face­book — and so much of what comes out of what once seemed like the crown jew­el of Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ism — such an obvi­ous­ly malev­o­lent force?

    The answers to these ques­tions are part­ly struc­tur­al, of course, involv­ing reg­u­la­to­ry fail­ures that allowed Zucker­berg to dom­i­nate social-media adver­tis­ing. But they are also ide­o­log­i­cal. Both fig­u­ra­tive­ly and lit­er­al­ly, Thiel wrote the book on monop­oly cap­i­tal­ism, and he recruit­ed an army of fol­low­ers, includ­ing Zucker­berg. This is to say that the Face­book founder, like almost every suc­cess­ful techie of his gen­er­a­tion, isn’t a lib­er­al or a con­ser­v­a­tive. He is a Thielist. The rules do not apply.

    ————

    “Peter Thiel’s Ori­gin Sto­ry” by Max Chafkin; New York Mag­a­zine; 09/20/2021

    ” Any­one who has fol­lowed Thiel’s career will find much to rec­og­nize in the Route 17 encounter. The reflex­ive con­trar­i­an­ism, the unearned con­fi­dence, the impos­si­bly favor­able out­come — they feel famil­iar, both in Thiel him­self and the com­pa­nies he helped cre­ate. Today, of course, that scrawny chess nerd is the bil­lion­aire co-founder of Pay­Pal and Palan­tir and arguably the great­est ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist of his gen­er­a­tion, with a side­line as patron of such far-right caus­es as the 2016 can­di­da­cy of Don­ald Trump. Thiel (who did not com­ment for this arti­cle, which is adapt­ed from my new biog­ra­phy, The Con­trar­i­an) is per­haps the most impor­tant influ­ence in the world’s most influ­en­tial indus­try. Oth­er Sil­i­con Val­ley per­sonas may be bet­ter known to the gen­er­al pub­lic, includ­ing Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and even a few who don’t reg­u­lar­ly launch rock­ets into space. But Thiel is the Valley’s true idol — the sin­gle per­son whom tech’s young aspi­rants and mil­len­ni­al moguls most seek to flat­ter and to emu­late, the cult leader of the cult of dis­rup­tion.”

    Peter Thiel’s ethos is the heart and soul dri­ving con­tem­po­rary Sil­i­con Val­ley. Take a moment and digest that. The guy who wrote a book artic­u­lat­ing his Ayn Rand-ian phi­los­o­phy that views com­pa­ny founders as god­like and monar­chies are more effi­cient than democ­ra­cies is arguably the most influ­en­tial per­son in Sil­i­con Val­ley. A whole gen­er­a­tion of tech entre­pre­neurs have adopt­ed his phi­los­o­phy:

    ...
    Thiel hasn’t just act­ed in a cer­tain way and left it for oth­ers to notice and fol­low. He taught his meth­ods to founders-in-train­ing at Stan­ford, cod­i­fy­ing the lessons from the fleet of com­pa­nies found­ed by his for­mer employ­ees — the so-called Pay­Pal Mafia. He lat­er col­lect­ed his think­ing in a book, Zero to One. It became a best sell­er, part­ly because it promised a path to Thiel-scale wealth and part­ly because it devel­oped the idio­syn­crasies that had been present in the col­lege-age Thiel into a full-blown ide­ol­o­gy. The book argues, among oth­er things, that founders are god­like, that monar­chies are more effi­cient than democ­ra­cies, and that cults are a bet­ter orga­ni­za­tion­al mod­el than man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cies. More than any­thing, it cel­e­brates rule-break­ing. Thiel bragged that of PayPal’s six founders, four had built bombs in high school.

    ...

    Thiel despis­es the coun­ter­cul­ture (he dates the pre­cise begin­ning of Amer­i­can decline to Wood­stock) and is con­temp­tu­ous of the notion of cre­ativ­i­ty for its own sake. For Thiel, the pur­pose of found­ing a com­pa­ny is to con­trol your own des­tiny. “A start­up is the largest endeav­or over which you can have def­i­nite mas­tery,” he wrote. A new gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs, com­ing of age in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis, embraced his ideas. Thiel told them to flout norms and seek lucre, not impact. “Only one thing can allow a busi­ness to tran­scend the dai­ly brute strug­gle for sur­vival,” he wrote. “Monop­oly prof­its.” Per­haps his sin­gle best stu­dent has been Mark Zucker­berg, who built a monop­oly in his indus­try and used it to crush com­peti­tors and charge pro­gres­sive­ly high­er fees to adver­tis­ers — all while telling the world that this essen­tial­ly preda­to­ry behav­ior was a social good.

    With Thiel’s encour­age­ment, tech would “move fast and break things,” as the Face­book mot­to put it, and exec­u­tives believed it was bet­ter to ask for­give­ness than per­mis­sion. The indus­try that devel­oped would be defined by these clichés, con­vinc­ing itself that “dis­rup­tion” wasn’t just an unfor­tu­nate con­se­quence of inno­va­tion but an end in itself. Thielism would show up even at com­pa­nies where he was not an investor: at Juul, the e‑cigarette com­pa­ny that mar­ket­ed to chil­dren; at Robin­hood, which tempt­ed novice investors with volatile invest­ment prod­ucts; and at Uber, which paid dri­vers less than min­i­mum wage and vio­lat­ed statutes with appar­ent glee.

    McNamee, an ear­ly advis­er to Zucker­berg who turned apos­tate and pub­lished Zucked: Wak­ing Up to the Face­book Cat­a­stro­phe, sees this recent his­to­ry as an expres­sion of Thiel’s val­ues. As he put it to me, “The Pay­Pal Mafia phi­los­o­phy became the found­ing prin­ci­ple for an entire gen­er­a­tion of tech com­pa­nies.”
    ...

    And note how Thiel was appar­ent­ly a defend­er of South Africa’s apartheid sys­tem, assert­ing “it works”, back when he was stu­dent at Stan­ford. Recall how Thiel spent time liv­ing in South Africa grow­ing. This was­n’t just a casu­al embrace of apartheid. Also note that the for­mer stu­dent who recount­ed Thiel shar­ing these views was an African Amer­i­can female. Thiel was will­ing to defend apartheid to a black stu­dent:

    ...
    The mock­ery wasn’t about pol­i­tics, at least not ini­tial­ly, but that was how Thiel processed it. He had been raised by Evan­gel­i­cal Ger­man immi­grants and fan­cied him­self an aspir­ing William F. Buck­ley. It wasn’t unusu­al to be con­ser­v­a­tive at Stan­ford — it housed the Hoover Insti­tu­tion — but Thiel con­sid­ered it a hot­house of lefty antag­o­nists. “He viewed lib­er­als through a lens as peo­ple who were not nice to him,” said a class­mate. “The way peo­ple treat­ed him at Stan­ford had a huge impact. That’s still with him.” Thiel began to embrace a new iden­ti­ty — that of the right-wing provo­ca­teur. He joked about start­ing a fake char­i­ty, Lib­er­als for Peace, that would raise mon­ey based on a vague agen­da and then do absolute­ly noth­ing except pay him. And he told class­mates that con­cern about South African apartheid, per­haps the sin­gle buzzi­est issue on Amer­i­can cam­pus­es, was overblown. “It works,” he told Maxwell. (Thiel’s spokesman has said that Thiel doesn’t remem­ber being asked his views on apartheid and nev­er sup­port­ed it.)
    ...

    Then we get to the sto­ry of Thiel’s role in the found­ing of Pay­Pal. A sto­ry that appears to involve Thiel’s team steal­ing the under­ly­ing idea of mak­ing Pay­Pal an inter­net-based cur­ren­cy from Elon Musk’s rival X.com com­pa­ny that was work­ing on dig­i­tal cur­ren­cies at the same time. Keep in mind that, of all of Thiel’s var­i­ous tech-relat­ed ven­tures, it was real­ly only Pay­Pal where one could make a case that Thiel him­self pro­vid­ed some sort of tech­ni­cal inno­va­tion, as opposed to just be the guy pro­vid­ing the financ­ing for the ven­ture. And even in this case, Thiel’s orig­i­nal vision was far less rev­o­lu­tion­ary — hav­ing the Pay­Pal trans­ac­tions only take place via Palm Pilots direct­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each oth­er — and he end­ed up steal­ing the real inno­va­tion from Musk’s com­pa­ny. It under­scores how Thiel’s pri­ma­ry gen­uine inno­va­tion is lim­it­ed to the moral ‘inno­va­tions’ he kept com­ing up with to get ahead. In oth­er words, he inno­vat­ed self­ish rule-break­ing and con­niv­ing. That’s his grand con­tri­bu­tion to human­i­ty. Way to go:

    ...
    It start­ed on a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day in 1998. Thiel was in a class­room at Stanford’s engi­neer­ing cen­ter, attempt­ing to chat up an awk­ward but bril­liant coder. Max Levchin was 23, and he’d come to a lec­ture Thiel was deliv­er­ing on cur­ren­cies pri­mar­i­ly for the air con­di­tion­ing. The two young men got to talk­ing, and with­in a day, Thiel, who had been man­ag­ing a pool of cap­i­tal he’d raised from friends and fam­i­ly as a hedge fund, told Levchin that he want­ed to invest in his embry­on­ic start-up. It made soft­ware for Palm Pilots. At the end of that year, they began exper­i­ment­ing with a way for own­ers of the devices to trans­mit IOUs to one anoth­er. They called the ser­vice Pay­Pal, and Thiel, who took over the ven­ture before the year was out, quick­ly saw its sub­ver­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties.

    Once you got mon­ey via Pay­Pal, you could trans­fer your bal­ance to a bank. Or you could keep the funds inside Pay­Pal and use them to pay oth­er peo­ple. This, Thiel real­ized, made the ser­vice a kind of untrack­able dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy. It was the equiv­a­lent of a Swiss bank account in one’s pock­et, he believed, boast­ing to a Wired reporter that it could lead to “the ero­sion of the nation-state.” Thiel staffed the com­pa­ny with for­mer Stan­ford Review edi­tors and imposed his lib­er­tar­i­an ideas in ways large and small. Pay­Pal employ­ees were free to show up late to meet­ings as long as they paid $1 for every minute they were tardy, and Ayn Rand was some­thing like required read­ing.

    The com­pa­ny leased its first office above a sta­tionery store and a French bak­ery in down­town Palo Alto. At the time, the Val­ley was so full of com­pet­ing pay­ments com­pa­nies that there was a sec­ond one on the same floor. X.com was bet­ter fund­ed than Pay­Pal, with a famous investor — Michael Moritz of Sequoia Cap­i­tal — and a charis­mat­ic founder who’d already sold anoth­er start-up for some $300 mil­lion. His name was Elon Musk.

    Musk didn’t know that the engi­neers across the land­ing were also work­ing on dig­i­tal mon­ey trans­fers. (The sign on their door bore the name of a par­ent com­pa­ny.) X and Pay­Pal shared a trash bin in the alley behind their build­ing, and Pay­Pal engi­neers lat­er bragged to a group of X employ­ees that they found doc­u­ments that described X’s pay­ments scheme, which used the web, rather than Palm Pilots, as well as a sys­tem for gen­er­at­ing refer­rals by giv­ing cus­tomers cash. They incor­po­rat­ed the ideas into PayPal’s strat­e­gy. Some X employ­ees I spoke with took this boast lit­er­al­ly, though Musk cast doubt on the sto­ry. “It’s pos­si­ble, I sup­pose,” he told me. “But it’s a bit like say­ing, ‘You stole my idea for going to the moon.’” Even though he has long since moved on to run­ning Tes­la and SpaceX, Musk has com­pli­cat­ed feel­ings about Thiel, in part because of what hap­pened next.
    ...

    Then, after Pay­Pal and X.com merge — elim­i­nat­ing the com­pe­ti­tion — Thiel leaves the merged com­pa­ny, but is lat­er installed back into pow­er after his syco­phants stage a cor­po­rate coup and replace Musk with Thiel. Thiel then pro­ceeds to attempt to fun­nel Pay­Pal’s funds into his pri­vate hedge fund, Thiel Cap­i­tal. Anoth­er moral ‘inno­va­tion’:

    ...
    Thiel left short­ly after the merg­er. “I wouldn’t say we’re oil and water, but there are some pret­ty big dif­fer­ences,” Musk, who became CEO, told me. “Peter likes the games­manship of invest­ing — like we’re all play­ing chess. I don’t mind that, but I’m fun­da­men­tal­ly into doing engi­neer­ing and design. I’m not an inves­tor. I feel like using oth­er people’s mon­ey is not cool.” A per­son who has talked to each man about the oth­er put it more suc­cinct­ly: “Musk thinks Peter is a sociopath, and Peter thinks Musk is a fraud and a brag­gart.”

    It seemed as if Musk won the pow­er strug­gle, but Thiel had laid a trap, installing most of his deputies — includ­ing Levchin and the author of the Review’s “Rape Issue” — in the exec­u­tive ranks. Musk didn’t real­ize he was sur­round­ed by a team that was more loy­al to Thiel than to him. Lat­er that year, Musk left town for a two-week trip. While he was in the air, a group of Thiel-aligned con­spir­a­tors con­front­ed the company’s major backer, Moritz, at his office on Sand Hill Road. They demand­ed their patron be put in charge.

    After Moritz reluc­tant­ly agreed, Thiel pressed his advan­tage. At a board meet­ing, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple famil­iar with what hap­pened, he sug­gest­ed that Pay­Pal turn over all its cash to Thiel Cap­i­tal, the hedge fund he was still run­ning on the side, so that he could take advan­tage of the eco­nom­ic upheaval of the post-dot-com bub­ble. Moritz assumed Thiel was jok­ing, but Thiel calm­ly explained that he had a plan to bet on inter­est rates falling. Thiel’s idea was shot down, but Moritz was furi­ous. Risk­ing a start-up’s lim­it­ed cash on spec­u­la­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly spec­u­la­tion that had the poten­tial to per­son­al­ly enrich the CEO — was some­thing no ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, nor any self-respect­ing tech entre­pre­neur, would even con­sid­er sug­gest­ing. The fact that Thiel would pro­pose it not long after snag­ging the CEO job in a man­ner that was not exact­ly hon­or­able was dou­bly galling. It sug­gest­ed to Moritz and oth­ers on the board a lack of a moral com­pass.
    ...

    There’s even a term for Thiel’s form of grow­ing a com­pa­ny by break­ing any eth­i­cal code that gets in your way: “growth hack­ing”. It’s wide­ly cred­it­ed to Thiel and cel­e­brat­ed across the indus­try. From this per­spec­tive, the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion was real­ly just a form of polit­i­cal growth hack­ing:

    ...
    Under Thiel, PayPal’s will­ing­ness to dis­re­gard bank­ing rules became a key strate­gic advan­tage. Finan­cial insti­tu­tions are required to ver­i­fy that cus­tomers are who they say they are by check­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tions, but Pay­Pal, which con­tend­ed it wasn’t tech­ni­cal­ly a bank, made lit­tle effort to do so. (When a reporter not­ed to Thiel that many of his com­peti­tors com­plied with the reg­u­la­tions, he called them “insane.”) It also did lit­tle to stop peo­ple from using the mon­ey they put into their accounts for illic­it pur­pos­es. The refund mech­a­nism that Pay­Pal used to return cus­tomers’ cash was tech­ni­cal­ly banned by the cred­it-card com­pa­nies. When those com­pa­nies com­plained, Pay­Pal sim­ply offered an apol­o­gy and nego­ti­at­ed. Today, the use of unsus­tain­able or eth­i­cal­ly dubi­ous tricks to make a start-up insur­mount­ably big­ger than its rivals is known as “growth hack­ing.” It’s wide­ly cred­it­ed to Thiel and his exec­u­tives and cel­e­brat­ed by entre­pre­neurs across the indus­try. They’re all chas­ing what Thiel got. The year after he became CEO of Pay­Pal, eBay acquired the com­pa­ny for $1.5 bil­lion.

    Twen­ty years lat­er, Thielism is the dom­i­nant ethos in Sil­i­con Val­ley. That’s part­ly because Thiel has been effec­tive at seed­ing the indus­try with pro­tégés — none of them more promi­nent than Mark Zucker­berg. Hav­ing pur­sued a grow-at-all-costs, con­se­quences-be-damned expan­sion strat­e­gy, the Face­book CEO is now attempt­ing to cre­ate his own coin. Diem (née Libra) is a cryp­tocur­ren­cy that, if all goes accord­ing to plan, will func­tion as a sort of replace­ment for the U.S. dol­lar inside Face­book (rough­ly 3 bil­lion users), What­sApp (2 bil­lion), Insta­gram (1 bil­lion), and its oth­er apps, as well as those of any oth­er com­pa­nies that adopt it. The effort has gen­er­at­ed con­sid­er­able con­cern from the U.S. Fed­er­al Reserve, which is under­stand­ably com­mit­ted to the dol­lar, and from crit­ics across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, who express shock at the audac­i­ty of a com­pa­ny with Facebook’s track record for pri­va­cy vio­la­tions attempt­ing to put itself at the cen­ter of glob­al com­merce.

    Long­time Thiel asso­ciates, though, weren’t sur­prised at all. “No one seems to have con­nect­ed the dots to Peter’s orig­i­nal grand vision for Pay­Pal,” a source who’d worked with Thiel for years wrote to me in June 2019, short­ly after the cur­ren­cy was announced. This per­son, and oth­ers I spoke with, saw Thiel’s ide­ol­o­gy — and his appar­ent belief that cor­po­rate pow­er should sub­sume the author­i­ty of gov­ern­ments — in Facebook’s actions. “There’s a direct influ­ence,” this source said.
    ...

    And then there’s the fas­ci­nat­ing slew of ques­tions about just how much influ­ence Thiel holds of Mark Zucker­berg. The fact that Thiel arranged for Zucker­berg to effec­tive­ly be an absolute cor­po­rate dic­ta­tor as part of the con­di­tion of Thiel’s ini­tial invest­ment in Face­book is a hint. But it’s the behav­ior of Zucker­berg in the years since that’s the biggest hint. The is sim­ply no deny­ing that Zucker­berg acts as if he takes his orders from Thiel. And that’s why we have to ask the ques­tion: was Thiel direct­ing Zucker­berg to ensure Face­book remained a pro-insur­rec­tion plat­form through­out the post-elec­tion peri­od so the Trump team could reli­ably use it to push the ‘stolen elec­tion’ nar­ra­tive? All avail­able cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence is point­ing in that direc­tion:

    ...
    The blitzs­cal­ing strat­e­gy he and his employ­ees pio­neered at Pay­Pal cre­at­ed the growth play­book for an entire gen­er­a­tion of start-ups, from Airbnb to WeWork. His most leg­endary bet — loan­ing $500,000 to a social­ly inept Har­vard sopho­more in exchange for 10 per­cent of a web­site called TheFacebook.com — is sig­nif­i­cant less for the orders-of-mag­ni­tude eco­nom­ic return he real­ized and more for the terms he embed­ded in the deal. Thiel ensured that Mark Zucker­berg would be the company’s absolute dic­ta­tor. No one, not even Facebook’s board of direc­tors, could ever over­rule him. Sim­i­lar maneu­vers were adopt­ed at many of Thiel’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, includ­ing Stripe and SpaceX, and today, across the indus­try, it’s more the norm than the excep­tion.

    ...

    Thiel doesn’t con­trol Zucker­berg, and their rela­tion­ship is com­pli­cat­ed, to say the least. Thiel unloaded most of his stock as soon as the com­pa­ny went pub­lic. (The shares were falling and morale was low. To ral­ly the staff, Zucker­berg invit­ed Thiel to an all-hands meet­ing at head­quar­ters, but he just end­ed up insult­ing them. “My gen­er­a­tion was promised colonies on the moon,” Thiel told them. “Instead we got Face­book.”) But in the years since, Thiel has remained a trust­ed con­fi­dant to Zucker­berg — despite per­son­al­ly cul­ti­vat­ing Face­book antag­o­nists, includ­ing James O’Keefe, the right-wing provo­ca­teur who pro­duced under­cov­er videos attempt­ing to expose Facebook’s sup­posed bias against con­ser­v­a­tives, and Charles John­son, who helped start the face-recog­ni­tion com­pa­ny Clearview AI.

    Clearview assem­bled its gar­gan­tu­an data­base of faces by scrap­ing pho­tos from Face­book pro­files, which Face­book con­sid­ers a vio­la­tion of its terms of ser­vice. John­son told me that when he raised mon­ey from Thiel, he pre­sent­ed Clearview as both a promis­ing busi­ness and as a back­door way to “destroy” Face­book by expos­ing its lax pri­va­cy stan­dards. Thiel, who as a Face­book board mem­ber has a duty to act in the company’s best inter­ests, invest­ed in Clearview any­way. John­son also says that Thiel used him as a con­duit to leak emails between Thiel and Reed Hast­ings, anoth­er Face­book board mem­ber, who’d crit­i­cized Thiel for back­ing Don­ald Trump.

    At any nor­mal com­pa­ny, such dis­loy­al­ty might be grounds for dis­missal. But it was Hast­ings, not Thiel, who resigned from the board, and Zucker­berg nev­er pun­ished his men­tor. Accord­ing to two for­mer Face­book staffers, this was part­ly because he appre­ci­at­ed Thiel’s unvar­nished advice and part­ly because Zucker­berg saw Thiel as a polit­i­cal ally. Zucker­berg had been crit­i­cized by con­ser­v­a­tive media before the 2016 elec­tion and, with Thiel’s encour­age­ment, had sought to cater to them.

    In 2019, while on a trip to Wash­ing­ton to answer ques­tions from Con­gress about his dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy, Thiel joined Zucker­berg, Jared Kush­n­er, Trump, and their spous­es at the White House. The specifics of the dis­cus­sion were secret — but, as I report in my book, Thiel lat­er told a con­fi­dant that Zucker­berg came to an under­stand­ing with Kush­n­er dur­ing the meal. Face­book, he promised, would con­tin­ue to avoid fact-check­ing polit­i­cal speech — thus allow­ing the Trump cam­paign to claim what­ev­er it want­ed. If the com­pa­ny fol­lowed through on that promise, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would lay off on any heavy-hand­ed reg­u­la­tions.

    After the din­ner, Zucker­berg took a hands-off approach to con­ser­v­a­tive sites. In late Octo­ber, after he detailed the pol­i­cy in a speech at George­town, Face­book launched a news app that show­cased what the com­pa­ny called “deeply report­ed and well-sourced” out­lets. Among the list of rec­om­mend­ed pub­li­ca­tions was Bre­it­bart, Steve Bannon’s site, even though it had pro­mot­ed itself as allied with the alt-right and had once includ­ed a sec­tion ded­i­cat­ed to “Black crime.” Face­book also seemed to go out of its way to help the Dai­ly Wire, a younger, hip­per ver­sion of Bre­it­bart that would become one of the biggest pub­lish­ers on the plat­form. Face­book had long seen itself as a gov­ern­ment unto itself; now, thanks to the under­stand­ing bro­kered by Thiel, the site would push what the Thiel con­fi­dant called “state-sanc­tioned con­ser­vatism.”

    Zucker­berg denied that there had been any deal with Trump, call­ing the notion “pret­ty ridicu­lous,” though Facebook’s actions in the run-up to the elec­tion would make the denial seem not entire­ly cred­i­ble. Dur­ing Black Lives Mat­ter protests, Twit­ter hid a post by the pres­i­dent that seemed to con­done vio­lence: “When the loot­ing starts, the shoot­ing starts”; Face­book allowed it. In the days lead­ing up to the Jan­u­ary 6 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, Face­book most­ly ignored calls to lim­it the spread of “Stop the Steal” groups, which claimed that Trump had actu­al­ly won the elec­tion.
    ...

