In response to the accusation that Facebook Inc. is a platform for political propaganda, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has contended that partisanship is not endemic in the company’s culture.
Following the September accusation by President Donald Trump that Facebook is biased, Zuckerberg wrote, “We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.”
Zuckerberg has also claimed that Facebook does not take sides in politics, but a Bloomberg News report reveals that the social network, which services more than 2 billion users, is deeply involved in manipulating global politics.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook “actively works with political parties and leaders, including those who use the platform, to stifle opposition — sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.”
Facebook can claim political neutrality in that their little-known global government and politics team purportedly will work with almost anyone who is seeking or has secured power. Since 2011, the team has traveled around the world — from India and Brazil to Germany and the U.K. — assisting political clients in employing Facebook’s powerful digital tools for their benefit, often becoming de facto campaign workers and offering guidance following a winning election.
In association with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Facebook was required to testify before Congress regarding its role in running Russian-funded advertisements on the platform. Company executives portrayed their involvement as passive, although there is increasing concern about their direct and growing role in domestic and international political campaigns.
Elizabeth Linder, who started and ran the efforts of the Facebook politics unit in Europe, the Middle East and Africa until 2016, contended, “It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign.”
Linder said she was initially excited about Facebook’s potential to be “extraordinarily useful for the world’s leaders — but also the global citizenry.” Linder left the company in part due to her discomfort with what she viewed as a heightened emphasis on electioneering and campaigns.
“They’re too cozy with power,” said Mark Crispin Miller, a media and culture professor at New York University.
According to Facebook, the company “offers the same tools and services to all candidates and governments regardless of political affiliation, and even to civil society groups that may have a lesser voice,” Bloomberg reported. Facebook claims that it guides clients regarding how to best utilize its tools and does not give advice on messaging.
“We’re proud to work with the thousands of elected officials around the world who use Facebook as a way to communicate directly with their constituents, interact with voters, and hear about the issues important in their community,” said Katie Harbath, who runs Facebook’s global government and politics team.
Harbath noted that Facebook is investing in artificial intelligence and other methods to better regulate hate speech and threats, including those associated with political campaigns.
“We take our responsibility to prevent abuse of our platform extremely seriously,” she said. “We know there are ways we can do better, and are constantly working to improve.”
Facebook executives are currently wrestling with ways to distinguish between content that constitutes trolling harassment and protected political speech.
Although Zuckerberg claims that Facebook does not want to censor content, the company has taken action to ban Greece’s Golden Dawn, the ultranationalist party, from the platform. It has also removed what the company deems the most extreme content — from white nationalists in the United States to the Islamic State — in addition to content determined to be in violation of its “community standards” on hate speech and violence.
Resisting transparency, Facebook has embedded itself in some of the world’s most controversial political movements.
An October Bloomberg report noted that, since 2011, the company has asked the U.S. Federal Election Commission for blanket exemptions from political advertising disclosure rules that could have liberated it from involvement in the current investigation into Russian ad spending ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Following a congressional inquiry, Facebook has pledged to be more transparent about the purchasers of their advertising and said the company is open to regulation.
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