Facebook’s admission that it sold advertising to a Russian troll farm targeting users with fake news, to manipulate an election, is reminiscent of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s famous quote: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”
In the age of the machine, that famous dictum might read: “Facebook will sell us the data by which we will undermine their elections.”
Facebook, whose net worth is estimated at $1 trillion, is capitalist to the core, especially since it is powered and empowered by machines. Its influence is legendary, approaching 2 billion users worldwide.
In an article titled “Should Facebook Ads Be Regulated Like TV Commercials,” The Atlantic reported:
Facebook disclosed to congressional investigators that it sold $100,000 worth of advertisements to a troll farm connected to the Kremlin surrounding the U.S. presidential election. These advertisements, which targeted voters with divisive political content, added even more evidence of Russia’s attempts to meddle with the election.
The problem about free speech and Internet regulations is beyond the scope of this post, which concerns the data machines collect about Facebook users and the algorithms they generate for sale to anyone regardless of intent.
The Atlantic article notes that social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have removed inflammatory content from their platforms. The article further notes that Google and web-hosting GoDaddy have refused service to neo-Nazis. Other tech companies have banned white supremacist content.
Banning content is one thing; selling ads to fake news sites intent on undermining U.S. elections is quite another. Ads are revenue, and revenue might be considered sacrosanct.
That’s not really the problem. Machines cannot immediately identify intent or fake news. That just might take a human being, and too few are employed to monitor 83 million fake profiles and 4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily. (Click here for more Facebook stats.)
According to a statement by Facebook about the sale of ads to Russian trolls, Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos stated that about $100,000 in advertising resulting in 3,000 ads were connected to 470 fake news accounts. “Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” he added, noting the content “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
That type of content triggers division. And division has widened since the 2016 presidential election. Fake content didn’t have to identify presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton because the algorithms directed social media messages to targeted groups who would like or be offended by sensationalized messages.
Perhaps the most pernicious fake news story on social media was Clinton using a pizza shop to run a child sex ring. A man with an assault rifle actually believed that and entered a pizza shop to shut down the alleged sex trade.
Another fake news account alleged thousands of people at a Donald Trump rally chanted, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.”
Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine focuses on Facebook and other social media platforms that datamine users, violating privacy. Here’s an excerpt that introduces Facebook terms of service, which hardly any user reads:
The question we now confront in the age of the machine is whether our devices enjoy more autonomy than humans pursuant to terms of service that allow constant datamining and intrusion and to which we have agreed, typically without taking time to read the fine digital print.
Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine covers Facebook extensively, in addition to how social media collect and sell information on users.
Author Michael Bugeja was among the first to question Facebook in 2006 in The Chronicle of Higher Education with his watershed article, “Facing the Facebook.“