Facebook is having a rough week. After revealing on Sept. 21 that the company would hand over Russian-linked ads to Congress and announcing that it had come up with a plan to stop future election interference, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sept. 27 to label Facebook as "anti-Trump." Eight hours later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post defending the company and directly responding to Trump's tweet. But the post also came on a day when several outlets published stories revealing new and damning information about the Russian-placed ads and fake accounts that attempted to interfere with the presidential election by trolling the site and its users.
In his post, Zuckerberg lamented that running the site means including "all ideas" and then, in his view, being chastised for doing so. "Trump says Facebook is against him," Zuckerberg wrote. "Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like." But instead of ruminating on why people might feel that way, Zuckerberg came up with four different reasons as to why charges of bias and meddling were being blown out of proportion — and how the 2016 election was unlike anything else before. For example, Zuckerberg writes how people discussed all sorts of ideas on the site and that "this was the first US election where the internet was a primary way candidates communicated." And though a Russian company spent $10,000 on "divisive social and political" ads, Zuckerberg notes that campaigns spent a lot more on their own messaging. In addition to giving people a place to discuss "issues," Zuckerberg highlighted how the company helped about 2 million register to vote.
However, more information about how these ads and accounts operated is beginning to surface. A CNN exclusive on Sept. 27 revealed that one Russian-backed ad apparently referenced the organization Black Lives Matter (BLM). It's unclear whether the ad showed up on the site in late 2015 or early 2016, but CNN reports that it was targeted to residents of Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD. While it appeared to support BLM, it cold also be viewed as showing the group in a "threatening" light.
The same day, the Daily Beast reported that Russians also pretended to be an existing US Muslim organization called the United Muslims of America on a Facebook page and on Twitter and Instagram accounts. The page, which looked seemingly legit and often posted fairly neutral pro-Muslim sentiments, also shared images accusing Senator John McCain of being the founder of ISIS, stating that Osama Bin Laden was a CIA agent and that Hillary Clinton confessed that al-Qaeda and ISIS were funded by the US. Politico also ran a report claiming that Russia funded at least one ad promoting Jill Stein alongside Trump and Bernie Sanders — even after Sanders's campaign had ended. And in another revelation from ABC News, anti-immigrant posts that supported Trump were also found in this collection of Russian-backed accounts. These posts were "targeted [to a] swing-state audience on social media."
Zuckerberg, who back on Nov. 10 said it was "crazy idea" to think fake news on Facebook influenced the election, did walk back those comments in his new message. At the end of his post, Zuckerberg said he "regret[s]" saying such a thing and that it's "too important an issue to be dismissive." He then tried to end his post by writing that Facebook's role in the election was positive because it gave people a voice and vowed to keep working to "build a community for all people" and stop something like this from happening again.
"We will do our part to defend against nation states attempting to spread misinformation and subvert elections. We'll keep working to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, and to ensure our community is a platform for all ideas and force for good in democracy." You can read Zuckerberg's full post ahead.
I want to respond to President Trump's tweet this morning claiming Facebook has always been against him.
Every day I...