    Should we expect inves­ti­ga­tors to ever seri­ous­ly look into Thiel’s pos­si­ble role in the insur­rec­tion? Of course not. The guy is effec­tive­ly untouch­able and arguably the most pow­er­ful per­son in Wash­ing­ton DC. He own a com­pa­ny that’s effec­tive­ly the pri­va­tized NSA, after all. He’s prob­a­bly black­mailed half of Con­gress by now. And it’s Thiel’s appar­ent untouch­a­bil­i­ty that makes the ques­tion of his insur­rec­tion­ist role all the more cru­cial. Don­ald Trump is going to die one of these years. Steve Ban­non could end up in jail over over refusal to coop­er­ate with inves­ti­ga­tors. But Thiel is untouch­able, as he has been seem­ing­ly his entire life. And at this point it’s hard to see who is bet­ter posi­tioned to con­trol the future of the GOP than Peter Thiel. The guy who is posi­tion to be the post-Trump shad­ow-leader of GOP for the next gen­er­a­tion appears to have has fig­ured out how to back an insur­rec­tion while stay­ing far enough back in the shad­ows to avoid fac­ing any reper­cus­sions. What hap­pens when arguably the most pow­er­ful per­son in the coun­try can foment insur­rec­tions with­out it even being noticed? The US has appar­ent­ly decid­ed to find out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 14, 2021, 4:27 pm
  22. Of all of the warped self-pro­ject­ing griev­ances that com­prise the define the con­tem­po­rary right-wing, per­haps the most obvi­ous­ly absurd is the griev­ance about social media sup­pres­sion of right-wing voic­es. Beyond the fact that these griev­ances are typ­i­cal­ly expressed by peo­ple on the social media plat­forms them­selves, there’s the sim­ple real­i­ty that social media plat­forms keep get­ting caught engag­ing in scan­dals cen­tered around poli­cies of active­ly turn­ing a blind eye towards those right-wing abus­es. Face­book was lit­er­al­ly the pri­ma­ry Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol insur­rec­tion recruit­ment tool, after all. So with that ongo­ing far­ci­cal nar­ra­tive in mind, here’s a sto­ry about Sil­i­con Val­ley actu­al­ly engag­ing in exact­ly the kind of behav­ior described in that nar­ra­tive. Well, almost exact­ly the same: Just days before Nicaragua’s upcom­ing Novem­ber 7 elec­tions, Face­book and Insta­gram purged thou­sands of account. All of them left-wing accounts, includ­ing the accounts of elect­ed gov­ern­ment offi­cials. A nation-wide purge of the Left is tak­ing place in Nicaragua, com­ple­ments of the very same Sil­i­con Val­ley giants rou­tine­ly accused of silenc­ing con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es. Because of course that’s what’s hap­pen­ing.

    The purge includ­ed media out­lets and some of the most wide­ly fol­lowed per­son­al­i­ties in the coun­try. What was the basis for all this? Alle­ga­tions these accounts were fake and being oper­at­ed by gov­ern­ment troll farms. The only prob­lem was this was demon­stra­bly not true and real peo­ple have a way of val­i­dat­ing their exis­tence. But when all of these very real peo­ple flood­ed onto Twit­ter to post videos of their very real selves, Twit­ter pro­ceed­ed to delete those accounts too. That’s the nature of this op. It’s a pro­found­ly bad faith op being exe­cut­ed in real-time and ignored by vir­tu­al­ly the entire world. In oth­er words, it’s suc­ceed­ing. Sil­i­con Val­ley silenced Nicaragua’s left and bare­ly any­one noticed. Mis­sion accom­plished.

    Oh, and it just hap­pens to be the case that the fig­ures inside Face­book who com­piled and pro­mot­ed the bogus report have ties to the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state. The author of the report and leader of Face­book’s “Threat Intel­li­gence Team”, Ben Nim­mo, is a for­mer NATO press offi­cer and con­sul­tant for Integri­ty Ini­tia­tive (a real life troll farm). Nim­mo served as head of inves­ti­ga­tions for Graphi­ka, a DARPA-backed ini­tia­tive set up with fund­ing from the Pen­tagon’s Min­er­va Insti­tute. The head of secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at Face­book, Nathaniel Gle­ich­er, also pro­mot­ed the report. Gliech­er was direc­tor for cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. David Agra­novich, Facebook’s “direc­tor of threat dis­rup­tion” who also shared Nim­mo report, served as direc­tor of intel­li­gence for the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. It rais­es ques­tions about the nation­al secu­ri­ty back­grounds of who­ev­er was mak­ing these deci­sions at Twit­ter.

    So we final­ly have an exam­ple of social media selec­tive­ly tar­get­ing the users of spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy. The leg­ends are both true and the oppo­site of the right-wing nar­ra­tive, because that’s how strate­gic projection/trolling works:

    The Gray­zone

    Meet the Nicaraguans Face­book false­ly brand­ed bots and cen­sored days before elec­tions

    Ben Nor­ton
    Novem­ber 2, 2021

    Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter sus­pend­ed hun­dreds of influ­en­tial pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and activists days before Nicaragua’s Novem­ber 7 elec­tions, false­ly claim­ing they were gov­ern­ment trolls. The Gray­zone inter­viewed them to reveal the truth.

    ****

    Just days before Nicaragua’s Novem­ber 7 elec­tions, top social media plat­forms cen­sored top Nicaraguan news out­lets and hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists and activists who sup­port their country’s left­ist San­din­ista gov­ern­ment.

    The polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed cam­paign of Sil­i­con Val­ley cen­sor­ship amount­ed to a mas­sive purge of San­din­ista sup­port­ers one week before the vote. It fol­lowed US gov­ern­ment attacks on the integri­ty of Nicaragua’s elec­tions, and Washington’s insis­tence that it will refuse to rec­og­nize the results.

    The Unit­ed States spon­sored a sadis­ti­cal­ly vio­lent coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018, which result­ed in hun­dreds of deaths in a des­per­ate attempt to over­throw the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Daniel Orte­ga.

    Since the putsch failed, both the Don­ald Trump and Joe Biden admin­is­tra­tions have imposed sev­er­al rounds of dev­as­tat­ing sanc­tions on Nicaragua. The US Con­gress plans to levy new heavy-hand­ed sanc­tions against Nicaragua fol­low­ing the Novem­ber 7 elec­tions.

    Sil­i­con Valley’s crack­down on pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and activists was part and par­cel of the US government’s polit­i­cal assault on Nicaragua.

    Face­book and Insta­gram – both of which are owned by the new­ly rebrand­ed Big Tech giant Meta – sus­pend­ed 1,300 Nicaragua-based accounts run by pro-San­din­ista media out­lets, jour­nal­ists, and activists in a large-scale crack­down on Octo­ber 31.

    Days before, Twit­ter did the same, purg­ing many promi­nent pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and influ­encers.

    On Novem­ber 1, San­din­ista activists whose accounts were sus­pend­ed by Face­book and Insta­gram respond­ed by post­ing videos on Twit­ter, show­ing the world that they are indeed real peo­ple. But Twit­ter sus­pend­ed their accounts as well, seek­ing to erase all evi­dence demon­strat­ing that these Nicaraguans are not gov­ern­ment bots or part of a coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic oper­a­tion.

    Twitter’s fol­low-up cen­sor­ship was effec­tive­ly a dou­ble-tap strike on the free­dom of speech of Nicaraguans, whose appar­ent mis­deed is express­ing polit­i­cal views that chal­lenge Washington’s objec­tives.

    Insane! Facebook/Instagram false­ly claimed left-wing Nicaraguans are govt-run bots, cen­sor­ing them. So they post­ed videos on Twit­ter show­ing they’re real. But now Twit­ter is sus­pend­ing them too!This is a coor­di­nat­ed purge of San­din­istas, days before Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 elec­tion https://t.co/sB7COoxl7Q pic.twitter.com/E2EPVAK5tx— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    The thou­sands of accounts cen­sored by Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter col­lec­tive­ly had hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers, and rep­re­sent­ed some of the biggest and most influ­en­tial media out­lets and orga­ni­za­tions in Nicaragua, a rel­a­tive­ly small coun­try of 6.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

    US Big Tech com­pa­nies sus­pend­ing all of these accounts mere days before elec­tions could have a sig­nif­i­cant, tan­gi­ble impact on Nicaragua’s elec­toral results.

    The purges exclu­sive­ly tar­get­ed sup­port­ers of the social­ist, anti-impe­ri­al­ist San­din­ista Front par­ty. Zero right-wing oppo­si­tion sup­port­ers in Nicaragua were impact­ed.

    Face­book pub­lished a report on Novem­ber 1 claim­ing the San­din­istas it cen­sored were part of a “troll farm run by the gov­ern­ment of Nicaragua and the San­din­ista Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FSLN) par­ty” that had engaged in “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior.”

    This is demon­stra­bly false. In real­i­ty, what Facebook/Instagram did is purge most high-pro­file San­din­ista sup­port­ers on the plat­forms, then try to jus­ti­fy it by claim­ing that aver­age San­din­ista activists are actu­al­ly gov­ern­ment-run bots.

    Face­book implic­it­ly admit­ted this fact by con­ced­ing in the report that there were “authen­tic accounts” purged in the mas­sive social media crack­down. But Face­book refused to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the authen­tic accounts and the alleged “inau­then­tic” accounts, nam­ing none and instead lump­ing them all togeth­er in order to jus­ti­fy eras­ing their dig­i­tal exis­tence.

    Unlike Facebook’s inves­ti­ga­tors, this reporter, Ben Nor­ton, is based in Nicaragua and per­son­al­ly knows dozens of the Nicaraguans whose accounts were cen­sored, and can con­firm that they are indeed real peo­ple organ­i­cal­ly express­ing their authen­tic opin­ions – not trolls, bots, or fake accounts.

    I inter­viewed more than two dozen San­din­ista activists whose per­son­al accounts were sus­pend­ed, and pub­lished videos of some of them below, to prove that Facebook’s claims are cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly false.

    Facebook’s secu­ri­ty team is run by for­mer high-lev­el US gov­ern­ment offi­cials

    The Face­book report false­ly depict­ing aver­age San­din­ista activists as gov­ern­ment trolls was co-authored by Ben Nim­mo, the leader of Meta’s “Threat Intel­li­gence Team.”

    The Gray­zone has exposed Nim­mo as a for­mer press offi­cer for the US-led NATO mil­i­tary alliance and paid con­sul­tant to an actu­al covert troll farm: the Integri­ty Ini­tia­tive, which was estab­lished in secret by British mil­i­tary offi­cers to run anti-Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tions through West­ern media.

    Nim­mo has served as head of inves­ti­ga­tions at Graphi­ka, anoth­er infor­ma­tion war­fare ini­tia­tive that was set up with fund­ing from the Pentagon’s Min­er­va Insti­tute, and oper­ates with sup­port from the Pentagon’s top-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

    Nim­mo, who is also a senior fel­low at the West­ern gov­ern­ment-fund­ed Atlantic Coun­cil, med­dled in Britain’s 2020 elec­tion by smear­ing left­ist Labour Par­ty leader Jere­my Cor­byn as the ves­sel for a sup­posed Russ­ian active mea­sures oper­a­tion.

    The lat­est Nim­mo-engi­neered pseu­do-scan­dal high­lights Facebook’s role as an impe­r­i­al infor­ma­tion weapon whose secu­ri­ty team has been essen­tial­ly farmed out of the US gov­ern­ment.

    The head of secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at Face­book, Nathaniel Gle­ich­er, pro­mot­ed Nimmo’s report, echo­ing his false claims.

    Before mov­ing to Face­book, Gle­ich­er was direc­tor for cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. He also worked at the US Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

    Gle­ich­er clar­i­fied that when Face­book accused Nicaragua of run­ning a sup­posed “troll farm,” it “means that the op is rely­ing on fake accounts to manip­u­late & deceive their audi­ence.”

    Accord­ing to this def­i­n­i­tion, Facebook’s report is com­plete­ly wrong. Many of the accounts it sus­pend­ed were run by every­day Nicaraguans, and The Gray­zone has inter­viewed them and post­ed videos below.

    1/ Today we shared the removal of a domes­tic CIB net­work in Nicaragua that was run by the gov­ern­ment of Nicaragua and the San­din­ista Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FSLN) par­ty.https://t.co/505nHhgljV— Nathaniel Gle­ich­er (@ngleicher) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    Facebook’s “direc­tor of threat dis­rup­tion,” David Agra­novich, also shared Nimmo’s false report.

    Like Gle­ich­er, Agra­novich worked at the US gov­ern­ment before mov­ing to Face­book, serv­ing as direc­tor of intel­li­gence for the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.

    1/ Today we shared our lat­est month­ly CIB report, which includes a deep-dive into a net­work in Nicaragua that was run by the gov­ern­ment of Nicaragua and the San­din­ista Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FSLN) par­ty. https://t.co/2S36MInjeh— David Agra­novich (@DavidAgranovich) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    Both of these US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil vet­er­ans active­ly pro­mot­ed Facebook’s coor­di­nat­ed purge of pro-San­din­ista Nicaraguans.

    Face­book basi­cal­ly merged with the US government.Head of secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at FB, Nathaniel Gle­ich­er @ngleicher, was direc­tor for cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Before that he worked at the DOJ.No won­der they are ban­ning San­din­ista sup­port­ers pic.twitter.com/vXsDgJH1rr— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    The Gray­zone con­tact­ed Face­book with a request for com­ment. The head of secu­ri­ty com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Mar­gari­ta Z. Franklin, replied with­out any com­ment, sim­ply link­ing to Nimmo’s report.

    When The Gray­zone fol­lowed up and asked Franklin about Face­book sus­pend­ing many real-life Nicaraguans who sup­port their gov­ern­ment but are very much not bots, she did not respond.

    Meet the Nicaraguans cen­sored by Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter

    The Gray­zone spoke with more than two dozen liv­ing, breath­ing San­din­ista activists, whom this reporter knows and has met in per­son, and who were purged in the social media crack­down.

    Many said this was the sec­ond or third time their accounts had been cen­sored. Sev­er­al had their Face­book and Twit­ter accounts removed dur­ing a vio­lent US-backed right-wing coup attempt in 2018.

    Mul­ti­ple activists said they are afraid Wash­ing­ton will spon­sor anoth­er coup attempt or desta­bi­liza­tion oper­a­tions fol­low­ing Nicaragua’s Novem­ber 7 elec­tions, and because they were banned on social media, the San­din­ista sup­ports will be unable to inform the out­side world about what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in their coun­try.

    Ligia Sevil­la

    Here is Nicaraguan San­din­ista activist Ligia Sevil­la @ligiasevilla_, who was cen­sored by Face­book@Meta false­ly claimed she’s a “fake account,” part of a gov­ern­ment-run “troll farm“Will Face­book retract its false claims and restore her account?@benimmo@DavidAgranovich@olgs7 https://t.co/mDx9QvvtlU pic.twitter.com/wpykMeFon7— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    San­din­ista influ­encer Ligia Sevil­la, who had more than 5,500 fol­low­ers on her per­son­al Insta­gram account, which was sus­pend­ed along with her Face­book pro­file, pro­claimed, “I’m not a bot; I’m not a troll. And my social media accounts were cen­sored. Maybe Face­book doesn’t allow us to be San­din­istas?”

    After Sevil­la shared this video to ver­i­fy her authen­tic­i­ty, Twit­ter sus­pend­ed her account as well – a sign of a coor­di­nat­ed cen­sor­ship cam­paign tar­get­ing San­din­istas on social media.

    Franklin Ruiz

    And here is Nicaraguan San­din­ista activist Franklin Ruiz G. @ElChequelito, whose per­son­al account was cen­sored by Face­book, which false­ly claimed he is a gov­ern­ment-run bot/troll.

    And here is Nicaraguan San­din­ista activist Franklin Ruiz G. @ElChequelito, whose per­son­al account was cen­sored by Face­book, which false­ly claimed he is a gov­ern­ment-run bot/troll.Still no com­ment on this polit­i­cal cen­sor­ship by@Meta@benimmo@DavidAgranovich @ngleicher@olgs7 pic.twitter.com/KTthCikmgi— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    San­din­ista activist Franklin Ruiz, whose per­son­al Face­book page was sus­pend­ed, pub­lished a video mes­sage as well: “I want to tell you that we are human beings; we are peo­ple who, on Face­book, are defend­ing our rev­o­lu­tion, defend­ing our coun­try. We are not bots, as Face­book says, or pro­grammed trolls.”

    After Ruiz shared this video on Twit­ter, the plat­form purged him too.

    Tyler Moreno Diaz

    This is anoth­er Nicaraguan San­din­ista activist, Tyler Moreno Diaz @AlexdiazTyler, who was false­ly dubbed a gov­ern­ment-run bot by Face­book and had his account suspended.Why won’t @Meta admit its “troll farm” report is total­ly bogus?@DavidAgranovich@olgs7@benimmo@ngleicher pic.twitter.com/bDS3E5ngre— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    Anoth­er San­din­ista activist Tyler Moreno Diaz, whose Face­book account was purged, also post­ed a video stat­ing, “I want to show you that I’m not a troll.”

    “That’s why I’m ask­ing Face­book, why did you sus­pend me?,” he said. “That is med­dling. That is vio­lat­ing our right to free expres­sion.”

    Hayler Gaitán

    There are so many San­din­ista activists in Nicaragua who were false­ly labeled “bots” and cen­sored by Face­book. Here is pop­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tor Hayler Gaitán @QueNotaHayller, who is not a troll.@Meta still won’t com­ment on its false claims@DavidAgranovich@olgs7@benimmo@ngleicher pic.twitter.com/rG3iB9ba2S— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    Hayler Gaitán, anoth­er San­din­ista activist cen­sored by Face­book, pub­lished a video explain­ing, “”I am a young com­mu­ni­ca­tor. I am not a troll, as Face­book says, or a bot.”

    “I am a young com­mu­ni­ca­tor who shares infor­ma­tion about the good progress in Nicaragua,” he con­tin­ued. “We enjoy free health­care, free edu­ca­tion, and oth­er pro­grams that ben­e­fit the Nicaraguan peo­ple, and that we have been build­ing through­out our his­to­ry. And they have want­ed to take that from us, but they will nev­er be able to.”

    After Gaitán post­ed this video on Twit­ter, it sus­pend­ed his account as well.

    Daniela Cien­fue­gos

    This is anoth­er Nicaraguan San­din­ista sup­port­er, Daniela Cien­fue­gos @dani100sweet, an activist in the Red de Jóvenes Comu­ni­cadores, which Facebook/Instagram sus­pend­ed and false­ly claimed is a gov­’t bot farm.Any com­ment from @Meta?@benimmo@DavidAgranovich @ngleicher@olgs7 pic.twitter.com/md32dU6WZp— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Novem­ber 1, 2021

    Daniela Cien­fue­gos, an activist with the pro-San­din­ista Red de Jóvenes Comu­ni­cadores (Net­work of Youth Com­mu­ni­ca­tors), post­ed a video on Twit­ter say­ing, “I want­ed to tell you that, no, we are not trolls. We are peo­ple who ded­i­cate our­selves to com­mu­ni­cate from the trench­es, to inform the Nicaraguan peo­ple, and on the inter­na­tion­al stage.”

    After Cien­fue­gos pub­lished this, Twit­ter delet­ed her account as well.

    Face­book, Insta­gram, Twit­ter cen­sor top pro-San­din­ista Nicaraguan jour­nal­ists and media out­lets

    The above are just a small sam­ple of Nicaraguans who were false­ly smeared as “gov­ern­ment-run trolls” by Face­book and erased from social media.

    But it wasn’t just indi­vid­ual Nicaraguans who were cen­sored. Major Nicaraguan media out­lets that pro­vide a pro-San­din­ista per­spec­tive were also removed.

    On the night of Octo­ber 31, Face­book removed 140 pages and 24 groups, 100% of which were pro-San­din­ista. Among those delet­ed were:

    * offi­cial San­din­ista news­pa­per Bar­ri­ca­da, which had more than 65,000 fol­low­ers
    * pop­u­lar youth-run left-wing b, which had more than 81,000 fol­low­ers
    * the Red de Jóvenes Comu­ni­cadores, or Young Com­mu­ni­ca­tors Net­work, which brings togeth­er jour­nal­ists and media activists from the San­din­ista Youth social move­ment, and which had more than 71,000 fol­low­ers
    * and the indi­vid­ual pro­files of dozens of Nicaraguan jour­nal­ists, activists, and influ­encers.

    At the exact same time as the Face­book purge, its sis­ter plat­form Insta­gram took down many of the same pages:

    * Bar­ri­ca­da, which had more than 9,500 fol­low­ers
    * Red­volu­ción, which had more than 22,700 fol­low­ers,
    * Red de Jóvenes Comu­ni­cadores, which had more than 12,600 fol­low­ers
    * and, once again, the per­son­al pages of dozens of Nicaraguan jour­nal­ists, activists, and influ­encers.

    Insta­gram also sus­pend­ed the account of the fash­ion orga­ni­za­tion Nicaragua Dis­eña, which is very pop­u­lar in Nicaragua, and had more than 42,700 fol­low­ers.

    Unlike the oth­er purged accounts, Nicaragua Dis­eña is decid­ed­ly not a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It is run by Cami­la Orte­ga, a daugh­ter of the pres­i­dent, but Nicaragua Dis­eña inten­tion­al­ly goes out of its way to avoid pol­i­tics, try­ing to bring togeth­er oppo­si­tion sup­port­ers and San­din­istas in apo­lit­i­cal cul­tur­al events.

    Just a few days before the coor­di­nat­ed Face­book-Insta­gram purge, Twit­ter also removed the accounts of the most promi­nent pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and influ­encers on the plat­form.

    On Octo­ber 28, Twit­ter sus­pend­ed the accounts of media activists @ElCuervoNica, @FloryCantoX, @TPU19J, @Jay_Clandestino, and numer­ous oth­ers. Togeth­er, these pro-San­din­ista com­mu­ni­ca­tors had tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

    Many of them, such as @CuervoNica and @FloryCantoR, had been cen­sored before. This was the sec­ond or third account they had cre­at­ed, only to be cen­sored for their polit­i­cal views.

    Twit­ter’s polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed cen­sor­ship is again tar­get­ing Latin Amer­i­can leftists:Influential Nicaraguan San­din­ista sup­port­ers @ElCuervoNica and @FloryCantoX were sus­pend­edThis is the SECOND time the US gov­ern­ment thought police at Twit­ter sus­pend­ed @FloryCantoR’s account pic.twitter.com/xlZJWVO9vt— Ben Nor­ton (@BenjaminNorton) Octo­ber 29, 2021

    Sil­i­con Valley’s cen­sor­ship of Nicaragua always goes in one direc­tion: It is left­ist, anti-impe­ri­al­ist sup­port­ers of the San­din­ista gov­ern­ment who are cen­sored, while right-wing oppo­si­tion activists, many of whom are fund­ed by the US gov­ern­ment, are ver­i­fied and pro­mot­ed by the social media monop­o­lies.

    Numer­ous Nicaraguan jour­nal­ists whose indi­vid­ual social media accounts were sus­pend­ed told The Gray­zone they were upset and angry, as they had spent count­less hours of work over years build­ing their pages, doing jour­nal­ism, and shar­ing infor­ma­tion. Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter delet­ed all of that labor in mere sec­onds.

    Some said they fear this cen­sor­ship will also harm them finan­cial­ly, as they had relied on their social media accounts as a source of income.

    In addi­tion to clear­ly infring­ing on their rights to free­dom of the press and free­dom of expres­sion, the lat­est wave of Sil­i­con Val­ley cen­sor­ship has done con­crete eco­nom­ic dam­age to work­ing-class Nicaraguans who had relied on Face­book and Insta­gram to run small busi­ness­es. Sev­er­al of those affect­ed told The Gray­zone they are now locked out of the Face­book and Insta­gram pages they had used to sell prod­ucts like food, cloth­ing, or home­made jew­el­ry.

    This Sil­i­con Val­ley cen­sor­ship thus not only great­ly hin­ders these work­ing-class Nicaraguans’ abil­i­ty to do their work as jour­nal­ists, giv­en social media is an inte­gral part of con­tem­po­rary jour­nal­ism, but also deprived them of extra sources of income they had relied on to sup­port their fam­i­lies.

    Giv­en the US government’s hyper­bol­ic claims of Russ­ian med­dling in its 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the social media purge it has inspired in Nicaragua is tinged with irony. After years of inves­ti­ga­tions, and bil­lions of dol­lars spent, the only osten­si­ble evi­dence Wash­ing­ton found of Russ­ian inter­fer­ence was some Face­book posts, includ­ing absurd humor­ous memes.

    If these alleged Russ­ian Face­book memes con­sti­tute a Pearl Har­bor-style attack on North Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, as top US gov­ern­ment offi­cials have claimed, then what does it mean for Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter to cen­sor high­ly influ­en­tial pro-San­din­ista media out­lets, jour­nal­ists, and activists mere days before Nicaragua’s elec­tions?

    Aaron Mate dis­cuss­es Russ­ian troll farms’ dan­ger­ous Jesus mas­tur­ba­tion memes that alleged­ly won Don­ald Trump the elec­tion. Full ep https://t.co/0izDspjRxX @aaronjmate @mtaibbi #Use­fu­lId­iot­s­Pod @RollingStone @RSPolitics #rus­si­a­gate pic.twitter.com/XG2cH6NZ8F— Katie Halper (@kthalps) May 18, 2020

    Besides med­dling in for­eign elec­tions, North Amer­i­can social media monop­o­lies have sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and repeat­ed­ly cen­sored jour­nal­ists, politi­cians, and activists in numer­ous coun­tries tar­get­ed by Wash­ing­ton for regime change, such as Venezuela, Iran, Syr­ia, Rus­sia, and Chi­na. On numer­ous occa­sions, these Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies have admit­ted such purges were car­ried out at the request of the US gov­ern­ment.

