Facebook and Fake News: the Sanitized PBS Version

The Facebook Dilemma

James Jacoby Frontline PBS (2018)

Film Review

This document presents a sanitized PBS version of the Facebook fake news/Russiagate controversy that ultimately led to growing Facebook censorship of both right and left wing social mediate sites. In my view the main drawback of the film is its failure to examine Mark Zuckerberg’s murky funding links to In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm funded by the CIA (see Revealed CIA-Facebook Connections), nor the major role CIA trolls play on Facebook and other social media networks (see CIA Agents Hired to Troll Alternative Media Comments Online), nor the the historic role the Agency has played in corrupting the the so-called mainstream media (see  CIA Media Control Program Operation Mockingbird)

Without this context, the naive viewer gets the impression that Facebook is uniquely vulnerable to manipulation of its content by foreign intelligence trolls, which is far from the truth.

Part I  covers the period from Facebook’s launch in 2004 to the 2015 manipulation of Facebook by Russian trolls to demonize the fascist Poroschenko government Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland installed in Ukraine in 2014.

Like all the big tech companies, Facebook derives most of its profits by collecting data on its users, which they use to target them with product ads and/or sell it to third parties for similar purposes. I was really surprised to learn the Federal Trade Commission first filed charges against Facebook in 2010 for selling user data to other corporate interests without their permission. Facebook would settle the case by promising to “plug the gap” that was allowing this to occur.*

According to the filmmakers, US policy makers first realized that Facebook could be misused by bad actors shortly after the world’s first Facebook revolution, the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt.** Later in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood would also use Facebook to come to power in Egypt.


*Given the scandal that erupted in 2017 over Facebook’s sale of user data to Cambridge Analytica, clearly this “gap” was never plugged.

**There is good evidence that the 2011 Arab Spring was actually a series of “color revolutions” orchestrated by the CIA and State Department. See The CIA Role in the Arab Spring and Arab Spring Made in the USA

***There is also good evidence the Muslim Brotherhood has longstanding links to the CIA. See Muslin Brotherhood: Auxillary Force of MI6/CIA

Part 2, which covers the period 2016-2018, mainly concerns the 2016 election and the algorithm behind Facebook’s news feed. The platform’s most popular feature, the latter provides users with their own personalized view of the news, based on links they have viewed, liked, and shared in the past. This algorithm, first heavily used by Obama’s presidential campaigns, allows politicians to microtarget individuals and groups most likely to respond to specific messaging.

By 2016, 62% of Americans derived most of their news from Facebook, in part because nearly all US news outlets were publishing directly into Facebook’s news feed. During the 2016 primary and general election, there were over one billion campaign posts on Facebook. The Trump campaign alone spent $100 million on Facebook advertising.

By this point a number of foreign actors had also discovered the enormous value of sensational, violent, and political divisive posts in driving  users to their Facebook site. For example, a group of Macedonian hackers used bizarre Trump posts (eg Pope endorses Trump) to lure users to commercial sites that earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Likewise a St Petersburg group called the Internet Research Agency (believed to be linked to the Russian government) spent $100,000 to promote a series of pro- and anti-Trump, pro- and anti-immigration, and pro- and anti-gun posts. A spokesperson for US intelligence claims the controversies this generated adversely affected the 2016 presidential elections: that is it caused a lot of Trump supporters, who normally stay home, to go to the polls.

Far more ominous, however, were the use of Facebook by Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte to demonize Filipino human rights activists, and its use (according to the UN Special Rapporteur) to inflame Buddhist violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to inflame Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese against the country’s Tamil minority, and to inflame Hindus against Muslims in India.

 

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