Facebook has handed over to congressional investigators more than 3,000 Facebook advertisements. The Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm based in St. Petersburg, paid for the promotions using 470 various accounts and pages.
These ads are divisive socially and politically, running the gamut from LGBT issues to immigration and gun rights. They were seen by an estimated 10 million people before and after the 2016 election cycle.
Digital political advertisements are unregulated, unlike political ads purchased for television, radio or print. These typically require disclaimers. Yet social-media companies continue to position themselves as primary sources for breaking and political news; functioning, no matter how poorly, as on-demand disseminators of the nation’s events and happenings.
Is it any wonder traditional media struggles to survive when dollars can be poured unmonitored, absent guidelines, into the unshackled mayhem of social media?
Through Facebook and other online outlets, advertising deception has helped give birth to what enemies of the United States, in particular Russian leader Vladimir Putin, have long sought: a roiled, fractured, weaker United States with diminished clout on the world stage.
Russia has a long history of its leaders attempting to indoctrinate their own people. With Facebook and other social media opening the door in this country to disinformation campaigns, it would be out of character for Putin and his minions to forgo opportunities to try to indoctrinate Americans, too.
Predictably enough, with increased scrutiny from reporters and Congress, Facebook and other social-media companies are showing sudden, newfound contrition.
“For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better,” Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, said in classic, tortured passive voice, beloved by politicians and business leaders the world over when seeking to distance themselves from something they did or created.
There is ample reason to dismiss Zuckerberg’s apologies as self-serving and guided by expediency rather than principle. Following his mea culpa, Facebook and Google allowed false, partisan-slanted “news” to flood the internet, wrongly naming the shooter in Las Vegas as “a far left loon” and a Democrat follower of Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host, with FBI-proven links to Islamic terrorism.
Police, however, say they have few clues into what motivated Stephen Paddock, the man they have identified as the killer, to mow down at least 58 victims and injure more than 500 others.
Google blamed its search algorithm for dishing out the fake news blast.
“This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future,” the company said in a statement that was short on specificity and long on abstract.
Facebook issued its own statement, saying the company was “working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”
Yeah, sure. We’ve heard that one before … just last month.
If for no other reason than what goes around, comes around, Republicans should be as concerned as Democrats about the Russian hijack of American politics.
But there are better reasons than that. Moral reasons, as well as practical ones, including preservation of the American way of life: For all of its weaknesses, there ain’t much better to be found on this good Earth in the way of government.
Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.