Were Social Media Companies Honest With Congress?
Were Social Media Companies Honest With Congress?
December 17, 2018
A report is out that the big social media companies – Facebook (which also owns Instagram), Twitter, and Google (which owns YouTube) – maybe kinda didn’t enthusiastically cough up a ton of data to Congress when it came to Russian influences in the 2016 election.
Of course, Congress has been on a hunt for all things Russian ever since the 2016 election, because there is still, to this day, a current of disbelief running through the elites and the media that Donald Trump won. Congress wanted answers. But…
The Senate Intelligence Committee has been advised that social media companies might have provided the “bare minimum” amount of data to aid the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with a report commissioned by the committee.
The committee hired an online intelligence firm to review data on Russian social media accounts that posed as American accounts. The data, much of which has not yet been made public, was provided to lawmakers by Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube.
New Knowledge, the firm hired by the committee, tracks online disinformation. In its report to lawmakers, the firm said that the social media companies could have provided more valuable data to the committee and also could have presented it in a more accessible format.
The firm advised lawmakers that there are likely more Russian accounts that the social media companies failed to identify, according to person familiar with the report.
A spokesperson for Google said the company did not have a comment on the report but pointed to some of the steps the company has taken to combat disinformation since 2016.
A Twitter spokesperson told CNN the company has made “significant strides” against the manipulation of its service.
“Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform, and protecting the integrity of elections is an important aspect of that mission,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, which includes our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”
A spokesperson for Facebook said they didn’t have a comment on the report.
New Knowledge declined to provide a comment to CNN.
The firm analyzed more than 10 million tweets, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 61,500 Facebook posts sent by the Russian government-linked troll group the Internet Research Agency, according to the source familiar with the report. The IRA was indicted in February by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Now, I’d argue that Google, Twitter, and Facebook have actively begun to over-filter and actually censor in the wake of the 2016 election. Twitter, in particular, began shadowbanning and outright banning outspoken people with politically incorrect views. YouTube started demonetizing channels that promoted certain activities (many gun hobby or military channels lost revenue or had certain videos removed). Facebook has removed posts, and then had to restore them.
So, could the social platform have provided more detailed data to the Senate Intelligence Committee? Sure. Complaining that it could have been in a “more accessible format”?? Um, it’s not like Congresspeople are exactly tech-savvy. At all. For many, their level of understanding on how the internet works is on par with SNL’s Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer wondering if little demons are inside his fax machine.
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) December 11, 2018
Anyone else want to try explaining to Senators and Representatives how Facebook, social media, and the internet works? Be my guest. You might be gone a while.
But there is a more honest reason as to WHY the social media giants weren’t probably completely forthcoming to Congress. It’s not that social media was selling ads to Russian accounts, which then actually influenced voters. Nope. Social media was selling US, the user, to the Russian accounts, and anyone else who wanted to buy an ad during the 2016 election. On social media, the user is the commodity. We – our clicks, our views, our searches, our profiles – are being sold to those who want to sell us on their stuff. Skynet may not be self-aware, but it knows what you looked up on Amazon last night, and now you will see ad after ad after ad about it.
Facebook sells the ads, and then tries to match the ads to the user’s interests. Twitter runs on clickbait and viral re-tweeting. YouTube will sell ads on that next “viral video” that everyone is sending around. They rely on the free content provided to them by billions of users to turn a profit. Do they care that Russian accounts bought ads? Maybe, because we know that Silicon Valley loathes Donald Trump. But are they really going to restrict their own chance to turn a profit? They aren’t that stupid.
Maybe Facebook, Twitter, and Google didn’t spill their guts to Congress and blame themselves enough to satisfy those who think social media ads really are the main reason why we got Trump. Maybe they did allow Russian accounts to buy a ton of ads. But here’s your exit question – would Congress be complaining, and calling social media companies to account, if Trump had lost?
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