    The Gray­zone has doc­u­ment­ed the many ways in which these Big Tech giants pro­mot­ing US state media, while pro­mot­ing US state media and silenc­ing peo­ple in coun­tries that Wash­ing­ton has deemed its adver­saries.

    ...

    Quen­ri Madri­gal, a promi­nent San­din­ista activist and social media influ­encer, com­ment­ed, “We have already wit­nessed the forms of online cen­sor­ship tar­get­ing oth­er coun­tries, like Cuba, Venezuela, Rus­sia, and Iran. There is a tyran­ny of transna­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy and social media cor­po­ra­tions. They are instru­ments that don’t belong to the peo­ples.”

    ———–

    “Meet the Nicaraguans Face­book false­ly brand­ed bots and cen­sored days before elec­tions” by Ben Nor­ton; The Gray­zone; 11/02/2021

    “The purges exclu­sive­ly tar­get­ed sup­port­ers of the social­ist, anti-impe­ri­al­ist San­din­ista Front par­ty. Zero right-wing oppo­si­tion sup­port­ers in Nicaragua were impact­ed.”

    It’s not sub­tle. Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter took explic­it­ly par­ti­san steps to silence the Left in Nicaragua. Like the whole left across soci­ety, from every­day activists, to elect­ed offi­cials, rep­re­sent­ing many of the most fol­lowed per­son­al­i­ties in the coun­try. A giant coor­di­nat­ed effort car­ried out under the false pre­tense that these are fake account. First Face­book and Insta­gram car­ried out the mass purge under the pre­tense that they were fake accounts. And when these real peo­ple went onto Twit­ter to prove they were real, Twit­ter pro­ceed­ed to ban them too:

    ...
    Since the putsch failed, both the Don­ald Trump and Joe Biden admin­is­tra­tions have imposed sev­er­al rounds of dev­as­tat­ing sanc­tions on Nicaragua. The US Con­gress plans to levy new heavy-hand­ed sanc­tions against Nicaragua fol­low­ing the Novem­ber 7 elec­tions.

    Sil­i­con Valley’s crack­down on pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and activists was part and par­cel of the US government’s polit­i­cal assault on Nicaragua.

    Face­book and Insta­gram – both of which are owned by the new­ly rebrand­ed Big Tech giant Meta – sus­pend­ed 1,300 Nicaragua-based accounts run by pro-San­din­ista media out­lets, jour­nal­ists, and activists in a large-scale crack­down on Octo­ber 31.

    Days before, Twit­ter did the same, purg­ing many promi­nent pro-San­din­ista jour­nal­ists and influ­encers.

    On Novem­ber 1, San­din­ista activists whose accounts were sus­pend­ed by Face­book and Insta­gram respond­ed by post­ing videos on Twit­ter, show­ing the world that they are indeed real peo­ple. But Twit­ter sus­pend­ed their accounts as well, seek­ing to erase all evi­dence demon­strat­ing that these Nicaraguans are not gov­ern­ment bots or part of a coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic oper­a­tion.

    ...

    The thou­sands of accounts cen­sored by Face­book, Insta­gram, and Twit­ter col­lec­tive­ly had hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers, and rep­re­sent­ed some of the biggest and most influ­en­tial media out­lets and orga­ni­za­tions in Nicaragua, a rel­a­tive­ly small coun­try of 6.5 mil­lion peo­ple.

    US Big Tech com­pa­nies sus­pend­ing all of these accounts mere days before elec­tions could have a sig­nif­i­cant, tan­gi­ble impact on Nicaragua’s elec­toral results.

    ...

    Sil­i­con Valley’s cen­sor­ship of Nicaragua always goes in one direc­tion: It is left­ist, anti-impe­ri­al­ist sup­port­ers of the San­din­ista gov­ern­ment who are cen­sored, while right-wing oppo­si­tion activists, many of whom are fund­ed by the US gov­ern­ment, are ver­i­fied and pro­mot­ed by the social media monop­o­lies.
    ...

    Face­book even pub­lished a report on Novem­ber 1 explain­ing the purge as being in response to “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior”. A report obvi­ous­ly made in bad faith. So we have a coor­di­nat­ed Sil­i­con Val­ley move against alleged bad faith activ­i­ty made in bad faith:

    ...
    Face­book pub­lished a report on Novem­ber 1 claim­ing the San­din­istas it cen­sored were part of a “troll farm run by the gov­ern­ment of Nicaragua and the San­din­ista Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FSLN) par­ty” that had engaged in “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior.”

    This is demon­stra­bly false. In real­i­ty, what Facebook/Instagram did is purge most high-pro­file San­din­ista sup­port­ers on the plat­forms, then try to jus­ti­fy it by claim­ing that aver­age San­din­ista activists are actu­al­ly gov­ern­ment-run bots.

    Face­book implic­it­ly admit­ted this fact by con­ced­ing in the report that there were “authen­tic accounts” purged in the mas­sive social media crack­down. But Face­book refused to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the authen­tic accounts and the alleged “inau­then­tic” accounts, nam­ing none and instead lump­ing them all togeth­er in order to jus­ti­fy eras­ing their dig­i­tal exis­tence.

    Unlike Facebook’s inves­ti­ga­tors, this reporter, Ben Nor­ton, is based in Nicaragua and per­son­al­ly knows dozens of the Nicaraguans whose accounts were cen­sored, and can con­firm that they are indeed real peo­ple organ­i­cal­ly express­ing their authen­tic opin­ions – not trolls, bots, or fake accounts.

    ...

    Many said this was the sec­ond or third time their accounts had been cen­sored. Sev­er­al had their Face­book and Twit­ter accounts removed dur­ing a vio­lent US-backed right-wing coup attempt in 2018.

    ...

    The above are just a small sam­ple of Nicaraguans who were false­ly smeared as “gov­ern­ment-run trolls” by Face­book and erased from social media.

    But it wasn’t just indi­vid­ual Nicaraguans who were cen­sored. Major Nicaraguan media out­lets that pro­vide a pro-San­din­ista per­spec­tive were also removed.
    ...

    So it should come as no sur­prise to learn that this coor­di­nat­ed bad faith action by these Sil­i­con Val­ley giants that just hap­pens to align with the US’s long-stand­ing pol­i­cy of squash­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­can left­ist move­ments. In oth­er words, we’re watch­ing the lat­est US op tar­get­ing Nicaragua’s Left in action. An op exe­cut­ed by Face­book exec­u­tives who just hap­pen to have pre­vi­ous­ly worked in nation­al secu­ri­ty jobs with the US gov­ern­ment:

    ...
    The Face­book report false­ly depict­ing aver­age San­din­ista activists as gov­ern­ment trolls was co-authored by Ben Nim­mo, the leader of Meta’s “Threat Intel­li­gence Team.”

    The Gray­zone has exposed Nim­mo as a for­mer press offi­cer for the US-led NATO mil­i­tary alliance and paid con­sul­tant to an actu­al covert troll farm: the Integri­ty Ini­tia­tive, which was estab­lished in secret by British mil­i­tary offi­cers to run anti-Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tions through West­ern media.

    Nim­mo has served as head of inves­ti­ga­tions at Graphi­ka, anoth­er infor­ma­tion war­fare ini­tia­tive that was set up with fund­ing from the Pentagon’s Min­er­va Insti­tute, and oper­ates with sup­port from the Pentagon’s top-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

    Nim­mo, who is also a senior fel­low at the West­ern gov­ern­ment-fund­ed Atlantic Coun­cil, med­dled in Britain’s 2020 elec­tion by smear­ing left­ist Labour Par­ty leader Jere­my Cor­byn as the ves­sel for a sup­posed Russ­ian active mea­sures oper­a­tion.

    ...

    The head of secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at Face­book, Nathaniel Gle­ich­er, pro­mot­ed Nimmo’s report, echo­ing his false claims.

    Before mov­ing to Face­book, Gle­ich­er was direc­tor for cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. He also worked at the US Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

    ...

    Facebook’s “direc­tor of threat dis­rup­tion,” David Agra­novich, also shared Nimmo’s false report.

    Like Gle­ich­er, Agra­novich worked at the US gov­ern­ment before mov­ing to Face­book, serv­ing as direc­tor of intel­li­gence for the White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.
    ...

    Final­ly, note this omi­nous warn­ing from these activists: What Sil­i­con Val­ley is doing is mak­ing Nicaragua safe for the exe­cu­tion of a right-wing coup. The voic­es who may have been capa­ble inform­ing the world about what’s hap­pen­ing have been pre­emp­tive­ly silenced. It’s part of the rea­son this sto­ry goes far beyond Nicaragua. We’re watch­ing what could be inter­pret­ed as pre-coup dig­i­tal prep work:

    ...
    Mul­ti­ple activists said they are afraid Wash­ing­ton will spon­sor anoth­er coup attempt or desta­bi­liza­tion oper­a­tions fol­low­ing Nicaragua’s Novem­ber 7 elec­tions, and because they were banned on social media, the San­din­ista sup­ports will be unable to inform the out­side world about what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in their coun­try.
    ...

    So at this point it sounds like we should­n’t be entire­ly sur­prised to hear about a new right-wing coup attempt in Nicaragua in the com­ing weeks. But we should maybe be a lit­tle sur­prised if we hear about it from any of the dis­sent­ing voic­es in the coun­try, who are of course all gov­ern­ment trolls any­way.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 3, 2021, 2:27 pm
  23. When are peo­ple in the Unit­ed States going to real­ize that these god­damed social media web­sites are noth­ing but tools of the nation­al secu­ri­ty state?

    Hell, the Google search engine is lit­er­al­ly the end result of DARPA sci­en­tist William Her­mann Godel’s and Saigon Embassy Min­is­ter Edward Geary Lans­dale’s com­put­er-based “Project AGILE” high-val­ue tar­get iden­ti­fi­ca­tion “Sub­pro­ject V” pro­gram for the “hunter-killer” teams that oper­at­ed with­in the Civ­il Oper­a­tions and Rur­al Devel­op­ment Sup­port-run Provin­cial Recon­nais­sance Unit, which was lat­er renamed “ARPANET”.

    I mean, that was the orig­i­nal use of the “ARPANET” in Viet­nam.

    Peri­od.

    Maj. Gen. Edward Geary Lans­dale used it as com­put­er pro­gram to strate­gi­cal­ly tar­get and assas­si­nate thou­sands of inno­cent human beings by build­ing elec­tron­ic “meta-data” dossiers on them (exact­ly what mod­ern day social media does).

    And Depart­ment of the Navy Deputy Direc­tor of the Office of Spe­cial Oper­a­tions William Her­mann Godel, appar­ent­ly used the same com­put­er net­work to traf­fic tons of nar­cotics out of Indochi­na on Civ­il Air Trans­port air­craft & Sea Sup­ply Corp. ships.

    It can be argued that the Inter­net as we know it, start­ed out in Godel and Lans­dale’s “Com­bat Devel­op­ment and Test Cen­ter and the Viet­cong Moti­va­tion and Morale Project”, which con­duct­ed some of the most heinous and vile tor­ture and inter­ro­ga­tion exper­i­ments against Indochi­nese civil­ians, a joint CIA — Unit­ed States mil­i­tary oper­a­tion that was lat­er known as Phoenix Pro­gram, which was over­seen by Robert William “Blow­torch Bob” Komer and William Egan Col­by...

    I have often con­sid­ered that the “look-alikes” that sur­round­ed Lee Har­vey Oswald and James Earl Ray may have been select­ed in a “Project Agile” relat­ed sub­pro­ject com­put­er serv­er.

    Poten­tial­ly though the Bun­desnachrich­t­en­di­en­st’s ZR/OARLOCK com­put­er serv­er pro­gram?

    Pur­port­ed­ly, William H. Godel also over­saw all Civ­il Air Trans­port oper­a­tions in South Viet­nam for the bet­ter part of half of the 1960’s.

    Con­sid­er­ing David William Fer­rie was aide to the Nation­al Com­man­der of the Civ­il Air Patrol by per­son­al order of USAF Brig. Gen. Stephen Dav­en­port McEl­roy (him­self com­man­der of the Ground Elec­tron­ics Engi­neer­ing-Instal­la­tion Agency with Head­quar­ters at Griff­iss Air Force Base, N.Y. in 1964), I per­son­al­ly find the idea more than a sight pos­si­bil­i­ty...

    ...but I digress.

    Posted by Robert Ward Montenegro | November 3, 2021, 9:31 pm
  24. @Robert Ward Mongtene­gro–

    Yes, indeed. The whole damned inter­net is an “op” and always was.

    As dis­cussed in the “Sur­veil­lance Val­ley” series of For the Record pro­grams, not only is the inter­net itself, and social media in par­tic­u­lar, an “op” but the so-called pri­va­cy advo­cates, includ­ing St. Edward [Snow­den] and St. Julian [Assange] are a key part of the vac­u­um clean­er oper­a­tion.

    This is the domes­tic Phoenix Pro­gram made man­i­fest.

    It is inter­est­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, to con­tem­plate the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca affair.

    https://spitfirelist.com/for-the-record/ftr-1077-surveillance-valley-part-3-cambridge-analytica-democracy-and-counterinsurgency/

    In his speech to the Indus­try Club of Dus­sel­dorf, Hitler equat­ed democ­ra­cy with Com­mu­nism, which went over very well.

    The pur­pose of Project Agile, and the Inter­net, is “Counter Insur­gency.”

    If you are going to do that in a Hit­ler­ian con­text, you have to know what peo­ple are think­ing and doing.

    Democracy=Communism is the dom­i­nant equa­tion.

    We’re doomed.

    Thanks for you con­tin­ued input and ded­i­ca­tion.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | November 4, 2021, 4:18 pm
  25. We got anoth­er update on issue of Face­book’s tol­er­ance and embrace of Span­ish-lan­guage right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion. Recall how Span­ish-lan­guage media in the US was get­ting over­whelmed with Q‑Anon-style far right memes in 2020 and arguably swung the state of Flori­da towards Trump. Well, the Los Ange­les Times has a new piece out describ­ing the inter­nal Face­book efforts in the final weeks of the 2020 cam­paign to deal with the del­uge of Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion on its plat­form. Although it’s not so much describ­ing an effort to com­bat this dis­in­for­ma­tion as it was an inter­nal effort to jus­ti­fy the lack of action.

    As the arti­cle describes, activist groups were find­ing that mis­in­for­ma­tion flagged and tak­en down in Eng­lish was remain­ing up on Face­book and only slow­ly tak­en down when it showed up in Span­ish. So what was the com­pa­ny’s response? Accord­ing to a 2020 prod­uct risk assess­ment, the Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion detec­tion remains “very low-per­for­mance,” and yet the sug­gest­ed response was­n’t to pro­vide more resources towards com­bat­ing this mis­in­for­ma­tion. No, it was to “Just keep try­ing to improve. Addi­tion of resources will not help.” As the arti­cle notes, anoth­er employ­ee replied to this sug­ges­tion by point­ing out that “My under­stand­ing is we have 1 part time [soft­ware engi­neer] ded­i­cat­ed on [Insta­gram] detec­tion right now.” So the implied inter­nal response by Face­book to the flood of Span­ish-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion flood­ing Face­book’s Insta­gram plat­form dur­ing the 2020 elec­tion cycle was to ask that one part-time soft­ware engi­neer to try hard­er.

    Keep in mind the recent con­text of this report: Face­book’s deci­sion this month to take down near­ly every­one in Nicaragua asso­ci­at­ed with the left-wing San­din­ista gov­ern­ment. Includ­ing promi­nent pri­vate sup­port­ers of the gov­ern­ment. A nation­wide purge of the left. That just hap­pened like two weeks ago, right before the elec­tions that the US is now declar­ing a fraud.

    Now jux­ta­pose Face­book’s actions in Nicaragua with its behav­ior in Hon­duras. As we’ve seen, Face­book was essen­tial­ly tol­er­at­ing the inau­then­tic use of Face­book by the right-wing Hon­duran gov­ern­ment to car­ry out mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns that includ­ed encour­ag­ing peo­ple to join migrant car­a­vans by pre­tend­ing to be promi­nent left-wing orga­niz­ers on Face­book. Yes, the Hon­duran was lit­er­al­ly caught hyp­ing migrant car­a­vans to the US by fak­ing the Face­book pro­files or real migrant activists and Face­book basi­cal­ly did noth­ing about this oth­er than pro­tect the iden­ti­ty of the per­pe­tra­tor. As we’re going to see in an update on that sto­ry from back in April from Sophie Zhang, Zhang informed the com­pa­ny about the Hon­duran gov­ern­men­t’s activ­i­ties in August of 2018 but the com­pa­ny dragged its feet on doing any­thing about it for 11 months.

    Oh, and here’s the best/worst part of this sto­ry: accord­ing to Face­book’s own met­rics, the resources it puts towards com­bat­ing Span­ish-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion is eclipsed only by the resources it puts into com­bat­ing Eng­lish-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion. Span­ish-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts get the sec­ond largest chunk of Face­book’s anti-dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts. So while these sto­ries are describ­ing an utter night­mare of dis­in­for­ma­tion hav­ing tak­en hold on the Span­ish-lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties on these plat­forms, the sit­u­a­tion described here is actu­al­ly pret­ty good, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing by Face­book’s inter­nal stan­dards:

    The Los Ange­les Times

    What Face­book knew about its Lati­no-aimed dis­in­for­ma­tion prob­lem

    BY BRIAN CONTRERAS, MALOY MOORE
    NOV. 16, 2021 5 AM PT

    It was Octo­ber 2020, elec­tion con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries threat­ened to pull Amer­i­ca apart at its seams, and Jes­si­ca González was try­ing to get one of the most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies in the world to lis­ten to her.

    It wasn’t going well.

    After months of try­ing to get on their cal­en­dar, González — the co-chief exec­u­tive of media advo­ca­cy group Free Press — had final­ly man­aged to secure a meet­ing with some of the Face­book employ­ees respon­si­ble for enforc­ing the social platform’s com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. The issue at hand: the spread of viral mis­in­for­ma­tion among Lati­no and Span­ish-speak­ing Face­book users.

    Across the coun­try, a pipeline of mis­lead­ing media had been pump­ing lies and half-truths, in both Eng­lish and Span­ish, into local Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties. Some­times the mis­in­for­ma­tion mir­rored what the rest of the coun­try was see­ing: fear-mon­ger­ing about mail-in bal­lots and antifa vig­i­lantes, or con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about the deep state and COVID-19. Oth­er times it leaned into more Lati­no-spe­cif­ic con­cerns, such as com­par­ing can­di­date Joe Biden to Latin Amer­i­can dic­ta­tors or claim­ing that Black Lives Mat­ter activists were using bru­jería — that is, witch­craft.

    Much of the fake news was spread­ing on social media, via YouTube, Twit­ter and, piv­otal­ly, Face­book, What­sApp and Insta­gram. All three are owned by the same umbrel­la com­pa­ny, which recent­ly rebrand­ed as Meta.

    “The same sort of themes that were show­ing up in Eng­lish were also show­ing up in Span­ish,” González recalled. “But in Eng­lish, they were either get­ting flagged or tak­en down alto­geth­er, and in Span­ish they were being left up; or if they were get­ting tak­en down, it was tak­ing days and days to take them down.

    Free Press had briefly flagged the prob­lem in July 2020 dur­ing a meet­ing with Chief Exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg. González had spent the months since try­ing to set up anoth­er, more focused con­ver­sa­tion. Now, that was actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing.

    In atten­dance were Facebook’s pub­lic pol­i­cy direc­tor for coun­tert­er­ror­ism and dan­ger­ous orga­ni­za­tion, its glob­al direc­tor for risk and response, and sev­er­al mem­bers of the company’s pol­i­cy team, accord­ing to notes from the meet­ing reviewed by The Times.

    “We had a lot of spe­cif­ic ques­tions that they com­plete­ly failed to answer,” she said. “For instance, we asked them, who’s in charge of ensur­ing the integri­ty of con­tent mod­er­a­tion in Span­ish? They would not tell us the answer to that, or even if that per­son exist­ed. We asked, how many con­tent mod­er­a­tors do you have in Span­ish? They refused to [answer] that ques­tion. How many peo­ple that mod­er­ate con­tent in Span­ish are based in the U.S.? ... No answer.”

    “We were con­sis­tent­ly met much the same way they meet oth­er groups that are work­ing on dis­in­for­ma­tion or hate speech,” she added: “With a bunch of emp­ty promis­es and a lack of detail.”

    Free Press wasn’t alone in find­ing Face­book to be a less than ide­al part­ner in the fight against Span­ish-lan­guage and Lati­no-cen­tric mis­in­for­ma­tion. Days after the elec­tion, it and almost 20 oth­er advo­ca­cy groups — many of them Lati­no-cen­tric — sent a let­ter to Zucker­berg crit­i­ciz­ing his company’s “inac­tion and enable­ment of the tar­get­ing, manip­u­la­tion, and dis­en­fran­chise­ment of Lat­inx users” dur­ing the elec­tion, despite “repeat­ed efforts” by the sig­na­to­ries to alert him of their con­cerns.

    “Face­book has not been trans­par­ent at all,” said Jacobo Licona, a dis­in­for­ma­tion researcher at the Lati­no vot­er engage­ment group Equis Labs. More­over, he said, it “has not been coop­er­a­tive with law­mak­ers or Lat­inx-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions” work­ing on dis­in­for­ma­tion.

    But inside Face­book, employ­ees had been rais­ing red flags of their own for months, call­ing for a more robust cor­po­rate response to the mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns their com­pa­ny was facil­i­tat­ing.

    That’s a through-line in a trove of cor­po­rate reports, mem­os and chat logs recent­ly made pub­lic by whistle­blow­er and for­mer Face­book employ­ee Frances Hau­gen.

    “We’re not good at detect­ing mis­in­fo in Span­ish or lots of oth­er media types,” reads one such doc­u­ment, a prod­uct risk assess­ment from Feb­ru­ary 2020, includ­ed in dis­clo­sures made to the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion and pro­vid­ed to Con­gress in redact­ed form by Haugen’s legal coun­sel. A con­sor­tium of news orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the Los Ange­les Times, obtained the redact­ed ver­sions received by Con­gress.

    The same doc­u­ment lat­er adds, “We will still have gaps in detec­tion & enforce­ment, esp. for Span­ish.”

    The next month, anoth­er inter­nal report warned that Face­book had “no poli­cies to pro­tect against tar­get­ed sup­pres­sion (e.g., ICE at polls),” allud­ing to con­cerns that Lati­no vot­ers would be dis­suad­ed from show­ing up to vote if they were told, false­ly, that immi­gra­tion author­i­ties would be present at polling sites.

    The report col­or-cod­ed that con­cern bright red: high risk, low readi­ness.

    Lat­er, in an assess­ment of the company’s abil­i­ty to han­dle viral mis­in­for­ma­tion, the report added: “Gaps in detec­tion still exist (e.g. var­i­ous media types, Span­ish posts, etc.)”

    A third inter­nal report point­ed to racial groups with low his­tor­i­cal vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion rates as one of the main sub­sets of Face­book users fac­ing an ele­vat­ed risk from vot­er dis­en­fran­chise­ment efforts. Lati­nos are among those groups.

    These con­cerns would prove pre­scient as the elec­tion drew clos­er.

    “Dis­in­for­ma­tion tar­get­ing Lati­nos in Eng­lish and Span­ish was hap­pen­ing across the coun­try, espe­cial­ly in places with high­er pop­u­la­tions of Lati­nos,” includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, Flori­da, New York and Ari­zona, said Licona, the dis­in­for­ma­tion researcher. “Face­book was — and still is — a major play­er.”

    Com­pa­ny spokesper­son Kevin McAl­is­ter told The Times that Face­book took “a num­ber of steps” ahead of the 2020 elec­tion to com­bat Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    “We built a Span­ish ver­sion of our Vot­ing Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter where peo­ple could find accu­rate infor­ma­tion about the elec­tion, expand­ed our vot­er inter­fer­ence poli­cies and enforced them in Span­ish and added two new U.S. fact-check­ing part­ners who review con­tent in Span­ish on Face­book and Insta­gram,” McAl­is­ter said. “We invest­ed in inter­nal research to help teams proac­tive­ly iden­ti­fy where we could improve our prod­ucts and poli­cies ahead of the U.S. 2020 elec­tions.”

    Oth­er broad­er mea­sures announced at the time includ­ed not accept­ing any new polit­i­cal ads in the week before elec­tion day and remov­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about polling con­di­tions in the three days before elec­tion day.

