Mark Zuckerberg’s latest fig leaf for his Russian propaganda problem

Justin Hendrix writes: Since Facebook disclosed that at least 150 million Americans were exposed to Russian propaganda on Facebook in the run up to the 2016 election, pressure has been growing for the company to demonstrate transparency and notify its users. During testimony by Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch on Capitol Hill at the beginning of November, members of Congress called on the social media giant to do just that. At the same time, I started a public petition calling for notification that swelled to nearly 90,000 signatories.

Stretch argued such a disclosure would be technically difficult, but lawmakers pressed the company to explore it. It was remarkable that he did not come prepared and willing to offer any specifics of such difficulties, and appeared to be saying more that it would be difficult to reach every person rather than difficult to do a lot of the job. In a strongly worded follow up letter, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) gave the company an explicit assignment.

“Consumer service entities like yours have long understood their duty to inform their users after mistakes are uncovered,” Senator Blumenthal wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “You too have an obligation to explain to your users exactly how Russian agents sought to manipulate our elections through your platform.” Blumenthal set November 22nd as the deadline for a response from Facebook.

On Nov. 22, the company announced its plan in a blog post entitled “Continuing Transparency on Russian Activity.”

“We will soon be creating a portal to enable people on Facebook to learn which of the Internet Research Agency Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts they may have liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017,” the company said. “This tool will be available for use by the end of the year in the Facebook Help Center.”

Certainly, this proposal is a step in the right direction, especially for a company that has been slow to divulge details of what ultimately may go down in history as one of the most extensive and effective propaganda campaigns by a foreign adversary against the United States, and also for a company that has in fact made it harder for independent researchers to investigate the problem. But is it enough? Did Facebook answer Congress’s call to notify users?

On balance, the answer is clearly no. [Continue reading…]

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