- Russiagate: The Investigated
- Federal Trade Commission Inquiry for privacy consent March 20, 2018
- Securities and Exchange Commission for statements about Cambridge Analytica
“The company justifies its secrecy in many ways, having variously claimed legal restrictions, business secrets, security and privacy protections to excuse its opacity. But Jonathan Albright, whose late 2016 research on the “fake news” propaganda ecosystem outlined how propaganda websites track and target users, thinks the current moment may be a turning point for online giants like Facebook.
“Now that it has run directly into something that possibly affected the outcome of the election — but they can’t determine how — this may be their era of accountability,” said Albright, the director of research at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
There has been no other company on the planet, Albright added, that can provide access to as many real people as Facebook.” PBS News Hour September 19, 2017
Mark Zuckerberg says the idea that fake news on Facebook swung the election is ‘pretty crazy’ November 10, 2016 Business Insider
“A Columbia University social media analyst has published his findings about the reach and engagement achieved by Russia-linked Facebook pages during the 2016 election.
The research, released on Thursday by Jonathan Albright, a propaganda and misinformation expert who heads Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, shines a light on the extent to which US voters were exposed to, and interacted with, politically divisive content pushed by Russia between 2015-2016.
Albright analyzed Facebook pages like “Blacktivists,” “Being Patriotic,” and “Secured Borders” that were shut down by the company as part of its purge of “inauthentic” accounts linked to Russia. He also looked at “Heart of Texas,” LGBT United, and “Muslims of America.”
These are the only six pages, so far, that Facebook has acknowledged have ties to Russia. The company shut down 470 pages linked to Russia’s shadowy Internet Research Agency early last month.
Albright used Facebook’s own analytics tool, CrowdTangle, to assess the data, and downloaded the last 500 posts each account shared before being shut down. He also made public the full text of the posts, which were shared over 340 million times between the six accounts.”
“New details also emerged about Russia’s extensive use of Facebook to sow discord and spread misinformation during the election. A Columbia University social media analyst published research on the topic and found that Russian propaganda may have been shared billions of times on Facebook.
The company still doesn’t know the full extent of Russian ads that were purchased because of the platform’s self-service tool, and Axios reported Saturday that Facebook will now require targeted and politically tilted ads to be manually reviewed before they’re approved.” Business Insider October 20, 2017
“Facebook says some groups tried to use its platform to sway the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. In a case study of the 2016 presidential election, the company said it found several instances of “information operations,” its term for governments and organizations who attempt to sway political opinion by spreading fake news and other nefarious tactics. The case study was included in Facebook’s white paper on “information operations.” It also detailed ways it was combating “fake news” and other misinformation spread by adding new technologies and creating more security features.” CNBC.com
Facebook has an ugly history of making Kremlin-friendly moves. September 27, 2017
“Facebook’s inability to tackle Russia’s troll problem in Ukraine reached a fever pitch in 2014 and 2015, with several Ukrainians writing into Zuckerberg’s May 2015 call for question submissions at a Facebook town hall. The top 20 questions worldwide were about Russian trolling of the website’s report button to silence Ukrainian accounts. The top question received 45,000 likes. And even Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko asked the company to create a Ukrainian Facebook office to deal with Ukraine. The request was rebuffed.
Nine months—and a torrent of public criticism—later, Facebook announced in September (2017) that it had identified several Kremlin operations disguised as American Facebook groups. After some initial resistance, company representatives shared some of their findings with congressional intelligence committees and with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. (North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who heads the Senate intelligence committee, said on Monday that his panel has not received a complete report from Facebook, however.)
