Editorials: Was Facebook’s work with the Trump campaign illegal? | Daniel I. Weiner/Slate

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.

Sarbanes’ questions were prompted by revelations in an October 2017 peer-reviewed study that documented the role employees from Facebook, Twitter, and Google played in “actively shaping campaign communications through their close collaboration with political staffers” on the Trump campaign. The companies have said they offered the same services to the Clinton campaign, which apparently declined the same level of help. That turned out to be a big mistake.

Both Trump and Clinton spent millions on Facebook ads, but the company’s own internal analysis concluded that Trump’s campaign, developed with the help of Facebook employees, was far more targeted and complex than Clinton’s, and “better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.” In the new world our campaigns have entered, in which behavioral algorithms can spin data collected by social media platforms on their billions of users into political gold, that gave the Trump campaign a critical advantage.

Full Article: Was Facebook’s work with the Trump campaign illegal?.

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