Facing growing criticism for his company’s failure to address Russian interference in the US election, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered a nine-point plan to deal with those wishing to influence the democratic process. The announcement is full of newsy headlines, chief among them that the company will turn over to Congressional committees the more than 3,000 ads purchased by a Kremlin-connected agency.
Zuckerberg also promised “to make political advertising more transparent” by allowing users to see who paid for political ads and to visit advertisers’ pages to view all of the content that account is running. How Facebook will determine what constitutes a “political” ad is still unclear.
Even as he promised greater transparency from the tech giant, Zuckerberg acknowledged that he has no perfect solution. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to catch all bad content in our system,” he wrote in a corresponding post on his page. ”Freedom means you don’t have to ask permission first,” Facebook’s scale—it boasts more than two billion users—means that human moderation of all content is impossible, and an algorithm can always be gamed.
One unavoidable takeaway from Zuckerberg’s statement was the incredible power that his company possesses. What other CEO can claim, with a straight face, the power to “proactively…strengthen the democratic process”? A sentence like, “We have been working to ensure the integrity of the German elections this weekend,” meant to be reassuring, comes off as shocking.
Facebook’s serious attention to its political influence is a welcome acknowledgement that the utopian ideals of its creation have been dashed by the actions of those who would use its platform to pursue their own interests. Trust, however, has already been squandered by a delayed acknowledgement of the issue. Last week, this newsletter looked at the reasons Facebook was facing political heat, and why it is so hard to trust the tech giant.
Below, more on Facebook’s brave new world.
- Must-read: The New York Times’s Kevin Roose on Facebook as Victor Frankenstein, and how, “in the future, blaming the monster won’t be enough.”
- Problems abroad: Roose notes recent issues with Facebook’s reported hosting of videos by human traffickers in Libya and claims by activists that the company was removing their posts documenting the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people in Myanmar.
- Facebook’s ethos: Recode’s Peter Kafka has a smart analysis of the issues facing Facebook, and why the company will continue to struggle to address those problems.
- Regulation coming?: CNN’s Dylan Byers reports that Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner have formally called for “new legislation to enhance the transparency of online political advertisements.”
- Tech reporting meets national security: Interesting byline on The New York Times’s Facebook story, where national security reporter Scott Shane and tech guru Mike Isaac team up.
Other notable stories
- For CJR, Nick Turse has a story we’re proud to publish. Turse traveled to South Sudan to gather evidence of government atrocities. The story centers on a photograph of a civilian murdered and dumped by the side of the road as a warning to others. Turse writes: “However gruesome, some might even say gratuitous, this is a photo the world needs to see precisely because it’s the type of photo the government of South Sudan doesn’t want to be seen.”
- Anything Michelle Dean writes is worth reading, but her investigation for Wired into the fact-checking site Snopes.com is especially captivating.
- Politico’s Ben Strauss profiles “the White House’s favorite reporter,” the polarizing Jim Acosta.
- Set your DVRs, at 9pm Monday evening, CNN will host a health care debate featuring Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy facing off against Democrats Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.
- Follow-up to yesterday’s newsletter: The New Yorker’s Ian Crouch on Jimmy Kimmel, reluctant crusader.
- The Intercept’s gain is CJR’s loss: Our wonderful managing editor Vanessa Gezari is, in her words, “returning to the endless war beat.”