As The Daily Beast reported, the Facebook pages, with names like “Secured Borders” and “Being Patriotic,” created real-life pro-Trump rallies on American soil, established fake “voter fraud hotlines” on Election Day, and wrote posts with divisive, racist, and anti-immigrant sentiments.Facebook’s less-than-urgent responses to these examples of an autocratic foreign power interfering in the domestic affairs of a democratic country shouldn’t be altogether surprising, however. The company has a track record of acquiescence to the demands of authoritarian regimes. Rohingya activists told The Daily Beast that the social network had been taking down their posts about the intensifying ethnic cleansing in Burma. In 2016, Facebook also developed a censorship tool to appease the Chinese government and allow the company to suppress posts on a regional basis, The New York Times reported.
The company likewise bowed to Turkey’s demands of censoring images of the prophet Muhammad to get access to that market, just weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
And in Russia itself, the social network blocked a page in support of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most vocal challenger. When it debuted the Facebook gay pride reaction button, users in Russia and other anti-gay countries were unable to access it.
Navalny later co-signed a petition demanding Facebook change their approach to an “army of shills on state payroll” blocking Ukrainian posts on the site. The petition racked up almost 10,000 signatures.
It’s a sea change for the social network once hailed as a key enabler of the Arab Spring.
On Tuesday, Russian authorities threatened to block access to Facebook in the country if it doesn’t begin to store data of Russian citizens on Russian servers. Russia has already banned LinkedIn for not complying with the same data storage requirements.
The Ukrainians who felt silenced by Facebook’s moderation system at the height of tensions with Russia are still grasping for answers about what happened to their messages—and who was to blame for their disappearance.”
“The users whose opinions differ from those of the Kremlin are blocked, though they do not violate any community rules,” one user wrote on Zuckerberg’s call for questions.” Daily Beast
Representatives for the FBI, the SEC and the Federal Trade Commission have joined the Department of Justice in its inquiries about the two companies and the sharing of personal information of 71 million Americans, suggesting the wide-ranging nature of the investigation, said five people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a probe that remains incomplete.
Facebook discovered in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica, which later worked for the Trump campaign, had obtained Facebook data to create voter profiles. Yet Facebook didn’t disclose that information to the public until March, on the eve of the publication of news reports about the matter.
The questioning from federal investigators centers on what Facebook knew three years ago and why the company didn’t reveal it at the time to its users or investors, as well as any discrepancies in more recent accounts, among other issues, according to these people. The Capitol Hill testimony of Facebook officials, including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, also is being scrutinized as part of the probe, said people familiar with the federal inquiries.
Facebook confirmed it had received questions from the federal agencies and said it was sharing information and cooperating in other ways. “We are cooperating with officials in the U.S., U.K. and beyond,” said Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”
The Department of Justice and the other federal agencies declined to comment. The FTC in March disclosed it was investigating Facebook over possible privacy violations.
The SEC has described the investigation as “The Facebook Matter,” according to two people who have seen related documents.
Cambridge Analytica has closed operations since the scandal erupted and an inquiry to its press office was returned as undeliverable.
The New York Times previously reported that the Justice Department was investigating Cambridge Analytica, which had also worked with Republican candidates besides Donald Trump. But the extent of federal investigation into the actions and statements of Facebook itself has not previously been revealed.
“The fact that the Justice Department, the FBI, the SEC and the FTC are sitting down together does raise serious concerns,” said David Vladeck, former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and now a Georgetown Law professor. He said he had no direct knowledge of the investigation but said the combination of agencies involved “does raise all sorts of red flags.”
The expanding federal probe creates new risk to Facebook as it struggles to emerge from nearly two years of scandal, beginning with the role its platform played in disseminating Russian disinformation efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Facebook’s controversies were beginning to cool this year before the news broke about Cambridge Analytica. In 2015, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, working with Cambridge Analytica, used a quiz app to gather data on those who took the survey and their friends. The Facebook data-gathering feature, called an API, was a common technique at the time for assembling massive data troves for analysis, including names, hometowns, work histories, religious affiliations and personal preferences.
