Facebook said on Friday it would roll out a new feature designed to make political advertising more transparent in time for a key German regional election, as it seeks to restore trust after a massive data breach. The social network has been at the centre of controversy over suspected Russian manipulation of the 2016 U.S. presidential election via its platform, and the leak of personal data of 87 million users to a political consultancy that advised Donald Trump’s team. On Friday, a German data privacy regulator said it was opening non-compliance procedures against Facebook in relation to the data leak to the consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, that was exposed a month ago.
Ireland will become the second country to trial a new tool that Facebook hopes will ensure greater transparency in political advertising, when it holds a referendum on abortion next month, the company’s vice president for global policy said on Tuesday. Facebook introduced the tool this month as part of steps to deter the kind of election meddling and online information warfare that U.S. authorities have accused Russia of pursuing, although Moscow has denied the allegations. The ‘view ads’ tool, which allows users to view all the ads a particular advertiser is running in that jurisdiction, has been successfully tested in Canada, Joel Kaplan said.
When Young Mie Kim began studying political ads on Facebook in August of 2016—while Hillary Clinton was still leading the polls— few people had ever heard of the Russian propaganda group, Internet Research Agency. Not even Facebook itself understood how the group was manipulating the platform’s users to influence the election. For Kim, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the goal was to document the way the usual dark money groups target divisive election ads online, the kind that would be more strictly regulated if they appeared on TV. She never knew then she was walking into a crime scene. Over the last year and a half, mounting revelations about Russian trolls’ influence campaign on Facebook have dramatically altered the scope and focus of Kim’s work. In the course of her six-week study in 2016, Kim collected mounds of evidence about how the IRA and other suspicious groups sought to divide and target the US electorate in the days leading up to the election. Now, Kim is detailing those findings in a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Political Communication.
National: Facebook says its ‘voter button’ is good for turnout. But should the tech giant be nudging us at all? | The Guardian
On the morning of 28 October last year, the day of Iceland’s parliamentary elections, Heiðdís Lilja Magnúsdóttir, a lawyer living in a small town in the north of the country, opened Facebook on her laptop. At the top of her newsfeed, where friends’ recent posts would usually appear, was a box highlighted in light blue. On the left of the box was a button, similar in style to the familiar thumb of the “like” button, but here it was a hand putting a ballot in a slot. “Today is Election Day!” was the accompanying exclamation, in English. And underneath: “Find out where to vote, and share that you voted.” Under that was smaller print saying that 61 people had already voted. Heiðdís took a screenshot and posted it on her own Facebook profile feed, asking: “I’m a little curious! Did everyone get this message in their newsfeed this morning?” In Reykjavik, 120 miles south, Elfa Ýr Gylfadóttir glanced at her phone and saw Heiðdís’s post. Elfa is director of the Icelandic Media Commission, and Heiðdís’s boss. The Media Commission regulates, for example, age ratings for movies and video games, and is a part of Iceland’s Ministry of Education. Elfa wondered why she hadn’t received the same voting message. She asked her husband to check his feed, and there was the button. Elfa was alarmed. Why wasn’t it being shown to everyone? Might it have something to do with different users’ political attitudes? Was everything right and proper with this election?
National: Mark Zuckerberg vows to fight election meddling in marathon Senate grilling | The Guardian
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, warned on Tuesday of an online propaganda “arms race” with Russia and vowed that fighting interference in elections around the world is now his top priority. The 33-year-old billionaire, during testimony that lasted nearly five hours, was speaking to Congress in what was widely seen as a moment of reckoning for America’s tech industry. It came in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which, Facebook has admitted, the personal information of up to 87 million users were harvested without their permission. Zuckerberg’s comments gave an insight into the unnerving reach and influence of Facebook in numerous democratic societies. “The most important thing I care about right now is making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world,” he said under questioning by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.
Among the more painful moments for Mark Zuckerberg in his second day of Capitol Hill grilling was the angry dressing-down he got from Rep. John Sarbanes. The Maryland Democrat zeroed in not on Facebook’s relationship with the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, but on the fact that Facebook (like Twitter and Google) had employees embedded with the Trump campaign to help craft its digital advertising strategy. For free. That arrangement may have violated long-standing campaign finance rules that prohibit even in-kind donations from private companies to candidates. Perhaps more than any exchange Zuckerberg had with lawmakers, it is a clear reminder that everyone—including the big tech companies—would benefit from better, clearer rules.
Over the last two days, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned for more than 10 hours by two different Congressional committees. There was granular focus on privacy definitions and data collection, and quick footwork by Zuckerberg—backed by a phalanx of lawyers, consultants, and coaches—to craft a narrative that users “control” their data. (They don’t.) But the gaping hole at the center of both hearings was the virtual absence of questions on the tactics and purpose of Russian information operations conducted against Americans on Facebook during the 2016 elections. Here are the five of the biggest questions about Russia that Zuckerberg wasn’t asked or didn’t answer—and why it’s important for Facebook to provide clear information on these issues.
Editorials: It’s not just America: Zuckerberg has to answer for Facebook’s actions around the world | Karen Attiah/The Washington Post
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is in the hot seat in Washington. The social media platform now admits that the data of up to 87 million profiles may have been improperly used by the data firm Cambridge Analytica. U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers — and rightfully so. But while Facebook is facing the most heat in the United States, it is is multinational corporation, and some would argue, a sort of nation-state unto itself. In many countries around the world, Facebook is the Internet. And with little ability to influence how the social media site operates, such nations are vulnerable to any policy action — or inaction — the company decides to take.
Mark Zuckerberg heads to the nation’s capital this week for some lashings from America’s legislators. On Tuesday, he’ll appear in front of joint sessions of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees. Then on Wednesday, the Facebook CEO will visit the House Energy and Commerce Committee for another round of bruising. Since the presidential election of 2016, congressmen have pummeled social media giants for Russia’s infiltration and exploitation of their systems. But America’s politicians may want to tread lightly as they seek answers from Zuckerberg. Political actors, more than anyone, seek the power and reach of social media to win the hearts and minds of voters. In the future, Russia and other authoritarians will continue their manipulation, but it will be ordinary candidates and their campaigns, lobbyists, and corporate backers that seek to exploit the manipulative advantages available on social media. A combative tech CEO just might flip the script and call out the politicians for their role in this mess.
For months, Facebook’s critics — ranging from Silicon Valley executives to Washington politicians — have been urging the company to do a better job of identifying who is buying political ads and creating pages about hot-button topics on its social media sites. On Friday, just days before its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, is expected to testify before Congress, Facebook said it had started forcing people who want to buy political or “issue” ads to reveal their identities and verify where they are. Mr. Zuckerberg announced the move in a post on Facebook. He said this verification was meant to prevent foreign interference in elections, like the ads and posts from so-called Russian trolls before and after the 2016 presidential election.