    By elec­tion day, the com­pa­ny report­ed hav­ing removed more than 265,000 Face­book and Insta­gram posts which vio­lat­ed its vot­er inter­fer­ence poli­cies, and added warn­ing labels to more than 180 mil­lion instances of fact-checked mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    In a June 2020 post on his per­son­al Face­book page, Zucker­berg promised to “ban posts that make false claims say­ing ICE agents are check­ing for immi­gra­tion papers at polling places, which is a tac­tic used to dis­cour­age vot­ing.”

    The com­pa­ny also said that four of its 10 fact-check­ing part­ners in the U.S. han­dle Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent.

    Yet the prob­lems fac­ing Lati­nos on Face­book, What­sApp and Insta­gram extend beyond any one elec­tion cycle, Haugen’s leaks reveal.

    In 2019, Face­book pub­lished a study inter­nal­ly look­ing at efforts to dis­cour­age peo­ple from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the U.S. cen­sus, and how users per­ceived the company’s response to those efforts.

    Among the posts that users report­ed to Face­book were ones “telling Hispanic[s] to not fill out the form”; “telling His­pan­ics not to par­tic­i­pate in answer­ing ques­tions about cit­i­zen­ship”; say­ing that peo­ple “would be in dan­ger of being deport­ed if they par­tic­i­pat­ed”; imply­ing the gov­ern­ment would “get” immi­grants who par­tic­i­pat­ed; and “dis­cour­ag­ing eth­nic groups” from par­tic­i­pat­ing.

    Facebook’s researchers have also exam­ined the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the abun­dance of anti-immi­grant rhetoric on the site takes an out­sized toll on Lati­no users’ men­tal well-being.

    While dis­cussing one study with col­leagues on an inter­nal mes­sage board, a researcher com­ment­ed: “We did want to assess if vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions were affect­ed dif­fer­ent­ly, so we com­pared how Lat­inx [users] felt in com­par­i­son with the rest of the par­tic­i­pants, giv­en the expo­sure to anti-immi­gra­tion hate­ful rhetoric. We found that they expressed high­er lev­els of dis­ap­point­ment and anger, espe­cial­ly after see­ing vio­lat­ing con­tent.”

    In oth­er mes­sage boards, employ­ees wor­ried that the company’s prod­ucts might be con­tribut­ing to broad­er racial inequities.

    “While we pre­sum­ably don’t have any poli­cies designed to dis­ad­van­tage minori­ties, we def­i­nite­ly have policies/practices and emer­gent behav­ior that does,” wrote one employ­ee in a forum called Integri­ty Ideas to Fight Racial Injus­tice. “We should com­pre­hen­sive­ly study how our deci­sions and how the mechan­ics of social media do or do not sup­port minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties.”

    Anoth­er post in the same racial jus­tice group encour­aged the com­pa­ny to become more trans­par­ent about XCheck, a pro­gram designed to give promi­nent Face­book users high­er-qual­i­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tion which, in prac­tice, exempt­ed many from fol­low­ing the rules. “XCheck is our tech­ni­cal imple­men­ta­tion of a dou­ble stan­dard,” the employ­ee wrote.

    ...

    The 2020 prod­uct risk assess­ment indi­cates one such area of dis­sent. After not­ing that Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion detec­tion remains “very low-per­for­mance,” the report offers this rec­om­men­da­tion: “Just keep try­ing to improve. Addi­tion of resources will not help.”

    Not every­one was sat­is­fied with that answer.

    “For mis­in­fo this doesn’t seem right … curi­ous why we’re say­ing addi­tion of resources will not help?,” one employ­ee asked in a com­ment. “My under­stand­ing is we have 1 part time [soft­ware engi­neer] ded­i­cat­ed on [Insta­gram] detec­tion right now.”

    A sec­ond com­ment added that tar­get­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion “is a big gap. … Flag­ging that we have zero resources avail­able right now to sup­port any work that may be need­ed here.” (Redac­tions make it impos­si­ble to tell whether the same employ­ee was behind both com­ments.)

    In com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the out­side world, includ­ing law­mak­ers, the com­pa­ny has stressed the strength of its Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent mod­er­a­tion rather than the con­cerns raised by its own employ­ees.

    “We con­duct Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent review 24 hours per day at mul­ti­ple glob­al sites,” the com­pa­ny wrote in May in a state­ment to Con­gress. “Span­ish is one of the most com­mon lan­guages used on our plat­forms and is also one of the high­est-resourced lan­guages when it comes to con­tent review.”

    Two months lat­er, near­ly 30 sen­a­tors and con­gres­sion­al mem­bers sent a let­ter to the com­pa­ny express­ing con­cern that its con­tent mod­er­a­tion pro­to­cols were still fail­ing to stanch the flow of Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion.

    “We urge you to release spe­cif­ic and clear data demon­strat­ing the resources you cur­rent­ly devote to pro­tect non-Eng­lish speak­ers from mis­in­for­ma­tion, dis­in­for­ma­tion, and ille­gal con­tent on your plat­forms,” the group told Zucker­berg, as well as his coun­ter­parts at YouTube, Twit­ter and Nextdoor.

    Zuckerberg’s response, which again empha­sized the resources and man­pow­er the com­pa­ny was pour­ing into non-Eng­lish con­tent mod­er­a­tion, left them under­whelmed.

    “We received a response from Face­book, and it was real­ly more of the same — no con­crete, direct answers to any of our ques­tions,” said a spokesper­son for Rep. Tony Cár­de­nas (D‑Pacoima), one of the lead sig­na­to­ries on the let­ter.

    In a sub­se­quent inter­view with The Times, Cár­de­nas him­self said that he con­sid­ered his rela­tion­ship with Face­book “basi­cal­ly val­ue­less.” Dur­ing con­gres­sion­al hear­ings, Zucker­berg has “kept try­ing to give this image that they’re doing every­thing that they can: they’re mak­ing tremen­dous strides; all that they can do, they are doing; the invest­ments that they’re mak­ing are pro­found and large and appro­pri­ate.”

    “But when you go through his answers, they were very light on details,” Cár­de­nas added. “They were more aspi­ra­tional, and slight­ly apolo­getic, but not fac­tu­al at all.”

    It’s a com­mon sen­ti­ment on Capi­tol Hill.

    “Online plat­forms aren’t doing enough to stop” dig­i­tal mis­in­for­ma­tion, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D‑Minn.) said in a state­ment, and “when it comes to non-Eng­lish mis­in­for­ma­tion, their track record is even worse. ... You can still find Span­ish-lan­guage Face­book posts from Novem­ber 2020 that pro­mote elec­tion lies with no warn­ing labels.”

    “I’ve said it before and I’m say­ing it again: Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are absolute­ly explod­ing on social media plat­forms like Face­book, What­sApp, etc.,” Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) said in a recent tweet. “It’s putting US Eng­lish mis­in­fo cam­paigns to shame.”

    Lati­no advo­ca­cy groups, too, have been crit­i­cal. Unido­sUS (for­mer­ly the Nation­al Coun­cil of La Raza) recent­ly cut ties with Face­book, return­ing a grant from the com­pa­ny out of frus­tra­tion with “the role that the plat­form has played in inten­tion­al­ly per­pet­u­at­ing prod­ucts and poli­cies that harm the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty.”

    Yet for all the con­cern from with­in — and crit­i­cism from out­side — Span­ish is a rel­a­tive­ly well-sup­port­ed lan­guage — by Face­book stan­dards.

    One leaked memo from 2021 breaks down dif­fer­ent coun­tries by “cov­er­age,” a met­ric Face­book uses to track how much of the con­tent users see is in a lan­guage sup­port­ed by the company’s “civic clas­si­fi­er” (an AI tool respon­si­ble for flag­ging polit­i­cal con­tent for human review). Per that report, the only Latin Amer­i­can coun­try which has less than 75% cov­er­age is non-Span­ish-speak­ing Haiti. The U.S., for its part, has 99.45% cov­er­age.

    And a report on the company’s 2020 expens­es indi­cates that after Eng­lish, the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of hours spent on work relat­ed to mea­sur­ing and label­ing hate speech went toward Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent.

    Indeed, many of the dis­clo­sures which have come out of Haugen’s leaks have focused on cov­er­age gaps in oth­er, less-well-resourced lan­guages, espe­cial­ly in the Mid­dle East and Asia.

    But to those seek­ing to bet­ter pro­tect Lati­nos from tar­get­ed dis­in­for­ma­tion, Facebook’s asser­tions of suf­fi­cient resources — and the con­cerns voiced by its own employ­ees — raise the ques­tion of why it isn’t doing bet­ter.

    “They always say, ‘We hear you, we’re work­ing on this, we’re try­ing to get bet­ter,’” said González. “And then they just don’t do any­thing.”

    ————

    “What Face­book knew about its Lati­no-aimed dis­in­for­ma­tion prob­lem” by BRIAN CONTRERAS, MALOY MOORE; The Los Ange­les Times; 11/16/2021

    “Yet for all the con­cern from with­in — and crit­i­cism from out­side — Span­ish is a rel­a­tive­ly well-sup­port­ed lan­guage — by Face­book stan­dards.”

    Yep, that night­mare of a report on Face­book’s near com­plete lack of dis­in­for­ma­tion man­age­ment for Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent was actu­al­ly a feel good sto­ry for Face­book, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing. Span­ish has the sec­ond high­est lev­els of sup­port inside the com­pa­ny. The sit­u­a­tion is even worse for oth­er lan­guages:

    ...
    One leaked memo from 2021 breaks down dif­fer­ent coun­tries by “cov­er­age,” a met­ric Face­book uses to track how much of the con­tent users see is in a lan­guage sup­port­ed by the company’s “civic clas­si­fi­er” (an AI tool respon­si­ble for flag­ging polit­i­cal con­tent for human review). Per that report, the only Latin Amer­i­can coun­try which has less than 75% cov­er­age is non-Span­ish-speak­ing Haiti. The U.S., for its part, has 99.45% cov­er­age.

    And a report on the company’s 2020 expens­es indi­cates that after Eng­lish, the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of hours spent on work relat­ed to mea­sur­ing and label­ing hate speech went toward Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent.

    Indeed, many of the dis­clo­sures which have come out of Haugen’s leaks have focused on cov­er­age gaps in oth­er, less-well-resourced lan­guages, espe­cial­ly in the Mid­dle East and Asia.

    But to those seek­ing to bet­ter pro­tect Lati­nos from tar­get­ed dis­in­for­ma­tion, Facebook’s asser­tions of suf­fi­cient resources — and the con­cerns voiced by its own employ­ees — raise the ques­tion of why it isn’t doing bet­ter.

    “They always say, ‘We hear you, we’re work­ing on this, we’re try­ing to get bet­ter,’” said González. “And then they just don’t do any­thing.”
    ...

    This is paired with the obser­va­tions of activist groups that mis­in­for­ma­tion that shows up in both Eng­lish and Span­ish was only hav­ing the Eng­lish con­tent flagged and removed. Face­book was­n’t even able to, or will­ing to, remove Span­ish lan­guage con­tent even after it’s already deter­mined that con­tent to be mis­in­for­ma­tion:

    ...
    After months of try­ing to get on their cal­en­dar, González — the co-chief exec­u­tive of media advo­ca­cy group Free Press — had final­ly man­aged to secure a meet­ing with some of the Face­book employ­ees respon­si­ble for enforc­ing the social platform’s com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. The issue at hand: the spread of viral mis­in­for­ma­tion among Lati­no and Span­ish-speak­ing Face­book users.

    ...

    “The same sort of themes that were show­ing up in Eng­lish were also show­ing up in Span­ish,” González recalled. “But in Eng­lish, they were either get­ting flagged or tak­en down alto­geth­er, and in Span­ish they were being left up; or if they were get­ting tak­en down, it was tak­ing days and days to take them down.

    ...

    “We had a lot of spe­cif­ic ques­tions that they com­plete­ly failed to answer,” she said. “For instance, we asked them, who’s in charge of ensur­ing the integri­ty of con­tent mod­er­a­tion in Span­ish? They would not tell us the answer to that, or even if that per­son exist­ed. We asked, how many con­tent mod­er­a­tors do you have in Span­ish? They refused to [answer] that ques­tion. How many peo­ple that mod­er­ate con­tent in Span­ish are based in the U.S.? ... No answer.”

    “We were con­sis­tent­ly met much the same way they meet oth­er groups that are work­ing on dis­in­for­ma­tion or hate speech,” she added: “With a bunch of emp­ty promis­es and a lack of detail.”
    ...

    And then there’s the 2020 inter­nal Face­book report that explic­it­ly stat­ed “Addi­tion of resources will not help” after not­ing that Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion detec­tion remains “very low-per­for­mance”. A con­clu­sion oth­er Face­book employ­ees under­stand­ably took issue with, observ­ing that a sin­gle part time soft­ware engi­neer was ded­i­cat­ed to Span­ish-lan­guage tar­get­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion on Insta­gram. A sin­gle part time employ­ee. But no addi­tion­al resources are need­ed:

    ...
    But inside Face­book, employ­ees had been rais­ing red flags of their own for months, call­ing for a more robust cor­po­rate response to the mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns their com­pa­ny was facil­i­tat­ing.

    ...

    The 2020 prod­uct risk assess­ment indi­cates one such area of dis­sent. After not­ing that Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion detec­tion remains “very low-per­for­mance,” the report offers this rec­om­men­da­tion: “Just keep try­ing to improve. Addi­tion of resources will not help.”

    Not every­one was sat­is­fied with that answer.

    “For mis­in­fo this doesn’t seem right … curi­ous why we’re say­ing addi­tion of resources will not help?,” one employ­ee asked in a com­ment. “My under­stand­ing is we have 1 part time [soft­ware engi­neer] ded­i­cat­ed on [Insta­gram] detec­tion right now.”

    A sec­ond com­ment added that tar­get­ed mis­in­for­ma­tion “is a big gap. … Flag­ging that we have zero resources avail­able right now to sup­port any work that may be need­ed here.” (Redac­tions make it impos­si­ble to tell whether the same employ­ee was behind both com­ments.)
    ...

    And yet it’s hard to ignore the under­ly­ing con­clu­sion that the cyn­i­cal anony­mous Face­book employ­ee who con­clud­ed that an “Addi­tion of resources will not help” was ulti­mate­ly speak­ing for Face­book’s man­age­ment and reflect­ing the com­pa­ny’s pol­i­cy today. A pol­i­cy towards mis­in­for­ma­tion that’s appar­ent­ly, “Well, we tried! Noth­ing more we can do but try hard­er!”

    And in case it was­n’t clear that it’s specif­i­cal­ly right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion, and not just gener­ic mis­in­for­ma­tion, that is inun­dat­ing these Span­ish-lan­guage Face­book-owned plat­forms, here’s an update from back in April on the sto­ry of Face­book’s will­ing tol­er­a­tion of the right-wing gov­ern­ment of Hon­duras using Face­book to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pro­mote his own gov­ern­ment while foment­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns against his left-wing oppo­nents and activists. As we’ve already seen, there is ample evi­dence that the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment was lit­er­al­ly wag­ing a secret cam­paign to encour­age peo­ple to join the migrant car­a­vans head­ing to the US in 2017, with pro-gov­ern­ment cable TV lead­ing the mes­sag­ing cam­paign. But as we also saw, inau­then­tic Face­book activ­i­ty was heav­i­ly used to ampli­fy the Hon­duran gov­ern­men­t’s dis­in­for­ma­tion mes­sage. And yet, when pressed with evi­dence of this inau­then­tic activ­i­ty by gov­ern­ment actors who were pre­tend­ing to be migrant activists pro­mot­ing the car­a­vans, Face­book refused to iden­ti­fy the bad actors, cit­ing pri­va­cy con­cerns.

    That’s all part of the con­text of the update we got on Face­book’s bad behav­ior in Hon­duras back in April. The update came viz Face­book whistle­blow­er Sophie Zhang, who had the job of com­bat­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion at the com­pa­ny. It was Zhang who uncov­ered a coor­di­nat­ed dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign by the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment in August of 2018. 90% of all iden­ti­fied ‘fake engage­ment’ iden­ti­fied in Hon­duras were iden­ti­fied with the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment. Despite this, the com­pa­ny dragged its feet and took over a year before actu­al­ly tak­ing any actions against this inau­then­tic behav­ior in July of 2019. What was the inter­nal ratio­nale for this foot-drag­ging? A need to pri­or­i­tize influ­ence oper­a­tions tar­get­ing the US and West­ern Europe and focus on the bad behav­ior of Russ­ian and Iran. Yep. So at least part of the inter­nal rea­son­ing inside Face­book for why it did­n’t need to pri­or­i­tize Span­ish-lan­guage mis­in­for­ma­tion is that it is lit­er­al­ly a low­er pri­or­i­ty:

    The Guardian

    Face­book knew of Hon­duran president’s manip­u­la­tion cam­paign – and let it con­tin­ue for 11 months

    Juan Orlan­do Hernán­dez false­ly inflat­ed his posts’ pop­u­lar­i­ty for near­ly a year after the com­pa­ny was informed about it

    Julia Car­rie Wong in San Fran­cis­co and Jeff Ernst
    Tue 13 Apr 2021 07.00 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Thu 15 Apr 2021 06.00 EDT

    Face­book allowed the pres­i­dent of Hon­duras to arti­fi­cial­ly inflate the appear­ance of pop­u­lar­i­ty on his posts for near­ly a year after the com­pa­ny was first alert­ed to the activ­i­ty.

    The astro­turf­ing – the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of a bussed-in crowd – was just one facet of a broad­er online dis­in­for­ma­tion effort that the admin­is­tra­tion has used to attack crit­ics and under­mine social move­ments, Hon­duran activists and schol­ars say.

    Face­book posts by Juan Orlan­do Hernán­dez, an author­i­tar­i­an rightwinger whose 2017 re-elec­tion is wide­ly viewed as fraud­u­lent, received hun­dreds of thou­sands of fake likes from more than a thou­sand inau­then­tic Face­book Pages – pro­files for busi­ness­es, orga­ni­za­tions and pub­lic fig­ures – that had been set up to look like Face­book user accounts.

    The cam­paign was uncov­ered in August 2018 by a Face­book data sci­en­tist, Sophie Zhang, whose job involved com­bat­ting fake engage­ment: com­ments, shares, likes and reac­tions from inau­then­tic or com­pro­mised accounts.

    Zhang began inves­ti­gat­ing Hernández’s Page because he was the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of 90% of all the known fake engage­ment received by civic or polit­i­cal Pages in Hon­duras. Over one six-week peri­od in 2018, for exam­ple, Hernández’s Face­book posts received likes from 59,100 users, of whom 46,500 were fake.

    She found that one of the admin­is­tra­tors for Hernández’s Page was also the admin­is­tra­tor for hun­dreds of the inau­then­tic Pages that were being used sole­ly to boost posts on Hernández’s Page. This indi­vid­ual was also an admin­is­tra­tor for the Page of Hil­da Hernán­dez, the president’s sis­ter, who served as his com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter until her death in Decem­ber 2017.

    Although the activ­i­ty vio­lat­ed Facebook’s pol­i­cy against “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior” – the kind of decep­tive cam­paign­ing used by a Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tion dur­ing the 2016 US elec­tion – Face­book dragged its feet for near­ly a year before tak­ing the cam­paign down in July 2019.

    Despite this, the cam­paign to boost Hernán­dez on Face­book repeat­ed­ly returned, and Face­book showed lit­tle appetite for polic­ing the recidi­vism. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-pres­i­dent of integri­ty, referred to the return of the Hon­duras cam­paign as a “bum­mer” in an inter­nal dis­cus­sion in Decem­ber 2019 but empha­sized that the com­pa­ny need­ed to pri­or­i­tize influ­ence oper­a­tions that tar­get­ed the US or west­ern Europe, or were car­ried out by Rus­sia or Iran.

    Hernández’s Page admin­is­tra­tor also returned to Face­book despite being banned dur­ing the July 2019 take­down. His account list­ed his place of employ­ment as the Hon­duran pres­i­den­tial palace and includ­ed pho­tos tak­en inside restrict­ed areas of the president’s offices.

    The Page admin­is­tra­tor did not respond to queries from the Guardian, and his account was removed two days after the Guardian ques­tioned Face­book about it.

    A Face­book spokesper­son, Liz Bour­geois, said: “We fun­da­men­tal­ly dis­agree with Ms Zhang’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of our pri­or­i­ties and efforts to root out abuse on our plat­form.

    “We inves­ti­gat­ed and pub­licly shared our find­ings about the take­down of this net­work in Hon­duras almost two years ago. These inves­ti­ga­tions take time to under­stand the full scope of the decep­tive activ­i­ty so we don’t enforce piece­meal and have con­fi­dence in our pub­lic attri­bu­tion ... Like with oth­er CIB take­downs, we con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor and block attempts to rebuild pres­ence on our plat­form.”

    ...

    Decep­tive social media cam­paigns are used to “deter polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion or to get those who par­tic­i­pate to change their opin­ion”, said Aldo Sal­ga­do, co-founder of Cit­i­zen Lab Hon­duras. “They serve to emu­late pop­u­lar sup­port that the gov­ern­ment lacks.”

    Euge­nio Sosa, a pro­fes­sor of soci­ol­o­gy at the Nation­al Autonomous Uni­ver­si­ty of Hon­duras, said the government’s use of astro­turf­ing to sup­port Hernán­dez “has to do with the deep ero­sion of legit­i­ma­cy, the lit­tle cred­i­bil­i­ty that he has, and the enor­mous pub­lic mis­trust about what he does, what he says and what he promis­es”. Beyond the president’s loy­al sup­port­ers, how­ev­er, Sosa said he believes that it has lit­tle effect on pub­lic opin­ion, due to a steady stream of head­lines about Hernández’s cor­rup­tion and ties to the nar­cotics trade.

    Hernández’s broth­er was con­vict­ed of drug traf­fick­ing in US fed­er­al courts in Octo­ber 2019, and the pres­i­dent has him­self been iden­ti­fied by US pros­e­cu­tors as a co-con­spir­a­tor in mul­ti­ple drug traf­fick­ing and cor­rup­tion cas­es. Hernán­dez has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrong­do­ing. Until recent­ly, he was con­sid­ered a key US ally in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca.

    Sal­ga­do said that the Hernán­dez admin­is­tra­tion began resort­ing to social media dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns in 2015, when a major cor­rup­tion scan­dal involv­ing the theft of $350m from the country’s health­care and pen­sion sys­tem inspired months of torch­lit protest march­es. “That’s when the need for the gov­ern­ment aris­es and they des­per­ate­ly begin to cre­ate an army of bots,” he said.

    Face­book, which has about 4.4 mil­lion users in Hon­duras, was a dou­ble-edged sword for the non-par­ti­san protest orga­niz­ers, who used the social net­work to orga­nize but also found them­selves attacked by a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign alleg­ing that they were con­trolled by Manuel Zelaya, a for­mer pres­i­dent who was deposed in a 2009 coup.

    “The smear cam­paign was psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly over­whelm­ing,” said Gabriela Blen, a social activist who was one of the lead­ers of the torch march­es. “It is not easy to endure so much crit­i­cism and so many lies. It affects your fam­i­ly and your loved ones. It is the price that is paid in such a cor­rupt coun­try when one tries to com­bat cor­rup­tion.

    “In Hon­duras there are no guar­an­tees for human rights defend­ers,” she added. “We are at the mer­cy of the pow­ers that dom­i­nate this coun­try. They try to ter­ror­ize us and stop our work, either through psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror or cam­paigns on social net­works to stir up rejec­tion and hatred.”

    The dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are most often employed dur­ing peri­ods of social unrest and typ­i­cal­ly paint protests as vio­lent or par­ti­san, accord­ing to Sosa, the soci­ol­o­gist. “It scares peo­ple away from par­tic­i­pat­ing,” he said.

    Hernán­dez won a sec­ond term in a 2017 elec­tion plagued with irreg­u­lar­i­ties. With the coun­try rocked by protests and a vio­lent gov­ern­ment crack­down, researchers in Mex­i­co and the US doc­u­ment­ed the wide-scale use of Twit­ter bot accounts to pro­mote Hernán­dez and project a false view of “good news, pros­per­i­ty, and tran­quil­i­ty in Hon­duras”.

    Fresh protests in 2019 against gov­ern­ment efforts to pri­va­tize the pub­lic edu­ca­tion and health sys­tems were again met by a dig­i­tal smear cam­paign – this time with the back­ing of an Israeli polit­i­cal mar­ket­ing firm that was barred from Face­book in May 2019 for vio­lat­ing its ban on coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior.