Facebook has portrayed that data gathering as an improper use because it wasn’t used for academic purposes. But Cambridge Analytica and Kogan have said they did nothing wrong and that many others used the same feature. Kogan has maintained that he got permission to share the data when he changed the terms of service of the app, from a strictly academic contract to a contract allowing broader commercial use. He also said he notified Facebook of the change to his terms of service.
At the time, when made aware of the data Cambridge Analytica had obtained, Facebook investigated the analytics firm and Kogan. Facebook said it ordered them to delete the data and promise not to do it again.
Facebook has not said whether that data was used by Cambridge Analytica’s client, the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica said it deleted the data at Facebook’s request.
Facebook stopped allowing app developers to gain information about a person’s Facebook friends in 2014 and 2015. It continued to share some data with a select groups of app developers and with device and software makers, including Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Huawei, before announcing it would curtail that amid a new wave of news reports this month.
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March, Facebook has audited thousands of apps that had access to data during the looser period before 2015. The company has suspended 200 apps, and has further restricted access to data for all developers using Facebook and its sister service, Instagram.
In March, the company’s stock dropped more than 13 percent in the week after the revelations. Financial regulators pay close attention to sudden moves in a company’s stock price.
Many details about the federal probe remain unknown, including whether investigators are considering criminal charges or civil penalties for the companies involved.
But investigators seem particularly focused on what data Facebook allowed to be collected from its platform and under what conditions, as well as what Facebook told the public at the time of the data sharing and during recent congressional hearings, said these people. These discrepancies came up during Zuckerberg’s Capitol Hill hearings in April. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) held up an exhibit with Kogan’s broader terms of service and asked Zuckerberg if he had seen them before. Zuckerberg said no.
The probe by the FTC, which oversees consumer privacy, concerns whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree regarding its privacy practices. An FTC fine could potentially reach into the billions of dollars.”
But Zuckerberg wants his CZI “Charity” to have joint projects with Facebook using Facebook employees. Are those projects ones which affect public policy and social outcomes? Data Analytics? Elections?
Mark Zuckerberg clashed with Facebook execs over letting employees work on his philanthropy Business Insider
Zuckerberg’s desire for his two companies to “undertake joint projects,” and to allow Facebook employees to work on non-Facebook related projects was discussed during a February 2016 meeting of the social network’s board of directors, according to court documents from a recent lawsuit between Facebook and a group of public shareholders.
At the heart of the lawsuit was The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which Zuckerberg founded with his wife Priscilla Chan in late 2015 as a way to give away 99% of their roughly $70 billion fortune. The new class of non-voting shares was intended to give Zuckerberg the ability to sell the majority of his stock to fund his philanthropic interests without losing voting control of Facebook. Zuckerberg currently controls roughly 60% of the voting power at Facebook.
Facebook abruptly abandoned the stock restructuring plan last week on the eve of trial, effectively ending the lawsuit and saving Zuckerberg from having to testify in open court.
Zuckerberg still plans to pour up to $12 billion of his Facebook stock over the next 18 months into the philanthropic fund, which is operated independently from Facebook with its own staff.
Another revelation from the discovery process was that Zuckerberg has seriously considered holding some form of public office. Facebook’s stock reclassification proposal included a clause that would have let Zuckerberg serve indefinitely in government while still maintaining control of the company.”
“In an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on the discussion website Reddit this week, a group of Chan Zuckerberg scientists said they’re working on the Human Cell Atlas project. That’s a global effort to map all 30 trillion cells in the human body, similar to how the human genome project identified genes. Its ambitions and deep pockets aren’t the only things that make the Chan Zuckerberg organization unique.” CNBC
FACEBOOK FUNDING: Following the Money
“Sandy Luff, who last worked for Sessions as his Legislative Director when he was serving in the Senate, will be Director of Executive Branch Public Policy at the tech giant. She also worked with the Trump transition team.
Facebook is staffing up its policy communications team, too. It has hired Nu Wexler, a veteran Democratic communications staffer who is well-known to the tech press as Twitter’s former spokesman on policy issues.”