    Archimedes Group set up fake Face­book Pages pur­port­ing to rep­re­sent Hon­duran news out­lets or com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions that pro­mot­ed pro-Hernán­dez mes­sages, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the Atlantic Council’s DFR­Lab. Among them was a Page that ran ads again alleg­ing that Zelaya was the source of the protests, and two Pages that pushed the mes­sage that Hernán­dez was ded­i­cat­ed to fight­ing drug traf­fick­ing.

    “They said that we were incit­ing vio­lence and had groups of delin­quents,” said Suya­pa Figueroa, the pres­i­dent of the Hon­duran Med­ical Guild, who rose to promi­nence as one of the lead­ers of the 2019 protests. “Some peo­ple were afraid to sup­port the [pro­test­ers’] plat­form because they thought that [the oust­ed pres­i­dent] Mel Zelaya was behind it. There were always fears that the move­ment was polit­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed and that stopped it grow­ing.”

    Figueroa con­tin­ues to strug­gle with Face­book-fueled dis­in­for­ma­tion. A Face­book Page pur­port­ing to rep­re­sent her has near­ly 20,000 fol­low­ers and has been used to “attack lead­ers of the oppo­si­tion and cre­ate con­flict with­in it”, she said.

    “I’ve report­ed it and many of my friends have report­ed it, yet I haven’t been able to get that fake Page tak­en down,” she said.

    ————

    “Face­book knew of Hon­duran president’s manip­u­la­tion cam­paign – and let it con­tin­ue for 11 months” by Julia Car­rie Wong and Jeff Ernst; The Guardian; 04/13/2021

    “Although the activ­i­ty vio­lat­ed Facebook’s pol­i­cy against “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior” – the kind of decep­tive cam­paign­ing used by a Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tion dur­ing the 2016 US elec­tion – Face­book dragged its feet for near­ly a year before tak­ing the cam­paign down in July 2019.”

    It took Face­book 11 months to stop the over­whelm­ing­ly obvi­ous inau­then­tic behav­ior of the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment. Com­pare that to Face­book’s recent take down of large swathes of Nicaragua’s left-wing soci­ety based on unfound­ed fears of gov­ern­ment involve­ment in their online activ­i­ties. Why the 11 month delay? Well, it’s just a “bum­mer”, but Hon­duras just was­n’t a pri­or­i­ty. The US, West­ern Europe, and the activ­i­ties of Rus­sia and Iran are the pri­or­i­ties:

    ...
    The cam­paign was uncov­ered in August 2018 by a Face­book data sci­en­tist, Sophie Zhang, whose job involved com­bat­ting fake engage­ment: com­ments, shares, likes and reac­tions from inau­then­tic or com­pro­mised accounts.

    Zhang began inves­ti­gat­ing Hernández’s Page because he was the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of 90% of all the known fake engage­ment received by civic or polit­i­cal Pages in Hon­duras. Over one six-week peri­od in 2018, for exam­ple, Hernández’s Face­book posts received likes from 59,100 users, of whom 46,500 were fake.

    She found that one of the admin­is­tra­tors for Hernández’s Page was also the admin­is­tra­tor for hun­dreds of the inau­then­tic Pages that were being used sole­ly to boost posts on Hernández’s Page. This indi­vid­ual was also an admin­is­tra­tor for the Page of Hil­da Hernán­dez, the president’s sis­ter, who served as his com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter until her death in Decem­ber 2017.

    ...

    Despite this, the cam­paign to boost Hernán­dez on Face­book repeat­ed­ly returned, and Face­book showed lit­tle appetite for polic­ing the recidi­vism. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-pres­i­dent of integri­ty, referred to the return of the Hon­duras cam­paign as a “bum­mer” in an inter­nal dis­cus­sion in Decem­ber 2019 but empha­sized that the com­pa­ny need­ed to pri­or­i­tize influ­ence oper­a­tions that tar­get­ed the US or west­ern Europe, or were car­ried out by Rus­sia or Iran.

    Hernández’s Page admin­is­tra­tor also returned to Face­book despite being banned dur­ing the July 2019 take­down. His account list­ed his place of employ­ment as the Hon­duran pres­i­den­tial palace and includ­ed pho­tos tak­en inside restrict­ed areas of the president’s offices.

    The Page admin­is­tra­tor did not respond to queries from the Guardian, and his account was removed two days after the Guardian ques­tioned Face­book about it.
    ...

    It’s also impor­tant to take in this con­text that this Hon­duran right-wing gov­ern­ment was, at the time, seen as key US ally in the region:

    ...

    Decep­tive social media cam­paigns are used to “deter polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion or to get those who par­tic­i­pate to change their opin­ion”, said Aldo Sal­ga­do, co-founder of Cit­i­zen Lab Hon­duras. “They serve to emu­late pop­u­lar sup­port that the gov­ern­ment lacks.”

    Euge­nio Sosa, a pro­fes­sor of soci­ol­o­gy at the Nation­al Autonomous Uni­ver­si­ty of Hon­duras, said the government’s use of astro­turf­ing to sup­port Hernán­dez “has to do with the deep ero­sion of legit­i­ma­cy, the lit­tle cred­i­bil­i­ty that he has, and the enor­mous pub­lic mis­trust about what he does, what he says and what he promis­es”. Beyond the president’s loy­al sup­port­ers, how­ev­er, Sosa said he believes that it has lit­tle effect on pub­lic opin­ion, due to a steady stream of head­lines about Hernández’s cor­rup­tion and ties to the nar­cotics trade.

    Hernández’s broth­er was con­vict­ed of drug traf­fick­ing in US fed­er­al courts in Octo­ber 2019, and the pres­i­dent has him­self been iden­ti­fied by US pros­e­cu­tors as a co-con­spir­a­tor in mul­ti­ple drug traf­fick­ing and cor­rup­tion cas­es. Hernán­dez has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrong­do­ing. Until recent­ly, he was con­sid­ered a key US ally in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca.
    ...

    . Under­scor­ing how Face­book real­ly is oper­at­ing as a tool of the nation­al secu­ri­ty state. It’s an aspect of this whole scan­dal that under­scores the cyn­i­cal absur­di­ty of US con­ser­v­a­tives com­plain­ing about Face­book cen­sor­ship: Face­book is effec­tive­ly act­ing as a tool of the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state and is con­stant­ly find­ing excus­es to pro­mote right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion. It’s a reminder that it we real­ly want to get to the bot­tom of why Face­book is con­stant­ly cod­dling the far right, it requires ask­ing the much larg­er ques­tions about the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s decades-long cod­dling of the far right glob­al­ly. Rather dif­fi­cult ques­tions.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 18, 2021, 5:50 pm
  26. Why are the two GOP Sen­ate can­di­dates with the clos­est ties to Peter Thiel joint­ly push­ing a new nar­ra­tive about Mark Zucker­berg steal­ing the elec­tion for Joe Biden? That’s the ques­tion raised by the fol­low­ing sto­ry about how Ari­zona Sen­ate can­di­date Blake Mas­ters and Ohio Sen­ate can­di­date JD Vance are both close Thiel asso­ciates, both backed by $10 mil­lion, and both aggres­sive­ly pro­mot­ing the lat­est ‘stolen elec­tion’ con­ser­v­a­tive nar­ra­tive. A nar­ra­tive where Mark Zucker­berg him­self stole the elec­tion for Biden. Not Face­book, just Zucker­berg and his wife.

    So how did Mark Zucker­berg and his wife steal the elec­tion for Biden? Through a pro-democ­ra­cy foun­da­tion the pair set up in 2012. That enti­ty, the Cen­ter for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which played a last-minute emer­gency role in 2020 assist­ing local­i­ties in rais­ing the mon­ey and resources need­ed to run an elec­tion dur­ing an unprece­dent­ed pan­dem­ic. As the fol­low­ing Yahoo News piece describes, while the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ed $400 mil­lion in emer­gency assis­tance to local­i­ties, that num­ber was far less than what experts said was need­ed but Repub­li­cans were block­ing addi­tion­al resources. This is where the CTCL stepped in, pro­vid­ing anoth­er $400 mil­lion in grants to local­i­ties. One study found the was spent on “increased pay for poll work­ers, expand­ed ear­ly vot­ing sites and extra equip­ment to more quick­ly process mil­lions of mailed bal­lots.”

    So how did this $400 mil­lion in emer­gency grants steal the elec­tion for Biden? Well, accord­ing to con­ser­v­a­tive ‘analy­ses’, the mon­ey was dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly giv­en to urban coun­ties, which ben­e­fit­ed Democ­rats. Now the com­plaint that the group gave more the urban vs rur­al area is demon­stra­bly absurd. Of course it would and should give more just based on pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty. But oth­er also point to the CTCL giv­ing grants to Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing urban coun­ties that Biden won with­out giv­ing to Repub­li­can-lean­ing urban coun­ties Trump won. CTCL replied that it gave grants to all coun­ties that request­ed them.

    So it appears that some­one noticed that the CTCL end­ed up giv­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly to Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing urban coun­ties vs Repub­li­can-lean­ing urban coun­ties and decid­ed to con­coct a ‘Mark Zucker­berg stole the elec­tion’ nar­ra­tive around this. A nar­ra­tive that con­ve­nient­ly ignores the exten­sive evi­dence of the role Face­book played as a key tool for the Repub­li­cans and the far right, and also con­ve­nient­ly ignores how the GOP was sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly refus­ing addi­tion­al funds to help local­i­ties run elec­tions dur­ing the pan­dem­ic.

    And this nar­ra­tive, which is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­ve­nient for Face­book but incon­ve­nient for Mark Zucker­berg (and there­fore kind of incon­ve­nient for Face­book too), is being heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed by the two Sen­ate can­di­dates with the clos­est ties to Peter Thiel. What’s going on here? Is this pure the­atrics? Don’t for­get the secret White House din­ner in Octo­ber of 2019 arranged by Thiel, where Zucker­berg and the White House came to some sort of secret agree­ment to go easy on con­ser­v­a­tive sites. The­atri­cal arrange­ments between the GOP and Face­book are to be expect­ed.

    And yet, this is a high­ly incon­ve­nient nar­ra­tive for Mark Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly, being pushed by his appar­ent men­tor. Why is this hap­pen­ing? Is this real­ly the­atrics? Or are we get­ting a bet­ter idea of the pow­er moves behind why Mark Zucker­berg finds Peter Thiel to be so indis­pens­able:

    Yahoo News

    GOP sen­ate can­di­dates allege Face­book’s Zucker­berg spent mil­lions to ‘buy the pres­i­den­cy’ for Biden — but there’s not much back­ing up the claim

    Jon Ward·Chief Nation­al Cor­re­spon­dent
    Wed, Decem­ber 8, 2021, 7:27 AM

    Two high-pro­file Repub­li­can can­di­dates for the U.S. Sen­ate, both of them close to tech entre­pre­neur Peter Thiel, are sup­port­ing an effort to merge for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 elec­tion with accu­sa­tions of med­dling against Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg.

    In Ari­zona, Sen­ate can­di­date Blake Mas­ters said vot­ers should “elect peo­ple who will tell you the truth.”

    But Mas­ters has made a false­hood part of his can­di­da­cy. “I think Trump won in 2020,” he said in a recent video.

    Mas­ters and J.D. Vance, a Repub­li­can run­ning for Sen­ate in Ohio, are seek­ing togeth­er to repack­age Trump’s decep­tion in a new nar­ra­tive. Both are backed by $10 mil­lion from Thiel, co-founder of Pay­Pal and data min­ing com­pa­ny Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies.

    Mas­ters co-wrote a book with Thiel and is COO of Thiel’s invest­ment firm. Vance worked for Thiel after pub­lish­ing “Hill­bil­ly Ele­gy,” his best­selling 2016 mem­oir, and raised mon­ey from Thiel to start a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm.

    Mas­ters and Vance have jet­ti­soned the wild and debunked alle­ga­tions of out­right fraud and moved on to a new con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry: that Zucker­berg spent hun­dreds of mil­lions to “buy the pres­i­den­cy for Joe Biden.”

    It’s an alle­ga­tion that has shown some pur­chase among the GOP’s pro-Trump grass­roots. The Repub­li­can Par­ty, which has his­tor­i­cal­ly been amenable to the inter­ests of big busi­ness, is still in the throes of the for­mer president’s trade­mark pop­ulism. And Trump still insists that the 2020 elec­tion was ille­git­i­mate, lead­ing even his more sober-mind­ed sup­port­ers to try and jus­ti­fy that thor­ough­ly debunked idea.

    Since the elec­tion, Trump and his allies have accused Big Tech — major Sil­i­con Val­ley firms like Google, Twit­ter and Face­book — of inter­ven­ing on Biden’s behalf. Con­ser­v­a­tives have already alleged for years that these com­pa­nies were active­ly try­ing to muz­zle the right, and inci­dents like Twitter’s tem­po­rary block­ing of a sto­ry about Hunter Biden’s lap­top have served as a ral­ly­ing cry for these com­plaints.

    But there is lit­tle dis­cus­sion on the right of how dis­in­for­ma­tion and lies — terms that are some­times abused — are arti­fi­cial­ly ampli­fied in ways that divide friends, neigh­bors and fam­i­lies, bring­ing fame and for­tune to those will­ing to play the dem­a­gogue.

    Yet were it not for an ear­ly invest­ment from Thiel, the Face­book we know today might not even exist. In 2004 he became the company’s first out­side investor, giv­ing Zuckerberg’s nascent behe­moth a much-need­ed dose of cap­i­tal and cred­i­bil­i­ty. Even as he pro­pels the can­di­da­cies of Mas­ters and Vance — who are both seek­ing to blame Facebook’s CEO for buy­ing the elec­tion — Thiel still sits on Facebook’s board of direc­tors.

    Thiel’s sup­port of Mas­ters and Vance has cre­at­ed an unusu­al dynam­ic where two first-time can­di­dates, cam­paign­ing for fed­er­al office at oppo­site ends of the coun­try, appear to be some­thing like run­ning mates.

    “Tech bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel is going all-in to sup­port two of his pro­teges’ cam­paigns for the US Sen­ate — and his plan involves swanky Cal­i­for­nia din­ners with high-dol­lar donors,” read a New York Post sto­ry last month. “Rise of a megadonor: Thiel makes a play for the Sen­ate,” blared a Politi­co head­line in May.

    Mas­ters and Vance, for their part, don’t seem to mind being grouped togeth­er. In Octo­ber, they out­lined their alle­ga­tions against Zucker­berg — and against Big Tech more broad­ly — in a New York Post arti­cle they authored togeth­er.

    “Face­book — both the prod­uct and the wealth gen­er­at­ed for its exec­u­tives — was lever­aged to elect a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent,” Mas­ters and Vance wrote. “At a min­i­mum, the company’s lead­ers should be forced to answer for this before a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee.”

    The pair essen­tial­ly argued that Biden beat Trump in 2020 because Zucker­berg and his wife, Priscil­la Chan, donat­ed $400 mil­lion of their per­son­al for­tune to help local­i­ties run elec­tions dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, and that mon­ey helped too many Democ­rats vote.

    The com­plaint is not that votes were stolen or added ille­gal­ly. It’s that there were too many legal votes cast in places that lean Demo­c­ra­t­ic and that Zucker­berg and Chan’s mon­ey was in fact fun­neled to places where it would turn out more Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers and help Biden.

    Zucker­berg and Chan, who donat­ed much of the mon­ey to a group called the Cen­ter for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), deny the alle­ga­tion. Ben Labolt, a spokesman for the cou­ple, told Yahoo News that “near­ly 2,500 elec­tion juris­dic­tions from 49 states applied for and received funds, includ­ing urban, sub­ur­ban, rur­al, and exur­ban coun­ties … and more Repub­li­can than Demo­c­ra­t­ic juris­dic­tions applied for and received the funds.”

    Unques­tion­ably, exam­in­ing the impact of so much mon­ey from a pair of indi­vid­u­als in any sphere relat­ed to the elec­tion is a legit­i­mate endeav­or. But so far, the con­clu­sions about the impact of the Zucker­berg and Chan mon­ey go far beyond what any evi­dence shows, and are being dropped into an infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment already deeply poi­soned by Trump’s relent­less cam­paign of lies and base­less claims.

    ...

    The anti-Zucker­berg mes­sage has been build­ing for months on the right. Last year, the Capi­tol Research Cen­ter (CRC), a con­ser­v­a­tive non­prof­it, began pub­lish­ing a series of arti­cles claim­ing that the mon­ey from Zucker­berg and Chan helped Biden win the elec­tion.

    CTCL is a Chica­go-based non­prof­it found­ed in 2012 to advo­cate for elec­tion reform. Com­plaints about the Zucker­berg-Chan dona­tions stem in part from the fact that top lead­ers at CTCL have worked for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates or caus­es in the past, and that they have post­ed com­ments on social media indi­cat­ing a dis­like of Trump.

    CRC, the con­ser­v­a­tive group, wrote that the mon­ey from CTCL “did not appar­ent­ly vio­late any elec­tion laws” but that “many of its grants tar­get­ed key Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing coun­ties and cities in bat­tle­ground states.”

    “While CTCL sent grants to many coun­ties that Repub­li­can incum­bent Don­ald Trump won in these states, the largest grants went to Biden coun­ties such as Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia, and the greater Atlanta met­ro­pol­i­tan area,” CRC wrote.

    In oth­er words, the dona­tion spent more mon­ey on high­ly pop­u­lat­ed urban areas that are essen­tial to Demo­c­ra­t­ic for­tunes in swing states, but that also require far greater sums of mon­ey to con­duct elec­tions.

    How­ev­er, if the argu­ment is that Philadel­phia helped Biden win Penn­syl­va­nia, a close look at vote totals doesn’t sup­port that argu­ment.

    Trump did bet­ter in Philadel­phia in 2020 than he did in 2016, win­ning 18 per­cent of the vote last year com­pared with just 15 per­cent in 2016. In a state decid­ed by only 80,000 votes, the vote totals in Philadel­phia made it clos­er for Trump, rather than for Biden.

    Biden won the state pri­mar­i­ly because of his abil­i­ty to do bet­ter than Hillary Clin­ton had four years pri­or in the sub­ur­ban coun­ties around Philadel­phia.

    Nonethe­less, by this past sum­mer, rough­ly a dozen Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tures had intro­duced or passed laws ban­ning or restrict­ing the abil­i­ty of pri­vate mon­ey to flow into elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. But CTCL has said that in many states there is a “sys­temic under­fund­ing of elec­tions” — a notion sup­port­ed by non­par­ti­san elec­tion experts.

    Mean­while, it has become fash­ion­able among Repub­li­cans to announce a ban on “Zuck Bucks” or “Zucker­bucks,” as Flori­da Gov. Ron DeSan­tis did in Octo­ber.

    Zucker­berg and Chan donat­ed the mon­ey in Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber 2020 after elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors from around the coun­try and from both par­ties said the strain of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic was going to require a spe­cial infu­sion of mon­ey to pay for every­thing that was need­ed.

    The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment allo­cat­ed about $400 mil­lion through emer­gency fund­ing in the Coro­n­avirus Aid, Relief, and Eco­nom­ic Secu­ri­ty (CARES) Act, a stim­u­lus pack­age signed into law by Trump in March 2020. But elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors and out­side experts said much more was need­ed.

    Repub­li­cans in Con­gress blocked attempts to spend more mon­ey for elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, and a few months lat­er Zucker­berg and Chan donat­ed their own per­son­al funds. One inves­ti­ga­tion by Amer­i­can Pub­lic Media into the dona­tions said the mon­ey was spent on “increased pay for poll work­ers, expand­ed ear­ly vot­ing sites and extra equip­ment to more quick­ly process mil­lions of mailed bal­lots.”

    The Mas­ters and Vance op-ed in the New York Post relies large­ly on accu­sa­tions made by anoth­er researcher, a for­mer eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Dal­las named William Doyle. Doyle has alleged that Zucker­berg paid for a “takeover of gov­ern­ment elec­tion oper­a­tions” and that the tech CEO “bought” the 2020 elec­tion and “sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased Joe Biden’s vote mar­gin in key swing states.”

    Doyle is plan­ning to pub­lish more arti­cles on the sub­ject, and in late Decem­ber or Jan­u­ary he intends to issue his first actu­al report, J.P. Arling­haus, a spokesman for Doyle, told Yahoo News. Arling­haus and Doyle are part of the Cae­sar Rod­ney Insti­tute for Amer­i­can Elec­tion Research, a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion set up “specif­i­cal­ly to study the 2020 elec­tion,” Arling­haus said.

    The one item Doyle has pub­lished so far claims that the 2020 elec­tion “wasn’t stolen — it was like­ly bought.” Accord­ing to Arling­haus, the seman­tic dis­tinc­tion dis­tances his argu­ment from those made by for­mer New York City May­or Rudy Giu­liani, lawyer Sid­ney Pow­ell or MyP­il­low CEO Mike Lin­dell, who have all made wild claims about sup­posed efforts to rig the vote total for Biden.

    “Unlike some advo­cates whose claims seem made to attempt an over­turn­ing of the 2020 result but which have not yet had solid­ly sourced evi­dence, we are pur­su­ing activ­i­ties and spend­ing that are pub­licly uncon­test­ed and known through pub­lic records,” Arling­haus told Yahoo News.

    Arling­haus also said, “We aren’t mak­ing asser­tions we wish were true, but rather we are inter­est­ed only in metic­u­lous study of the evi­dence wher­ev­er it leads.”

    Doyle’s op-ed com­plains that more of Zucker­berg and Chan’s mon­ey went to large cities than to rur­al areas, where Repub­li­cans tend to be much stronger.

    But that’s not de fac­to evi­dence of par­ti­san intent. High­ly pop­u­lat­ed local­i­ties need more resources to run an elec­tion where there are far more vot­ers.

    A more sub­stan­tive com­plaint is that in metro areas of swing states, more Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing por­tions of those regions got Zucker­berg fund­ing while more mod­er­ate metro areas, with high­er num­bers of Repub­li­can vot­ers, did not. Doyle alleges this hap­pened in the Dal­las-Fort Worth area, where of the four major coun­ties, the two that Biden won — Dal­las and Tar­rant coun­ties — got Zucker­berg grants through CTCL, and the two that Trump won — Den­ton and Collin coun­ties — did not.

    But CTCL has said it gave grants to any coun­ties that request­ed them. And in addi­tion, the two big Dal­las-Fort Worth coun­ties that Trump won — and that did not get Zucker­berg fund­ing — nonethe­less saw a big­ger increase in vot­er turnout than the two coun­ties that did get the mon­ey from Zucker­berg and Chan.

    Trump car­ried the state of Texas with near­ly 5.9 mil­lion votes, a sub­stan­tial increase over the 4.7 mil­lion votes he won there in 2016.

    The right-wing nar­ra­tive is that with­out groups like CTCL, and oth­ers like the Cen­ter for Elec­tion Inno­va­tion and Research (CEIR), which award­ed about $65 mil­lion in grants — most of that from Zucker­berg and Chan — Democ­rats would have had less of a turnout boost while Repub­li­cans vot­ed in high­er num­bers with­out any help.

    “It is part of the over­all elec­tion denial and the attempts to weak­en Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy by mak­ing just com­plete­ly false claims about the elec­tion,” David Beck­er, CEIR’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, said.

    Ohio Sec­re­tary of State Frank LaRose, a Repub­li­can, said that “even in the most chal­leng­ing of envi­ron­ments, 2020 was Ohio’s most suc­cess­ful elec­tion ever” and that Zucker­berg and Chan’s mon­ey — allo­cat­ed through CEIR grants — was “vital to achiev­ing that mis­sion.” Trump won Ohio by some 500,000 votes in 2020, an improve­ment on his 2016 show­ing.

    Doyle also argued that the peo­ple at CTCL over­see­ing the dis­burse­ment of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to local elec­tion offices were “nom­i­nal­ly non-par­ti­san — but demon­stra­bly ide­o­log­i­cal.” There is an entire page at the Cae­sar Rod­ney Insti­tute web­site show­cas­ing social media posts from three CTCL mem­bers that indi­cate their polit­i­cal views lean left.

    Doyle’s web­site declares, “The 2020 Gen­er­al Elec­tion is not over and done with.”

    The notion that Big Tech is in cahoots with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is wide­spread on the right. And it’s pro­mot­ed by authors like the Federalist’s Mol­lie Hem­ing­way, whose book “Rigged” pro­vides much of the mate­r­i­al for oth­ers in the right-wing media ecos­phere.

    In that book, Hem­ing­way claims the Zucker­berg and Chan mon­ey had a par­ti­san impact, but she also talks about main­stream media bias and deci­sions by social media com­pa­nies like Face­book and Twit­ter to deplat­form Trump and oth­er Repub­li­cans. And she points to efforts to sup­press the cir­cu­la­tion of sto­ries crit­i­cal of Democ­rats, most notably the one involv­ing Hunter Biden’s lap­top.

    But Hem­ing­way, a for­mer Trump crit­ic turned stal­wart defend­er, con­tends that what appeared to be non­par­ti­san efforts to help peo­ple vote dur­ing a pan­dem­ic were real­ly a plot to defeat Trump.

    The prob­lem with this argu­ment is that high­er-turnout elec­tions have not been shown to help either par­ty, even as many par­ti­sans on both sides con­tin­ue to insist that high­er turnout helps Democ­rats.

    In addi­tion, apart from Trump, the GOP did excep­tion­al­ly well in the 2020 elec­tion, which saw huge turnout among both Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats.

    ...

    ———–

    “GOP sen­ate can­di­dates allege Face­book’s Zucker­berg spent mil­lions to ‘buy the pres­i­den­cy’ for Biden — but there’s not much back­ing up the claim” by Jon Ward; Yahoo News; 12/08/2021

    “Mas­ters and J.D. Vance, a Repub­li­can run­ning for Sen­ate in Ohio, are seek­ing togeth­er to repack­age Trump’s decep­tion in a new nar­ra­tive. Both are backed by $10 mil­lion from Thiel, co-founder of Pay­Pal and data min­ing com­pa­ny Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies.

    The two GOP Sen­ate can­di­dates cham­pi­oning this ‘Mark Zucker­berg stole the elec­tion for Biden’ nar­ra­tive just hap­pen to be the two can­di­dates heav­i­ly backed by Thiel, the guy who is wide­ly seen as Zucker­berg’s de fac­to men­tor. What’s going on here? Is this pure­ly the­atrics? Or an exam­ple of how Thiel keeps Zucker­berg in check? Note how Vance and Mas­ters both joint­ly pub­lished an op-ed push­ing this nar­ra­tive. It’s like they want the world to know this nar­ra­tive was a Thiel-financed pro­duc­tion:

    ...
    Mas­ters co-wrote a book with Thiel and is COO of Thiel’s invest­ment firm. Vance worked for Thiel after pub­lish­ing “Hill­bil­ly Ele­gy,” his best­selling 2016 mem­oir, and raised mon­ey from Thiel to start a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm.

    Mas­ters and Vance have jet­ti­soned the wild and debunked alle­ga­tions of out­right fraud and moved on to a new con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry: that Zucker­berg spent hun­dreds of mil­lions to “buy the pres­i­den­cy for Joe Biden.”

    It’s an alle­ga­tion that has shown some pur­chase among the GOP’s pro-Trump grass­roots. The Repub­li­can Par­ty, which has his­tor­i­cal­ly been amenable to the inter­ests of big busi­ness, is still in the throes of the for­mer president’s trade­mark pop­ulism. And Trump still insists that the 2020 elec­tion was ille­git­i­mate, lead­ing even his more sober-mind­ed sup­port­ers to try and jus­ti­fy that thor­ough­ly debunked idea.

    ...

    “Tech bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel is going all-in to sup­port two of his pro­teges’ cam­paigns for the US Sen­ate — and his plan involves swanky Cal­i­for­nia din­ners with high-dol­lar donors,” read a New York Post sto­ry last month. “Rise of a megadonor: Thiel makes a play for the Sen­ate,” blared a Politi­co head­line in May.

    Mas­ters and Vance, for their part, don’t seem to mind being grouped togeth­er. In Octo­ber, they out­lined their alle­ga­tions against Zucker­berg — and against Big Tech more broad­ly — in a New York Post arti­cle they authored togeth­er.

    “Face­book — both the prod­uct and the wealth gen­er­at­ed for its exec­u­tives — was lever­aged to elect a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent,” Mas­ters and Vance wrote. “At a min­i­mum, the company’s lead­ers should be forced to answer for this before a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee.”
    ...

    Cru­cial­ly, it’s not a nar­ra­tive that involves elec­toral shenani­gans play­ing out on Face­book. No, the plat­form itself has noth­ing to do with this con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, con­ve­nient­ly for both Zucker­berg and Thiel. Instead, it’s a con­spir­a­cy focused sole­ly on the actions of Zucker­berg’s non-prof­it, the Cen­ter for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which was used to chan­nel $400 mil­lion in emer­gency dona­tions Zucker­berg and Chan made for the pur­pose of help­ing local­i­ties run elec­tions. One study found the mon­ey was spent on “increased pay for poll work­ers, expand­ed ear­ly vot­ing sites and extra equip­ment to more quick­ly process mil­lions of mailed bal­lots.” As the arti­cle notes, this mon­ey was giv­en after the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment itself allo­cat­ed around $400 mil­lion for emer­gency spend­ing, but Repub­li­cans blocked more funds despite experts say­ing much more was need­ed. So The Zuckerberg/Chan $400 mil­lion was almost like a pri­vate match­ing fund for the fed’s $400 mil­lion. Arguably a very nec­es­sary match­ing fund due to the fact that the GOP was block­ing any­thing more. And accord­ing to this nar­ra­tive, that $400 mil­lion was spent in an unbal­anced man­ner that helped Democ­rats more than Repub­li­cans. That’s the big ‘Face­book stole the elec­tion for Biden’ con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry: the obser­va­tion that the non-par­ti­san Zucker­berg-financed elec­tion-assis­tance activ­i­ties end­ed up help­ing Democ­rats rel­a­tive­ly more than Repub­li­cans because it helped cities more than rur­al areas. A nar­ra­tive that has absolute­ly noth­ing to do with Face­book itself. Again, it’s a remark­ably con­ve­nient nar­ra­tive for Thiel, Face­book, and Zucker­berg. At least Zucker­berg does­n’t have to defend him­self against more accu­sa­tions about Face­book direct­ly manip­u­lat­ing peo­ple. For Zucker­berg, this must be a refresh­ing non-Face­book-relat­ed accu­sa­tion, if still annoy­ing:

    ...
    The pair essen­tial­ly argued that Biden beat Trump in 2020 because Zucker­berg and his wife, Priscil­la Chan, donat­ed $400 mil­lion of their per­son­al for­tune to help local­i­ties run elec­tions dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, and that mon­ey helped too many Democ­rats vote.

    The com­plaint is not that votes were stolen or added ille­gal­ly. It’s that there were too many legal votes cast in places that lean Demo­c­ra­t­ic and that Zucker­berg and Chan’s mon­ey was in fact fun­neled to places where it would turn out more Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers and help Biden.

    Zucker­berg and Chan, who donat­ed much of the mon­ey to a group called the Cen­ter for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), deny the alle­ga­tion. Ben Labolt, a spokesman for the cou­ple, told Yahoo News that “near­ly 2,500 elec­tion juris­dic­tions from 49 states applied for and received funds, includ­ing urban, sub­ur­ban, rur­al, and exur­ban coun­ties … and more Repub­li­can than Demo­c­ra­t­ic juris­dic­tions applied for and received the funds.”

    Unques­tion­ably, exam­in­ing the impact of so much mon­ey from a pair of indi­vid­u­als in any sphere relat­ed to the elec­tion is a legit­i­mate endeav­or. But so far, the con­clu­sions about the impact of the Zucker­berg and Chan mon­ey go far beyond what any evi­dence shows, and are being dropped into an infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment already deeply poi­soned by Trump’s relent­less cam­paign of lies and base­less claims.

    ...

    CTCL is a Chica­go-based non­prof­it found­ed in 2012 to advo­cate for elec­tion reform. Com­plaints about the Zucker­berg-Chan dona­tions stem in part from the fact that top lead­ers at CTCL have worked for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates or caus­es in the past, and that they have post­ed com­ments on social media indi­cat­ing a dis­like of Trump.

    ...

    The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment allo­cat­ed about $400 mil­lion through emer­gency fund­ing in the Coro­n­avirus Aid, Relief, and Eco­nom­ic Secu­ri­ty (CARES) Act, a stim­u­lus pack­age signed into law by Trump in March 2020. But elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors and out­side experts said much more was need­ed.

    Repub­li­cans in Con­gress blocked attempts to spend more mon­ey for elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, and a few months lat­er Zucker­berg and Chan donat­ed their own per­son­al funds. One inves­ti­ga­tion by Amer­i­can Pub­lic Media into the dona­tions said the mon­ey was spent on “increased pay for poll work­ers, expand­ed ear­ly vot­ing sites and extra equip­ment to more quick­ly process mil­lions of mailed bal­lots.”
    ...

    Also note how this nar­ra­tive about Zucker­berg and the CTCL swing­ing the elec­tion ema­nat­ing from a right-wing group that’s promis­ing to put out more ‘research’ on this top­ic. Research based on William Doyle who has been argu­ing that Zucker­berg’s ini­tia­tive “sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased Biden’s vote mar­gin in key swing states.” And yet they’re simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the wild claims of elec­tion fraud made by fig­ures like Mike Lin­dell and Sid­ney Pow­ell. So it looks like this could be like a next gen­er­a­tion ‘the elec­tion was stolen’ nar­ra­tive. In oth­er words, there’s going to be a lot more put out around this nar­ra­tive:

    ...
    The anti-Zucker­berg mes­sage has been build­ing for months on the right. Last year, the Capi­tol Research Cen­ter (CRC), a con­ser­v­a­tive non­prof­it, began pub­lish­ing a series of arti­cles claim­ing that the mon­ey from Zucker­berg and Chan helped Biden win the elec­tion.

    ...

    CRC, the con­ser­v­a­tive group, wrote that the mon­ey from CTCL “did not appar­ent­ly vio­late any elec­tion laws” but that “many of its grants tar­get­ed key Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing coun­ties and cities in bat­tle­ground states.”

    “While CTCL sent grants to many coun­ties that Repub­li­can incum­bent Don­ald Trump won in these states, the largest grants went to Biden coun­ties such as Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia, and the greater Atlanta met­ro­pol­i­tan area,” CRC wrote.

    In oth­er words, the dona­tion spent more mon­ey on high­ly pop­u­lat­ed urban areas that are essen­tial to Demo­c­ra­t­ic for­tunes in swing states, but that also require far greater sums of mon­ey to con­duct elec­tions.

    ...

    The Mas­ters and Vance op-ed in the New York Post relies large­ly on accu­sa­tions made by anoth­er researcher, a for­mer eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Dal­las named William Doyle. Doyle has alleged that Zucker­berg paid for a “takeover of gov­ern­ment elec­tion oper­a­tions” and that the tech CEO “bought” the 2020 elec­tion and “sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased Joe Biden’s vote mar­gin in key swing states.”

    Doyle is plan­ning to pub­lish more arti­cles on the sub­ject, and in late Decem­ber or Jan­u­ary he intends to issue his first actu­al report, J.P. Arling­haus, a spokesman for Doyle, told Yahoo News. Arling­haus and Doyle are part of the Cae­sar Rod­ney Insti­tute for Amer­i­can Elec­tion Research, a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion set up “specif­i­cal­ly to study the 2020 elec­tion,” Arling­haus said.

    The one item Doyle has pub­lished so far claims that the 2020 elec­tion “wasn’t stolen — it was like­ly bought.” Accord­ing to Arling­haus, the seman­tic dis­tinc­tion dis­tances his argu­ment from those made by for­mer New York City May­or Rudy Giu­liani, lawyer Sid­ney Pow­ell or MyP­il­low CEO Mike Lin­dell, who have all made wild claims about sup­posed efforts to rig the vote total for Biden.
    ...

    Final­ly, note the CTCL response to these accu­sa­tions: it gave grants to any coun­ties that request­ed them. So if there was a par­ti­san pat­tern in how CTCL dis­trib­uted its grants, that was due to a par­ti­san refusal to accept them by con­ser­v­a­tive-led coun­ties:

    ...
    A more sub­stan­tive com­plaint is that in metro areas of swing states, more Demo­c­ra­t­ic-lean­ing por­tions of those regions got Zucker­berg fund­ing while more mod­er­ate metro areas, with high­er num­bers of Repub­li­can vot­ers, did not. Doyle alleges this hap­pened in the Dal­las-Fort Worth area, where of the four major coun­ties, the two that Biden won — Dal­las and Tar­rant coun­ties — got Zucker­berg grants through CTCL, and the two that Trump won — Den­ton and Collin coun­ties — did not.

    But CTCL has said it gave grants to any coun­ties that request­ed them. And in addi­tion, the two big Dal­las-Fort Worth coun­ties that Trump won — and that did not get Zucker­berg fund­ing — nonethe­less saw a big­ger increase in vot­er turnout than the two coun­ties that did get the mon­ey from Zucker­berg and Chan.

    Trump car­ried the state of Texas with near­ly 5.9 mil­lion votes, a sub­stan­tial increase over the 4.7 mil­lion votes he won there in 2016.

    The right-wing nar­ra­tive is that with­out groups like CTCL, and oth­ers like the Cen­ter for Elec­tion Inno­va­tion and Research (CEIR), which award­ed about $65 mil­lion in grants — most of that from Zucker­berg and Chan — Democ­rats would have had less of a turnout boost while Repub­li­cans vot­ed in high­er num­bers with­out any help.
    ...

    So what’s actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing here? Thiel and Zucker­berg are report­ed­ly quite close. It’s a demostra­ble fact giv­en how long both have remained at Face­book despite all the con­tro­ver­sy. And yet the two Thiel pro­teges run­ning for the Sen­ate are joint­ly cham­pi­oning this nar­ra­tive.

    Is this pure the­atrics? There was that now-noto­ri­ous Thiel-arranged secret din­ner at the Trump White House in Octo­ber 2019 where Zucker­berg report­ed­ly agreed to take a hands-off approach to con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent. It’s not like the­atri­cal arrange­ments between Zucker­berg, Thiel, and the GOP are unprece­dent­ed. And it’s hard to ignore how these nar­ra­tive con­ve­nient­ly ignores the role Face­book itself played in the elec­tion.

    And yet, as con­ve­nient as this nar­ra­tive is for Face­book and Thiel, it’s still kind of a giant pain in the ass for Zucker­berg. It’s a nar­ra­tive that casts him as a cen­tral vil­lain in the theft of the elec­tion for Biden. It’s hard to imag­ine he’s just chuck­ling about it all. So, again, what’s going on here?

    And that brings to the fol­low­ing inter­view of Thiel biog­ra­ph­er, Max Chafkin, who was asked direct­ly whether or not Zucker­berg should fear Thiel. As Chafkin sees it, while Zucker­berg is pow­er­ful enough him­self to fire Thiel from Face­book, he’s unlike­ley to do so. In part because he val­ues Thiel’s advice. And in part because he does­n’t want the giant headache that would come after he fires him. So there’s an implied under­stand­ing that fir­ing Thiel from Face­book would have very real reper­cus­sions:

    TechCrunch

    Should Mark Zucker­berg be scared of Peter Thiel?

    Con­nie Loizos / 10:59 PM CDT•September 27, 2021

    Unless you’ve been in a cave over the last week, you’ve like­ly read a review or some dis­cus­sion about “The Con­trar­i­an,” a new book about bil­lion­aire investor Peter Thiel by long­time Bloomberg Busi­ness­week fea­tures edi­tor and tech reporter Max Chafkin.

    ...

    To learn more, we talked with Chafkin last week in what proved to be a live­ly dis­cus­sion that cov­ered how much Thiel (who talked with Chafkin off the record) revealed of his per­son­al life; why the “Trump thing was part­ly ide­o­log­i­cal, but it was part­ly a trade — an insight that Trump was under­val­ued,” says Chafkin; and why Thiel’s beliefs are “extreme­ly incon­sis­tent,” accord­ing to Chafkin’s report­ing. We also dis­cussed Thiel’s rela­tion­ship with Mark Zucker­berg, who accept­ed one of Facebook’s first checks from Thiel and who has been bound, for good and bad, to Thiel since.

    You can hear that 30-minute inter­view here. In the mean­time, we’re pulling out a part of that con­ver­sa­tion cen­ter­ing on Zucker­berg because we find Zuckerberg’s rela­tion­ship with Thiel to be par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing and impor­tant, giv­en the impact of Face­book on Amer­i­can soci­ety and humankind more broad­ly. We’ve edit­ed this excerpt light­ly for length.

    TC: You talk about Thiel’s biggest and most impor­tant bet real­ly being Face­book and sug­gest in the book that he used his posi­tion as a board mem­ber since 2005 to per­suade Mark Zucker­berg to be more allow­ing of an any­thing-goes type stance, even mis­in­for­ma­tion. You also sug­gest there has been fric­tion between Thiel and Zucker­berg for some time, espe­cial­ly as Thiel has come to embrace Trump­ism. Do you antic­i­pate that Thiel will be a Face­book board mem­ber for much longer? Do you think he has been side­lined in any way?

    MC: There’s an anec­dote in the book: When Face­book went pub­lic, its stock crashed and Thiel sold the stock pret­ty quick­ly, but of course he stayed on the board [and in the book] I talk about this meet­ing they had at the Face­book cam­pus to kind of pump peo­ple up, because when you’re work­ing in a com­pa­ny and the stock is going down, I under­stand that it’s the world’s most depress­ing thing. Every­body every day is los­ing mon­ey. The press is beat­ing you up. They were get­ting sued by fire­fight­ers and teach­ers. It was just an end­less parade of bad news. So they had all these speak­ers come in to try to pick up the troops. And Peter Thiel gave a talk. And dur­ing the talk, he said, ‘My gen­er­a­tion was promised fly­ing cars. Instead we got Face­book.’ Nor­mal­ly he attacks Twit­ter [with that lan­guage]. He says, ‘We were promised fly­ing cars, but we got 140 char­ac­ters,’ but he made it Face­book in this case, and if you’re sit­ting in a crowd, or if you’re Mark Zucker­berg, it’s like, ‘Oh, so the longest-serv­ing board mem­ber, men­tor, guid­ing light of my busi­ness phi­los­o­phy, just kind of got up there and told me I sucked.’

    ...

    Thiel has at var­i­ous times embraced this kind of right wing activist project in Sil­i­con Val­ley. You have [con­ser­v­a­tive activist] James O’Keefe and oth­ers who are intent on expos­ing what they see as the hypocrisy of Face­book, Google, Apple — all the big tech com­pa­nies — and Thiel has sub­tly embraced those.

    But he’s also increas­ing­ly embrac­ing them in pub­lic. Right now, Thiel has two can­di­dates run­ning in the U.S. Sen­ate races. They’re both run­ning in Repub­li­can pri­maries: Blake Mas­ters in Ari­zona, and JD Vance in Ohio, and Thiel has donat­ed ten mil­lion bucks to super PACs sup­port­ing each of these can­di­dates. These guys are con­stant­ly attack­ing Face­book, and not just attack­ing Face­book on an intel­lec­tu­al lev­el or rais­ing ques­tions. They’re mak­ing almost per­son­al attacks against Mark Zucker­berg. There’s a JD Vance ad [fund­ed by Thiel], where it’s these dark tones, and it’s like, ‘There’s a con­tin­gent of elites in this coun­try who are out of touch,’ and there it is — there’s Mark Zucker­berg face. I mean, if I’m Mark Zucker­berg, God, that must be just a con­tin­u­al source of a headache.

    There was one instance [in 2017] where Zucker­berg asked if Thiel thought he should resign, and Thiel did not and Zucker­berg didn’t fire him, so there has at least been some ten­sion. [As for whether] Thiel’s val­ue has dimin­ished, that’s a real­ly astute ques­tion because with Biden in charge, with the Democ­rats in pow­er con­trol­ling the pres­i­den­cy and both hous­es of Con­gress, Thiel’s con­nec­tion to the right is less valu­able. That said, there’s a very good chance that Repub­li­cans will retake the Sen­ate in 2022. And there’s a chance that that some of those sen­a­tors will be very, very close to Peter Thiel, so that could dras­ti­cal­ly increase his val­ue.

    TC: You men­tion in the book that a lot of peo­ple who are close to Thiel and admire him are also ter­ri­fied of him. Despite the fact that Mark Zucker­berg is prob­a­bly the most pow­er­ful per­son in the world, I won­der if your sense of things is that he’s scared of Thiel.

    MC: I think Zucker­berg could fire Thiel. I mean, Mark Zucker­berg is a for­mi­da­ble guy. He’s worth a lot of mon­ey. He could afford a war with Peter Thiel, and he could afford the back­lash. But I think there’s a ques­tion about whether he’d want to, because right now, the rea­son Thiel is able to get away with what he’s able to get away with, with respect to both serv­ing on the board and being this pub­lic crit­ic, has to do with the fact that there would be a price to pay if Mark Zucker­berg fired him, and the price would be it would be a huge freak­ing sto­ry.

    Thiel had been such an impor­tant ally to Mark Zucker­berg dur­ing the Trump pres­i­den­cy. There have been these run­ning memes in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles that Face­book is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly dis­crim­i­nat­ing against right wing points of view, [that it’s] a lib­er­al com­pa­ny staffed by lib­er­al employ­ees who hate Don­ald Trump, and that as a result, it is putting its thumb on the scale and advanc­ing the inter­ests of the left. . . [But] Zucker­berg had an awe­some response to that, which is ‘Hey, I’ve got this board mem­ber. He’s not just a Repub­li­can. He’s not just some kind of mid­dle-of-the-road con­ser­v­a­tive like George Bush guy or some­thing. He is Peter Freak­ing Thiel. He’s the guy who’s too crazy for Steve Ban­non. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Trump­ist.’ And that gives Face­book a real­ly, real­ly pow­er­ful argu­ment.

    When some­body like Josh Haw­ley, who has tak­en mon­ey from Peter Thiel, or Ted Cruz, anoth­er per­son who has tak­en mon­ey from Peter Thiel, comes along and attacks Face­book . . . I think if [Thiel] left, espe­cial­ly if he was fired — if that was a sto­ry that came out — it would be open sea­son.

    I don’t think it’s an exis­ten­tial issue for Mark Zucker­berg. But I think it might be more com­fort­able to keep his friend and board mem­ber Peter Thiel, despite the fact that they might have some pro­found dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on the val­ue of Face­book.

    ————

    “Should Mark Zucker­berg be scared of Peter Thiel?” by Con­nie Loizos; TechCrunch; 09/27/2021

    “MC: I think Zucker­berg could fire Thiel. I mean, Mark Zucker­berg is a for­mi­da­ble guy. He’s worth a lot of mon­ey. He could afford a war with Peter Thiel, and he could afford the back­lash. But I think there’s a ques­tion about whether he’d want to, because right now, the rea­son Thiel is able to get away with what he’s able to get away with, with respect to both serv­ing on the board and being this pub­lic crit­ic, has to do with the fact that there would be a price to pay if Mark Zucker­berg fired him, and the price would be it would be a huge freak­ing sto­ry.

    Zucker­berg could fire Thiel. He’s is wealthy and pow­er­ful in his own right, after all. But there would be a price paid. A price in the form of hav­ing a big pub­lic sto­ry about his split with Thiel. A price that has obvi­ous impli­ca­tions when it comes to Zucker­berg’s rela­tion­ship with the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. It’s part of what’s so iron­ic and absurd about this whole sit­u­a­tion: Zucker­berg appar­ent­ly keeps Thiel around, in part, as a kind of shield against even more attacks from the right-wing.

    And then there’s the one known instances of Zucker­berg seem­ing­ly try­ing to fire Thiel in 2017. Keep in mind this would have been when Thiel’s pub­lic tox­i­c­i­ty was prob­a­bly at its high­est fol­low­ing the his open close­ness with the new Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Zucker­berg report­ed­ly asked Thiel if he thought he should resign, Thiel said, no, and Zucker­berg did­n’t fire him. It tells us some­thing about the nature of their rela­tion­ship. Zucker­berg fears Thiel too much to fire him:

    ...
    There was one instance [in 2017] where Zucker­berg asked if Thiel thought he should resign, and Thiel did not and Zucker­berg didn’t fire him, so there has at least been some ten­sion. [As for whether] Thiel’s val­ue has dimin­ished, that’s a real­ly astute ques­tion because with Biden in charge, with the Democ­rats in pow­er con­trol­ling the pres­i­den­cy and both hous­es of Con­gress, Thiel’s con­nec­tion to the right is less valu­able. That said, there’s a very good chance that Repub­li­cans will retake the Sen­ate in 2022. And there’s a chance that that some of those sen­a­tors will be very, very close to Peter Thiel, so that could dras­ti­cal­ly increase his val­ue.

    ...

    When some­body like Josh Haw­ley, who has tak­en mon­ey from Peter Thiel, or Ted Cruz, anoth­er per­son who has tak­en mon­ey from Peter Thiel, comes along and attacks Face­book . . . I think if [Thiel] left, espe­cial­ly if he was fired — if that was a sto­ry that came out — it would be open sea­son.
    ...

    Now here’s a piece with a few more details on that 2017 attempt­ed fir­ing of Thiel from Max Chafk­in’s biog­ra­phy on Thiel. Accord­ing to Chafkin, the whole inci­dent took place after the NY Times pub­lished a leaked email from Face­book board mem­ber Reed Hast­ings telling Thiel that his endorse­ment of Trump reflect­ed poor­ly on Face­book. Zucker­berg then asked Thiel to step down. “ ‘I will not quit,’ he told Zucker­berg. ‘You’ll have to fire me.’ ” He was not fired, obvi­ous­ly. So it was­n’t sim­ply that Zucker­berg asked Thiel if he felt he should resign. Zucker­berg asked Thiel to resign, Thiel refused, and won:

    Busi­ness Insid­er

    Peter Thiel was the ‘pup­pet mas­ter’ behind Face­book’s polit­i­cal deal­ings, and 6 oth­er extra­or­di­nary details from a new book about the bil­lion­aire tycoon

    Dorothy Cuc­ci
    Oct 3, 2021, 12:02 PM

    * Peter Thiel and Mark Zucker­berg have known each oth­er since 2004, when Thiel became Face­book’s first major investor.
    * Zucker­berg saw Thiel as a men­tor, but those inside the com­pa­ny say he became increas­ing­ly depen­dent on Thiel.
    * A new biog­ra­phy reveals details around Thiel’s influ­ence on Zucker­berg and their roles in the 2020 elec­tion.

    Peter Thiel and Mark Zucker­berg have a lot in com­mon.

    Aggres­sive­ly ambi­tious, social­ly awk­ward, and unapolo­get­i­cal­ly con­tro­ver­sial, the tech bil­lion­aires — two of the most pow­er­ful in Sil­i­con Val­ley — have enjoyed a some­what sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship over the years.

    Thiel was the first big investor in Face­book, and Zucker­berg, 15 years younger, con­sid­ered him a men­tor. Some believe Thiel act­ed as Zucker­berg’s “pup­pet mas­ter,” and Face­book employ­ees noticed that Zucker­berg seemed to rely on Thiel in an unusu­al and some­times con­cern­ing way.

    We’ve com­piled sev­en of the most inter­est­ing details about Thiel and Zucker­berg’s strange rela­tion­ship from Max Chafk­in’s new biog­ra­phy, “The Con­trar­i­an: Peter Thiel and Sil­i­con Val­ley’s Pur­suit of Pow­er.”

    1. Thiel and Zucker­berg were “kin­dred spir­its” who con­nect­ed over their shared social awk­ward­ness and cut­throat approach to busi­ness.

    Zucker­berg looked up to Thiel, nam­ing him one of four mem­bers of Face­book’s orig­i­nal board of directors—and even said he mod­eled his famous­ly ruth­less equi­ty nego­ti­a­tions with co-founder Eduar­do Saverin after Thiel’s tac­tics at Pay­Pal.

    “Zucker­berg’s ret­i­cence and awk­ward­ness impressed Thiel, who saw in the young man’s indif­fer­ence a sign of intel­li­gence,” wrote Chafkin.

    2. Zucker­berg depend­ed on Thiel to keep Face­book’s rela­tion­ship with the right wing alive.

    In 2016, Thiel helped orches­trate a meet­ing in Men­lo Park between Zucker­berg and 16 well-known con­ser­v­a­tive fig­ures, includ­ing Tuck­er Carl­son, Glenn Beck, and Dana Peri­no, after claims erupt­ed that Face­book was cen­sor­ing right-wing opin­ions.

    Even as Zucker­berg’s own polit­i­cal lean­ings diverged from his men­tor’s, he still relied on Thiel as his “liai­son to the Amer­i­can right” and Face­book’s “con­ser­v­a­tive con­science.”

    ...

    4. Zucker­berg told Thiel he should resign from Face­book’s board of direc­tors in August 2017.

    After The New York Times pub­lished a leaked email from Net­flix CEO and fel­low board mem­ber Reed Hast­ings telling Thiel that his endorse­ment of Trump reflect­ed poor­ly on Face­book, Zucker­berg asked his long­time investor and men­tor to step down.

    “ ‘I will not quit,’ he told Zucker­berg. ‘You’ll have to fire me.’ ” He did noth­ing when Thiel refused.

    5. Thiel under­es­ti­mat­ed Face­book’s poten­tial and told Zucker­berg to sell the com­pa­ny in its sec­ond year.

    Despite its suc­cess, Thiel “had nev­er embraced the func­tion or phi­los­o­phy of Face­book” and did­n’t “buy into Zucker­berg’s con­cep­tion of the com­pa­ny,” wrote Chafkin.

    When Yahoo offered to buy Face­book for $1 bil­lion, Thiel told Zucker­berg to take the deal — but then-22-year-old CEO said no. In response, Thiel dumped around 17 mil­lion shares of his stock.

    6. Zucker­berg may have been CEO, but crit­ics saw Thiel as the “pup­pet mas­ter” behind the com­pa­ny’s polit­i­cal deal­ings.

    Thiel’s crit­ics believe he inten­tion­al­ly pushed his pro­tegé towards the extreme right under the guise of fos­ter­ing free speech, and Face­book employ­ees noticed that Zucker­berg seemed reliant on Thiel’s advice.

    “Thiel had been attract­ed to Zucker­berg’s obvi­ous lack of con­cern for what any­one else thought,” wrote Chafkin. “Zucker­berg now found the same qual­i­ty appeal­ing in Thiel. Thiel’s coun­sel could be rude, but it was always real.”

    7. Zucker­berg met with Thiel and Don­ald Trump to make a secret deal, accord­ing to a source close to Thiel.

    Ahead of the 2020 elec­tion, Zucker­berg and his wife joined Thiel, the pres­i­dent and first lady, and the Kush­n­ers at the White House, wrote Chafkin.

    Amid grow­ing crit­i­cism against Face­book for its tol­er­ance of mis­in­for­ma­tion, they made an agree­ment: Face­book would stop fact-check­ing polit­i­cal posts, and the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would ease up on restric­tions, one of Thiel’s con­fi­dantes said, accord­ing to the book.

    Edi­tor’s note: Both Thiel’s team and Face­book have denied that such an agree­ment was ever made.

    ————

    “Peter Thiel was the ‘pup­pet mas­ter’ behind Face­book’s polit­i­cal deal­ings, and 6 oth­er extra­or­di­nary details from a new book about the bil­lion­aire tycoon” by Dorothy Cuc­ci; Busi­ness Insid­er; 10/03/2021

    “ ‘I will not quit,’ he told Zucker­berg. ‘You’ll have to fire me.’ ” He did noth­ing when Thiel refused.”

    Zucker­berg tried to fire him. Tepid­ly, by ask­ing for a res­ig­na­tion. And that was as far as he was will­ing to go. Why? Is he reliant on Thiel? Or scared or him? Well, based on what we’ve heard, it’s prob­a­bly a bit of both: he relies on Thiel, in par­tic­u­lar when it comes to Face­book’s rela­tion­ship with the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, which is pre­cise­ly why he’s so ter­ri­fied of Thiel. With­out Thiel’s pro­tec­tion, the GOP would be even more pub­licly oppo­si­tion­al towards Face­book:

    ...
    Even as Zucker­berg’s own polit­i­cal lean­ings diverged from his men­tor’s, he still relied on Thiel as his “liai­son to the Amer­i­can right” and Face­book’s “con­ser­v­a­tive con­science.”

    ...

    Thiel’s crit­ics believe he inten­tion­al­ly pushed his pro­tegé towards the extreme right under the guise of fos­ter­ing free speech, and Face­book employ­ees noticed that Zucker­berg seemed reliant on Thiel’s advice.

    “Thiel had been attract­ed to Zucker­berg’s obvi­ous lack of con­cern for what any­one else thought,” wrote Chafkin. “Zucker­berg now found the same qual­i­ty appeal­ing in Thiel. Thiel’s coun­sel could be rude, but it was always real.”
    ...

    Don’t for­get that Thiel’s poten­tial lever­age over Zucker­berg isn’t lim­it­ed to his role as a far right beast­mas­ter who can hold the wolves at bay. Thiel’s role as the co-founder of Palan­tir prob­a­bly gives him all sorts of lever­age over both Face­book and Zucker­berg per­son­al­ly that we can bare­ly begin to mean­ing­ful­ly spec­u­late about.

    And then there’s the fact that the two have known each oth­er and oper­at­ed in the same social cir­cles for years. Just straight up black­mail could be a pos­si­bil­i­ty. Is Thiel black­mail­ing Zucker­berg?

    Anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty that that Thiel has got­ten wind of Zucker­berg plan­ning on final­ly fir­ing him for real, and the whole Vance/Masters pub­lic rela­tions ploy is Thiel’s warn­ing to Zucker­berg. Might that be what we’re look­ing at here? Who knows, but whether or not Mark Zucker­berg tru­ly is the most pow­er­ful per­son at Face­book, he does­n’t behave as if he believes that him­self.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 9, 2021, 5:47 pm
  27. It’s the end of an era. It was an awful era. But at least it’s over. Not that we have any rea­son to believe the gen­er­al awful­ness of the era is going to recede: Peter Thiel is leav­ing the board of Face­book.

    The par­tic­u­lar rea­sons for Thiel’s depar­ture isn’t entire­ly clear. Or rather, omi­nous­ly vague. We’re told he’s leav­ing in order to focus on the 2022 mid-term elec­tions which Thiel report­ed­ly views as cru­cial to chang­ing the direc­tion of the coun­try. But the focus isn’t just on get­ting Repub­li­cans elect­ed to office. Thiel is try­ing to ensure it’s the pro-MAGA can­di­date who ulti­mate­ly win, with 3 of the 12 House can­di­dates he’s back­ing run­ning pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to Repub­li­cans who vot­ed in favor of impeach­ing Trump over the Jan 6 Capi­tol insur­rec­tion. So Thiel is now basi­cal­ly pro-insur­rec­tion, and try­ing to ensure the GOP remains the par­ty of insur­rec­tion and becomes even more pro-insur­rec­tion going for­ward. In that sense, he’s not incor­rect. 2022 real­ly is cru­cial to chang­ing the direc­tion of the coun­try. It’s going to be the great­est oppor­tu­ni­ty fas­cists like Thiel have ever had to ulti­mate­ly dri­ve a stake through the heart of the dying husk of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, with a pro-insur­rec­tion GOP poised to retake con­trol of the House and poten­tial engage in crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions of the Democ­rats who dared inves­ti­gate the insur­rec­tion.

    So is Thiel tru­ly leav­ing the Face­book board just to focus on the 2022 mid-terms? It does­n’t real­ly add up. It’s not like he has­n’t been doing exact­ly that for years. So what’s new? Why now? Is there a new scan­dal involv­ing secret deals between Face­book and the GOP, like the 2019 secret din­ner par­ty at the White House? Does it have to does with Thiel’s invest­ments in Bold­end, a hack­ing firm offer­ing prod­ucts that can hack Face­book-owned What­sApp? Or is Thiel per­haps plan­ning on using Face­book’s pro­pa­gan­da pow­er for mobi­liz­ing GOP vot­ers in man­ner that will be so scan­dalous the com­pa­ny needs to pre­emp­tive­ly part ways? That’s what makes this so announce­ment omi­nous­ly vague. The expressed rea­son — spend­ing more time on help­ing the GOP win elec­tions — does­n’t real­ly makes sense. Thiel is far more help­ful for help­ing the GOP win elec­tions when he’s sit­ting on the board of Face­book. So why leave?

    There’s anoth­er some­what amus­ing pos­si­ble motive: two of the Sen­ate can­di­dates backed by Thiel who he is par­tic­u­lar­ly close to are Blake Mas­ter and JD Vance. And Mas­ters and Blake have both made bash­ing Face­book and ‘Big Tech’ sig­na­ture cam­paign themes, mak­ing their close ties to Thiel an obvi­ous com­pli­ca­tion. The two can­di­dates even accuse Zucker­berg of steal­ing the 2012 elec­tion for Barack Oba­ma. Beyond that, Vance is invest­ing in ‘Alt Right’-friendly social media plat­forms of his own, like Rum­ble. So is Thiel’s depar­ture a pure­ly cos­met­ic move to allow Repub­li­cans to disin­gen­u­ous­ly com­plain about ‘Big Tech cen­sor­ship’ more effec­tive­ly?

    Note that we aren’t told Thiel sold off all his remain­ing shares in the com­pa­ny. We’re just told he’s leav­ing the board. There’s also no reports of any new divide between Thiel and Mark Zucker­berg. So it’s not like this is an announce­ment that Thiel is no longer act­ing as Zucker­ber­berg’s con­fi­dante and men­tor. It’s real­ly just an announce­ment about a curi­ous pub­lic rela­tions move by Thiel. A curi­ous omi­nous pub­lic rela­tions move:

    The New York Times

    Peter Thiel to Exit Meta’s Board to Sup­port Trump-Aligned Can­di­dates

    The tech bil­lion­aire, who has been on the board of the com­pa­ny for­mer­ly known as Face­book since 2005, is back­ing numer­ous politi­cians in the midterm elec­tions.

    By Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac
    Feb. 7, 2022

    Peter Thiel, one of the longest-serv­ing board mem­bers of Meta, the par­ent of Face­book, plans to step down, the com­pa­ny said on Mon­day.

    Mr. Thiel, 54, wants to focus on influ­enc­ing November’s midterm elec­tions, said a per­son with knowl­edge of Mr. Thiel’s think­ing who declined to be iden­ti­fied. Mr. Thiel sees the midterms as cru­cial to chang­ing the direc­tion of the coun­try, this per­son said, and he is back­ing can­di­dates who sup­port the agen­da of for­mer pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump.

    Over the last year, Mr. Thiel, who has a net worth esti­mat­ed at $2.6 bil­lion by Forbes, has become one of the Republican’s Party’s largest donors. He gave $10 mil­lion each last year to the cam­paigns of two pro­tégés, Blake Mas­ters, who is run­ning for a Sen­ate seat in Ari­zona, and J.D. Vance, who is run­ning for Sen­ate in Ohio.

    Mr. Thiel has been on Meta’s board since 2005, when Face­book was a tiny start-up and he was one of its first insti­tu­tion­al investors. But scruti­ny of Mr. Thiel’s posi­tion on the board has steadi­ly increased as the com­pa­ny was embroiled in polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies, includ­ing bar­ring Mr. Trump from the plat­form, and as the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist has become more polit­i­cal­ly active.

    The depar­ture means Meta los­es its board’s most promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive voice. The 10-mem­ber board has under­gone sig­nif­i­cant changes in recent years, as many of its mem­bers have left and been replaced, often with Sil­i­con Val­ley entre­pre­neurs. Drew Hous­ton, the chief exec­u­tive of Drop­box, joined Facebook’s board in 2020 and Tony Xu, the founder of Door­Dash, joined it last month. Meta didn’t address whether it intends to replace Mr. Thiel.

    The com­pa­ny, which recent­ly marked its 18th birth­day, is under­tak­ing a shift toward the so-called meta­verse, which Mr. Zucker­berg believes is the next gen­er­a­tion of the inter­net. Last week, Meta report­ed spend­ing more than $10 bil­lion on the effort in 2021, along with mixed finan­cial results. That wiped more than $230 bil­lion off the company’s mar­ket val­ue.

    “Peter has been a valu­able mem­ber of our board and I’m deeply grate­ful for every­thing he’s done for our com­pa­ny,” Mark Zucker­berg, chief exec­u­tive of Meta, said in a state­ment. “Peter is tru­ly an orig­i­nal thinker who you can bring your hard­est prob­lems and get unique sug­ges­tions.”

    ...

    Mr. Thiel first met Mr. Zucker­berg 18 years ago when he pro­vid­ed the entre­pre­neur with $500,000 in cap­i­tal for Face­book, valu­ing the com­pa­ny at $4.9 mil­lion. That gave Mr. Thiel, who with his ven­ture firm Founders Fund con­trolled a 10 per­cent stake in the social net­work, a seat on its board of direc­tors.

    Since then, Mr. Thiel has become a con­fi­dante of Mr. Zucker­berg. He coun­seled the com­pa­ny through its ear­ly years of rapid user growth, and through its dif­fi­cul­ties shift­ing its busi­ness to mobile phones around the time of its 2012 ini­tial pub­lic offer­ing.

    He has also been seen as the con­trar­i­an who has Mr. Zuckerberg’s ear, cham­pi­oning unfet­tered speech across dig­i­tal plat­forms. His con­ser­v­a­tive views also gave Facebook’s board ide­o­log­i­cal diver­si­ty.

    In 2019 and 2020, as Face­book grap­pled with how to deal with polit­i­cal speech and claims made in polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing, Mr. Thiel urged Mr. Zucker­berg to with­stand the pub­lic pres­sure to take down those ads, even as oth­er exec­u­tives and board mem­bers thought the com­pa­ny should change its posi­tion. Mr. Zucker­berg sided with Mr. Thiel.

    Mr. Thiel’s polit­i­cal influ­ence and ties to key Repub­li­cans and con­ser­v­a­tives have also offered a cru­cial gate­way into Wash­ing­ton for Mr. Zucker­berg, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. In Octo­ber 2019, Mr. Zucker­berg and Mr. Thiel had a pri­vate din­ner with Pres­i­dent Trump.

    Face­book and Mr. Zucker­berg have long tak­en heat for Mr. Thiel’s pres­ence on the board. In 2016, Mr. Thiel was one of the few tech titans in large­ly lib­er­al Sil­i­con Val­ley to pub­licly sup­port Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    In 2020, when Mr. Trump’s incen­di­ary Face­book posts were put under the micro­scope, crit­ics cit­ed Mr. Thiel’s board seat as a rea­son for Mr. Zuckerberg’s con­tin­ued insis­tence that Mr. Trump’s posts be left stand­ing.

    Facebook’s ban of Mr. Trump’s account last year after the Jan. 6 storm­ing of the U.S. Capi­tol has become a key ral­ly­ing point for con­ser­v­a­tives who say that main­stream social plat­forms have cen­sored them.

    Mr. Vance, who used to work at one of Mr. Thiel’s ven­ture funds, and Mr. Mas­ters, the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of Mr. Thiel’s fam­i­ly office, have railed against Face­book. In Octo­ber, the two Sen­ate can­di­dates argued in an opin­ion piece in The New York Post that Mr. Zuckerberg’s $400 mil­lion in dona­tions to local elec­tion offices in 2020 amount­ed to “elec­tion med­dling” that should be inves­ti­gat­ed.

    Big Tech com­pa­nies shouldn’t be allowed to silence polit­i­cal oppo­nents. They shouldn’t be allowed to work with the CCP. And they shouldn’t be allowed to manip­u­late infor­ma­tion to change elec­tion out­comes.— Blake Mas­ters (@bgmasters) Feb­ru­ary 7, 2022

    Recent­ly, Mr. Thiel has pub­licly voiced his dis­agree­ment with con­tent mod­er­a­tion deci­sions at Face­book and oth­er major social media plat­forms. In Octo­ber at a Mia­mi event orga­nized by a con­ser­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy asso­ci­a­tion, he said that he would “take QAnon and Piz­za­gate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries any day over a Min­istry of Truth.”

    Mr. Thiel’s invest­ing has also clashed with his mem­ber­ship on Meta’s board. He invest­ed in the com­pa­ny that became Clearview AI, a facial-recog­ni­tion start-up that scraped bil­lions of pho­tos from Face­book, Insta­gram and oth­er social plat­forms in vio­la­tion of their terms of ser­vice. Founders Fund also invest­ed in Bold­end, a cyber­weapons com­pa­ny that claimed it had found a way to hack What­sApp, the Meta-owned mes­sag­ing plat­form.

    ...

    In the past year, Mr. Thiel, who also is chair­man of the soft­ware com­pa­ny Palan­tir, has increased his polit­i­cal giv­ing to Repub­li­can can­di­dates. Ahead of the midterms, he is back­ing three Sen­ate can­di­dates and 12 House can­di­dates. Among those House can­di­dates are three peo­ple run­ning pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to Repub­li­cans who vot­ed in favor of impeach­ing Mr. Trump for the events of Jan. 6.

    ————-

    “Peter Thiel to Exit Meta’s Board to Sup­port Trump-Aligned Can­di­dates” by Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac; The New York Times; 02/07/2022

    “Mr. Thiel, 54, wants to focus on influ­enc­ing November’s midterm elec­tions, said a per­son with knowl­edge of Mr. Thiel’s think­ing who declined to be iden­ti­fied. Mr. Thiel sees the midterms as cru­cial to chang­ing the direc­tion of the coun­try, this per­son said, and he is back­ing can­di­dates who sup­port the agen­da of for­mer pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump.

    Thiel clear­ly has big plans for the 2022 elec­tion. The ques­tion is whether or not this move is direct­ly relat­ed to those big plans. After all, it’s not like Thiel has­n’t like been a GOP sug­ar-dad­dy for years. Mak­ing large dona­tions to repug­nant can­di­dates is what he has long done. Sure, it sounds like Thiel has increased his con­tri­bu­tions to GOP can­di­dates this year, with two Sen­ate can­di­dates — Blake Mas­ters and JD Vance — have noto­ri­ous close ties to Thiel. But, again, it’s entire­ly unclear what’s changed from before. Why the big shake­up now?

    ...
    Over the last year, Mr. Thiel, who has a net worth esti­mat­ed at $2.6 bil­lion by Forbes, has become one of the Republican’s Party’s largest donors. He gave $10 mil­lion each last year to the cam­paigns of two pro­tégés, Blake Mas­ters, who is run­ning for a Sen­ate seat in Ari­zona, and J.D. Vance, who is run­ning for Sen­ate in Ohio.

    ...

    In 2019 and 2020, as Face­book grap­pled with how to deal with polit­i­cal speech and claims made in polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing, Mr. Thiel urged Mr. Zucker­berg to with­stand the pub­lic pres­sure to take down those ads, even as oth­er exec­u­tives and board mem­bers thought the com­pa­ny should change its posi­tion. Mr. Zucker­berg sided with Mr. Thiel.

    ...

    Face­book and Mr. Zucker­berg have long tak­en heat for Mr. Thiel’s pres­ence on the board. In 2016, Mr. Thiel was one of the few tech titans in large­ly lib­er­al Sil­i­con Val­ley to pub­licly sup­port Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    In 2020, when Mr. Trump’s incen­di­ary Face­book posts were put under the micro­scope, crit­ics cit­ed Mr. Thiel’s board seat as a rea­son for Mr. Zuckerberg’s con­tin­ued insis­tence that Mr. Trump’s posts be left stand­ing.

    Facebook’s ban of Mr. Trump’s account last year after the Jan. 6 storm­ing of the U.S. Capi­tol has become a key ral­ly­ing point for con­ser­v­a­tives who say that main­stream social plat­forms have cen­sored them.

    Mr. Vance, who used to work at one of Mr. Thiel’s ven­ture funds, and Mr. Mas­ters, the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of Mr. Thiel’s fam­i­ly office, have railed against Face­book. In Octo­ber, the two Sen­ate can­di­dates argued in an opin­ion piece in The New York Post that Mr. Zuckerberg’s $400 mil­lion in dona­tions to local elec­tion offices in 2020 amount­ed to “elec­tion med­dling” that should be inves­ti­gat­ed.

    Big Tech com­pa­nies shouldn’t be allowed to silence polit­i­cal oppo­nents. They shouldn’t be allowed to work with the CCP. And they shouldn’t be allowed to manip­u­late infor­ma­tion to change elec­tion out­comes.— Blake Mas­ters (@bgmasters) Feb­ru­ary 7, 2022

    ...

    In the past year, Mr. Thiel, who also is chair­man of the soft­ware com­pa­ny Palan­tir, has increased his polit­i­cal giv­ing to Repub­li­can can­di­dates. Ahead of the midterms, he is back­ing three Sen­ate can­di­dates and 12 House can­di­dates. Among those House can­di­dates are three peo­ple run­ning pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to Repub­li­cans who vot­ed in favor of impeach­ing Mr. Trump for the events of Jan. 6.
    ...

    So the whole ‘step­ping away to focus on the GOP’ excuse does­n’t entire­ly add up. But that does­n’t mean Thiel’s ties to the GOP aren’t a fac­tor. Recall the now noto­ri­ous secret 2019 din­ner par­ty Thiel and Zucker­berg had at the Trump White House where they alleged­ly ham­mered out a deal to ensure Face­book took it easy on the GOP’s strat­e­gy of rely­ing on a cyclone of dis­in­for­ma­tion. Was there anoth­er secret Face­book-GOP din­ner par­ty that we have yet to learn about? Could Thiel’s depar­ture be in antic­i­pa­tion of yet-to-be-dis­closed new secret Face­book-GOP arrange­ment?

    ...
    Mr. Thiel’s polit­i­cal influ­ence and ties to key Repub­li­cans and con­ser­v­a­tives have also offered a cru­cial gate­way into Wash­ing­ton for Mr. Zucker­berg, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. In Octo­ber 2019, Mr. Zucker­berg and Mr. Thiel had a pri­vate din­ner with Pres­i­dent Trump.
    ...

    And then there’s the fact that Thiel’s Founders Fund has appar­ent­ly invest­ed in a com­pa­ny that fig­ured out how to hacks Face­book-owned What­App. That’s kind of a huge deal for Face­book. Or at least should be. Was Thiel’s invest­ments in Bold­end a fac­tor here? If not, that’s quite a sto­ry too:

    ...
    Recent­ly, Mr. Thiel has pub­licly voiced his dis­agree­ment with con­tent mod­er­a­tion deci­sions at Face­book and oth­er major social media plat­forms. In Octo­ber at a Mia­mi event orga­nized by a con­ser­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy asso­ci­a­tion, he said that he would “take QAnon and Piz­za­gate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries any day over a Min­istry of Truth.”

    Mr. Thiel’s invest­ing has also clashed with his mem­ber­ship on Meta’s board. He invest­ed in the com­pa­ny that became Clearview AI, a facial-recog­ni­tion start-up that scraped bil­lions of pho­tos from Face­book, Insta­gram and oth­er social plat­forms in vio­la­tion of their terms of ser­vice. Founders Fund also invest­ed in Bold­end, a cyber­weapons com­pa­ny that claimed it had found a way to hack What­sApp, the Meta-owned mes­sag­ing plat­form.
    ...

    That’s all part of what makes this such an dif­fi­cult announce­ment to inter­pret. Thiel’s grip over Face­book always seemed to far exceed his actu­al posi­tion in the com­pa­ny, so it’s not clear why we should assume that unof­fi­cial pow­er isn’t going to remain regard­less of whether or not Thiel is on the board or not. Unof­fi­cial­ly pow­er that is arguably going to be a lot eas­i­er to wield now.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 8, 2022, 2:54 pm
  28. There was a new report about the scum­my behav­ior of Face­book (Meta) that adds a new angle to the many ques­tions about Face­book’s deep, and rather secre­tive, ties to the Repub­li­can Par­ty. Ques­tions that include the details of the appar­ent secret agree­ment that was ham­mered out between Mark Zucker­berg, Peter Thiel, and then-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a secret 2019 din­ner par­ty at the White House where Zucker­berg alleged­ly promised to go easy on right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion in the 2020 cam­paign. The new report also tan­gen­tial­ly relates to the sto­ries about Peter Thiel and Steve Ban­non push­ing to foment a kind of ‘yel­low per­il’ in the US gov­ern­ment and Sil­i­con Val­ley about the dan­gers Chi­na tech firms in order to dam­age a direct rival (Google):

    New­ly leaked emails reveal that Face­book has been using a GOP-affil­i­at­ed pub­lic rela­tions firm, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, to secret­ly push alarmist sto­ries about the dan­gers Tik­Tok pos­es to US chil­dren. The pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign includ­ed push­ing sto­ries into the local media mar­kets in the con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts of key mem­bers of con­gress, with some suc­cess appar­ent­ly. Oh, and it it turns out that some of the tox­ic viral memes that were alleged­ly being pro­mot­ed to chil­dren on Tik­Tok weren’t found on Tik­Tok at all but instead orig­i­nat­ed on Face­book. It was that sleazy.

    So how long has Face­book been hir­ing GOP PR firms to secret­ly con­duct smear cam­paigns on its rivals? That’s unclear, but in the case of Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, we are told that its rela­tion­ship with Face­book goes back to 2016. Yep, Face­book was already using this GOP firm for secret sleaze back in 2016, which is anoth­er wrin­kle in that whole sor­did sto­ry. Although this par­tic­u­lar anti-Tik­Tok cam­paign appears to be ongo­ing, with some of the leaked emails being sent in Feb­ru­ary of this year.

    And Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry isn’t the only GOP affil­i­at­ed PR firm used by Face­book. In 2018, Face­book hired anoth­er GOP-affil­i­at­ed firm, Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, to attack crit­ics and oth­er tech com­pa­nies, includ­ing Apple and Google, dur­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal. It’s that broad­er secret rela­tion­ship between Face­book (Meta) and the GOP that’s the larg­er sto­ry sto­ry. And based on these leaked emails, it appears that secret rela­tion­ship has been deep­er and sleazier than pre­vi­ous­ly appre­ci­at­ed:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Face­book paid GOP firm to malign Tik­Tok

    The firm, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, pushed local oper­a­tives across the coun­try to boost mes­sages call­ing Tik­Tok a threat to Amer­i­can chil­dren. “Dream would be to get sto­ries with head­lines like ‘From dances to dan­ger,’ ” one cam­paign direc­tor said.

    By Tay­lor Lorenz and Drew Har­well
    March 30, 2022 at 6:30 a.m. EDT

    Face­book par­ent com­pa­ny Meta is pay­ing one of the biggest Repub­li­can con­sult­ing firms in the coun­try to orches­trate a nation­wide cam­paign seek­ing to turn the pub­lic against Tik­Tok.

    The cam­paign includes plac­ing op-eds and let­ters to the edi­tor in major region­al news out­lets, pro­mot­ing dubi­ous sto­ries about alleged Tik­Tok trends that actu­al­ly orig­i­nat­ed on Face­book, and push­ing to draw polit­i­cal reporters and local politi­cians into help­ing take down its biggest com­peti­tor. These bare-knuck­le tac­tics, long com­mon­place in the world of pol­i­tics, have become increas­ing­ly notice­able with­in a tech indus­try where com­pa­nies vie for cul­tur­al rel­e­vance and come at a time when Face­book is under pres­sure to win back young users.

    Employ­ees with the firm, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, worked to under­mine Tik­Tok through a nation­wide media and lob­by­ing cam­paign por­tray­ing the fast-grow­ing app, owned by the Bei­jing-based com­pa­ny ByteDance, as a dan­ger to Amer­i­can chil­dren and soci­ety, accord­ing to inter­nal emails shared with The Wash­ing­ton Post.

    Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry needs to “get the mes­sage out that while Meta is the cur­rent punch­ing bag, Tik­Tok is the real threat espe­cial­ly as a for­eign owned app that is #1 in shar­ing data that young teens are using,” a direc­tor for the firm wrote in a Feb­ru­ary email.

    Cam­paign oper­a­tives were also encour­aged to use TikTok’s promi­nence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own pri­va­cy and antitrust con­cerns.

    “Bonus point if we can fit this into a broad­er mes­sage that the cur­rent bills/proposals aren’t where [state attor­neys gen­er­al] or mem­bers of Con­gress should be focused,” a Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry staffer wrote.

    The emails, which have not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, show the extent to which Meta and its part­ners will use oppo­si­tion-research tac­tics on the Chi­nese-owned, multi­bil­lion-dol­lar rival that has become one of the most down­loaded apps in the world, often out­rank­ing even Meta’s pop­u­lar Face­book and Insta­gram apps. In an inter­nal report last year leaked by the whistle­blow­er Frances Hau­gen, Face­book researchers said teens were spend­ing “2–3X more time” on Tik­Tok than Insta­gram, and that Facebook’s pop­u­lar­i­ty among young peo­ple had plum­met­ed.

    Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry declined to respond to ques­tions about the cam­paign, say­ing only that it has rep­re­sent­ed Meta for sev­er­al years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

    In one email, a Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry direc­tor asked for ideas on local polit­i­cal reporters who could serve as a “back chan­nel” for anti-Tik­Tok mes­sages, say­ing the firm “would def­i­nite­ly want it to be hands off.”

    In oth­er emails, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry urged part­ners to push sto­ries to local media tying Tik­Tok to dan­ger­ous teen trends in an effort to show the app’s pur­port­ed harms. “Any local exam­ples of bad Tik­Tok trends/stories in your mar­kets?” a Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry staffer asked.

    “Dream would be to get sto­ries with head­lines like ‘From dances to dan­ger: how Tik­Tok has become the most harm­ful social media space for kids,’ ” the staffer wrote.

    Meta spokesper­son Andy Stone defend­ed the cam­paign by say­ing, “We believe all plat­forms, includ­ing Tik­Tok, should face a lev­el of scruti­ny con­sis­tent with their grow­ing suc­cess.”

    A Tik­Tok spokesper­son said the com­pa­ny is “deeply con­cerned” about “the stok­ing of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the plat­form.”

    Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry worked to ampli­fy neg­a­tive Tik­Tok cov­er­age through a Google doc­u­ment titled “Bad Tik­Tok Clips,” which was shared inter­nal­ly and includ­ed links to dubi­ous local news sto­ries cit­ing Tik­Tok as the ori­gin of dan­ger­ous teen trends. Local oper­a­tives work­ing with the firm were encour­aged to pro­mote these alleged Tik­Tok trends in their own mar­kets to put pres­sure on law­mak­ers to act.

    One trend Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry sought to enhance through its work was the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge, which showed stu­dents van­dal­iz­ing school prop­er­ty. Through the “Bad Tik­Tok Clips” doc­u­ment, the firm pushed sto­ries about the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge in local media across Mass­a­chu­setts, Michi­gan, Min­neso­ta, Rhode Island and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

    That trend led Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal (D‑Conn.) to write a let­ter in Sep­tem­ber call­ing on Tik­Tok exec­u­tives to tes­ti­fy in front of a Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee, say­ing the app had been “repeat­ed­ly mis­used and abused to pro­mote behav­ior and actions that encour­age harm­ful and destruc­tive acts.” But accord­ing to an inves­ti­ga­tion by Anna Foley at the pod­cast net­work Gim­let, rumors of the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge ini­tial­ly spread on Face­book, not Tik­Tok.

    In Octo­ber, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher Tik­Tok chal­lenge” in local news, tout­ing a local news report on the alleged chal­lenge in Hawaii. In real­i­ty, no such chal­lenge exist­ed on Tik­Tok. Again, the rumor start­ed on Face­book, accord­ing to a series of Face­book posts first doc­u­ment­ed by Insid­er.

    The firm worked to use both gen­uine con­cerns and unfound­ed anx­i­eties to cast doubt about the pop­u­lar app. One email out­lin­ing recent neg­a­tive Tik­Tok sto­ries mixed rea­son­able ques­tions, large­ly about TikTok’s cor­po­rate own­er­ship and prac­tices, with more exag­ger­at­ed sto­ries about young users record­ing them­selves behav­ing bad­ly — the kinds of social media pan­ics that have long bedev­iled big social net­works, includ­ing Face­book.

    The agency was work­ing at the same time to get “proac­tive cov­er­age” about Face­book into local news­pa­pers, radio seg­ments and TV broad­casts, includ­ing sub­mit­ting let­ters and opin­ion pieces speak­ing glow­ing­ly of Facebook’s role in, for instance, sup­port­ing Black-owned busi­ness­es. Those let­ters did not men­tion the Meta-fund­ed firm’s involve­ment.

    Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry has con­tract­ed with dozens of pub­lic rela­tions firms across the Unit­ed States to help sway pub­lic opin­ion against Tik­Tok. In addi­tion to plant­i­ng local news sto­ries, the firm has helped place op-eds tar­get­ing Tik­Tok around the coun­try, espe­cial­ly in key con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts.

    On March 12, a let­ter to the edi­tor that Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry offi­cials helped orches­trate ran in the Den­ver Post. The let­ter, from a “con­cerned” “new par­ent,” claimed that Tik­Tok was harm­ful to children’s men­tal health, raised con­cerns over its data pri­va­cy prac­tices and said that “many peo­ple even sus­pect Chi­na is delib­er­ate­ly col­lect­ing behav­ioral data on our kids.” The let­ter also issued sup­port for Col­orado Attor­ney Gen­er­al Phil Weiser’s choice to join a coali­tion of state attor­neys gen­er­al inves­ti­gat­ing TikTok’s impact on Amer­i­can youths, putting polit­i­cal pres­sure on the com­pa­ny.

    A very sim­i­lar let­ter to the edi­tor, draft­ed by Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, ran that same day in the Des Moines Reg­is­ter. The piece linked to neg­a­tive sto­ries about Tik­Tok that Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry had pre­vi­ous­ly sought to ampli­fy. The let­ter was signed by Mary McAdams, chair of the Anke­ny Area Democ­rats. Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry tout­ed McAdams’ cre­den­tials in an email on March 7.

    “[McAdams’s] name on this [let­ter to the edi­tor] will car­ry a lot of weight with leg­is­la­tors and stake­hold­ers,” a Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry direc­tor wrote. The email then encour­aged part­ners across oth­er states to look for oppor­tu­ni­ties to add to the cam­paign, “espe­cial­ly if your state AG sud­den­ly joins on.”

    ...

    In an email sent last week to local con­trac­tors, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry asked each team to “be pre­pared to share the op-ed they’re work­ing on right now.” “Col­orado and Iowa — Can you talk about the Tik­Tok Op-eds you both got?” a Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry rep­re­sen­ta­tive asked.

    The emails show how the firm has effec­tive­ly pro­mot­ed its anti-Tik­Tok mes­sag­ing with­out reveal­ing that it came from a firm work­ing on Meta’s behalf. None of the op-eds or let­ters to the edi­tor were pub­lished with any indi­ca­tion that the Meta-fund­ed group had been involved.

    Launched as a Repub­li­can dig­i­tal con­sult­ing firm by Zac Mof­fatt, a dig­i­tal direc­tor for Mitt Romney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry has rou­tine­ly advised Face­book offi­cials over the years, includ­ing dur­ing a high-pro­file con­gres­sion­al hear­ing after the 2016 elec­tion.

    The Arling­ton, Va.-based firm adver­tis­es on its web­site that it brings “a right-of-cen­ter per­spec­tive to solve mar­ket­ing chal­lenges” and can deploy field teams “any­where in the coun­try with­in 48 hours.”

    The firm is one of the biggest recip­i­ents of Repub­li­can cam­paign spend­ing, earn­ing more than $237 mil­lion in 2020, accord­ing to data com­piled by OpenSe­crets. Its biggest pay­ments came from nation­al GOP con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees and Amer­i­ca First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC.

    In 2020, the firm said it was expand­ing its “cri­sis prac­tice and cor­po­rate affairs offer­ings” because of its clients’ grow­ing need for “issues man­age­ment and exec­u­tive posi­tion­ing,” adding that it would focus its efforts toward “authen­tic sto­ry­telling” with a “hyper-local approach.”

    Some of the emails tar­get­ing Tik­Tok were sent in Feb­ru­ary, short­ly after Meta announced that Face­book had lost users for the first time in its 18-year his­to­ry. Meta chief exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg told investors then that Tik­Tok was a major obsta­cle, say­ing, “Peo­ple have a lot of choic­es for how they want to spend their time, and apps like Tik­Tok are grow­ing very quick­ly.” The com­pa­ny has unveiled a Tik­Tok clone, a short-video fea­ture called Reels, and pro­motes it heav­i­ly in its Insta­gram app.

    In a 2019 speech at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, dur­ing which he invoked the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and cham­pi­oned Facebook’s role in pro­mot­ing free speech, Zucker­berg crit­i­cized Tik­Tok for reports it had banned dis­cus­sion of top­ics deemed sub­ver­sive by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, say­ing, “Is that the Inter­net that we want?” (The Wash­ing­ton Post and the Guardian had pre­vi­ous­ly high­light­ed those con­tent-mod­er­a­tion rules. Tik­Tok has said those guide­lines were out­dat­ed and that its U.S. busi­ness now oper­ates under dif­fer­ent rules than its Chi­nese coun­ter­part.)

    But Zucker­berg has also point­ed at Tik­Tok to counter con­cerns that Face­book holds a monop­oly on social media. Tik­Tok is the “fastest-grow­ing app,” he said in his open­ing remarks at a hear­ing of the House antitrust sub­com­mit­tee in 2020.

    The anti-Tik­Tok cam­paign fol­lows in a long line of Face­book-fund­ed advo­ca­cy groups work­ing to boost its stand­ing in the pub­lic eye.

    In 2018, Face­book worked with Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, anoth­er Wash­ing­ton con­sult­ing firm found­ed by Repub­li­can polit­i­cal vet­er­ans, to lash out at crit­ics and oth­er tech com­pa­nies, includ­ing Apple and Google, dur­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal that sparked glob­al out­rage over Facebook’s pri­va­cy rules. (The com­pa­ny said it stopped work­ing with Defin­ers short­ly after a New York Times report on the arrange­ment.)

    And in 2019, as the com­pa­ny faced antitrust scruti­ny over its gar­gan­tu­an impact, Face­book drove the cre­ation of a polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy group, Amer­i­can Edge, designed to per­suade Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers that Sil­i­con Val­ley was crit­i­cal to the U.S. econ­o­my — and that overt reg­u­la­tion could weak­en the country’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in a tech­nol­o­gy race against Chi­na.

    Meta out­spends all but six of the nation’s biggest com­pa­nies and indus­try groups in fed­er­al lob­by­ing, pay­ing more than $20 mil­lion last year, accord­ing to data com­piled by OpenSe­crets.

    ———–

    “Face­book paid GOP firm to malign Tik­Tok” by Tay­lor Lorenz and Drew Har­well; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 03/30/2022

    “The emails, which have not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, show the extent to which Meta and its part­ners will use oppo­si­tion-research tac­tics on the Chi­nese-owned, multi­bil­lion-dol­lar rival that has become one of the most down­loaded apps in the world, often out­rank­ing even Meta’s pop­u­lar Face­book and Insta­gram apps. In an inter­nal report last year leaked by the whistle­blow­er Frances Hau­gen, Face­book researchers said teens were spend­ing “2–3X more time” on Tik­Tok than Insta­gram, and that Facebook’s pop­u­lar­i­ty among young peo­ple had plum­met­ed.”

    It’s all quite a coin­ci­dence that the one social media app that is more pop­u­lar than Face­book and Insta­gram is the tar­get of a secret smear cam­paign. A smear cam­paign that includ­ed attribut­ing tox­ic viral memes that orig­i­nat­ed on Face­book to Tik­Tok. The sleaze abounds:

    ...
    One trend Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry sought to enhance through its work was the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge, which showed stu­dents van­dal­iz­ing school prop­er­ty. Through the “Bad Tik­Tok Clips” doc­u­ment, the firm pushed sto­ries about the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge in local media across Mass­a­chu­setts, Michi­gan, Min­neso­ta, Rhode Island and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

    That trend led Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal (D‑Conn.) to write a let­ter in Sep­tem­ber call­ing on Tik­Tok exec­u­tives to tes­ti­fy in front of a Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee, say­ing the app had been “repeat­ed­ly mis­used and abused to pro­mote behav­ior and actions that encour­age harm­ful and destruc­tive acts.” But accord­ing to an inves­ti­ga­tion by Anna Foley at the pod­cast net­work Gim­let, rumors of the “devi­ous licks” chal­lenge ini­tial­ly spread on Face­book, not Tik­Tok.

    In Octo­ber, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher Tik­Tok chal­lenge” in local news, tout­ing a local news report on the alleged chal­lenge in Hawaii. In real­i­ty, no such chal­lenge exist­ed on Tik­Tok. Again, the rumor start­ed on Face­book, accord­ing to a series of Face­book posts first doc­u­ment­ed by Insid­er.
    ...

    And while some of these incrim­i­nat­ing leaked emails are from Feb­ru­ary of 2022 — right around the time Face­book was forced to announce its first loss in users in its 18 year his­to­ry — this rela­tion­ship between Face­book Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry has been ongo­ing since 2016. In oth­er words, this GOP PR firm has pre­sum­ably done quite few oth­er sleazy pub­lic rela­tions cam­paigns for Face­book that we just haven’t learned about yet:

    ...
    Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry declined to respond to ques­tions about the cam­paign, say­ing only that it has rep­re­sent­ed Meta for sev­er­al years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

    ...

    Launched as a Repub­li­can dig­i­tal con­sult­ing firm by Zac Mof­fatt, a dig­i­tal direc­tor for Mitt Romney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry has rou­tine­ly advised Face­book offi­cials over the years, includ­ing dur­ing a high-pro­file con­gres­sion­al hear­ing after the 2016 elec­tion.

    ...

    Some of the emails tar­get­ing Tik­Tok were sent in Feb­ru­ary, short­ly after Meta announced that Face­book had lost users for the first time in its 18-year his­to­ry. Meta chief exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg told investors then that Tik­Tok was a major obsta­cle, say­ing, “Peo­ple have a lot of choic­es for how they want to spend their time, and apps like Tik­Tok are grow­ing very quick­ly.” The com­pa­ny has unveiled a Tik­Tok clone, a short-video fea­ture called Reels, and pro­motes it heav­i­ly in its Insta­gram app.

    In a 2019 speech at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, dur­ing which he invoked the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and cham­pi­oned Facebook’s role in pro­mot­ing free speech, Zucker­berg crit­i­cized Tik­Tok for reports it had banned dis­cus­sion of top­ics deemed sub­ver­sive by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, say­ing, “Is that the Inter­net that we want?” (The Wash­ing­ton Post and the Guardian had pre­vi­ous­ly high­light­ed those con­tent-mod­er­a­tion rules. Tik­Tok has said those guide­lines were out­dat­ed and that its U.S. busi­ness now oper­ates under dif­fer­ent rules than its Chi­nese coun­ter­part.)
    ...

    And as the arti­cle hints at, this sto­ry is mere­ly one exam­ple of how Face­book works with GOP-con­nect­ed pub­lic rela­tions firms to car­ry out dirty tricks cam­paigns. How many oth­er GOP-con­nect­ed firms has Face­book secret­ly work­ing with for dirty PR? Who knows, but we can be pret­ty con­fi­dent there are plen­ty more sto­ries of this nature giv­en that Meta out­spends all but six of the US’s biggest lob­by­ing groups:

    ...
    The anti-Tik­Tok cam­paign fol­lows in a long line of Face­book-fund­ed advo­ca­cy groups work­ing to boost its stand­ing in the pub­lic eye.

    In 2018, Face­book worked with Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs, anoth­er Wash­ing­ton con­sult­ing firm found­ed by Repub­li­can polit­i­cal vet­er­ans, to lash out at crit­ics and oth­er tech com­pa­nies, includ­ing Apple and Google, dur­ing the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal that sparked glob­al out­rage over Facebook’s pri­va­cy rules. (The com­pa­ny said it stopped work­ing with Defin­ers short­ly after a New York Times report on the arrange­ment.)

    And in 2019, as the com­pa­ny faced antitrust scruti­ny over its gar­gan­tu­an impact, Face­book drove the cre­ation of a polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy group, Amer­i­can Edge, designed to per­suade Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers that Sil­i­con Val­ley was crit­i­cal to the U.S. econ­o­my — and that overt reg­u­la­tion could weak­en the country’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in a tech­nol­o­gy race against Chi­na.

    Meta out­spends all but six of the nation’s biggest com­pa­nies and indus­try groups in fed­er­al lob­by­ing, pay­ing more than $20 mil­lion last year, accord­ing to data com­piled by OpenSe­crets.
    ...

    So are we going to learn that Face­book has now dropped Tar­get­ed Vic­to­ry, just as it dropped Defin­ers Pub­lic Affairs in 2018 after its work was exposed? We’ll see. Maybe. Either way, we prob­a­bly won’t see any reports about the new GOP-affil­i­at­ed PR firm that gets hired to replace them. At least not until the next round of reports with more rev­e­la­tions about this endur­ing ‘secret’ Meta-GOP rela­tion­ship.

    But it also all rais­es an intrigu­ing ques­tion about this arrange­ment, where Face­book is hir­ing GOP-affil­i­at­ed firms to car­ry out decep­tive attacks on its rivals: Does­n’t this effec­tive­ly give the GOP lever­age over Facebook/Meta? After all, it’s clear­ly an embar­rass­ment when these kinds of sto­ries come out. An embar­rass­ment pret­ty much just for Meta. It’s not like the GOP PR firm cares. So giv­en that we still don’t know the exact nature of the deal worked out between Mark Zucker­berg, Peter Thiel, and Don­ald Trump at that secret 2019 din­ner at the White House, it’s going to be worth keep­ing in mind that Face­book has appar­ent­ly decid­ed to use the GOP for its secret sleaze projects. A deci­sion that pre­sum­ably gave the GOP quite a few ‘favors’ it could ask for in return.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 2, 2022, 3:22 pm

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ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

Martin BormannMartin Borman, Nazi in Exile by Paul Manning. German corporate capital flight program in the waning years of WWII.
Available for download. Read more about the Bormann Organizaton »