The heat is on for Facebook. After The Washington Post reported that the platform accepted advertising buys from an agency tied to a Kremlin-backed company seeking to influence American voters during the 2016 US presidential campaign, calls for transparency from the social media giant have reached a fever pitch.
Facebook’s refusal to make public the ads, or to explain who they targeted, has fueled calls for government oversight and congressional hearings. Virginia Senator Mark Warner said yesterday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which he is vice chairman, would discuss the potential for public hearings into Facebook’s role in the political process.
In the wake of this week’s news, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith writes that there has been a “palpable, and perhaps permanent, turn against the tech industry.” Concerns with the dominance of tech titans like Facebook go beyond grumblings from publishers and complaints from users about an unknowable algorithm. Companies including Google, Amazon, Apple, and—perhaps most prominently—Facebook, “are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics,” Smith writes.
For those who have been following Facebook’s role in public discourse and media disruption, these concerns are nothing new. In the pages of CJR, Emily Bell has written forcefully and persuasively about the dangers posed by social media, which hasn’t just swallowed journalism, “it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security.”
The nearly 80 percent of Americans who use Facebook deserve to know if and how they’re being influenced. Publishers deserve a better understanding of how their content reaches consumers on the platform. And we should all desire greater transparency from a company that possesses unprecedented control over the flow of information in the world.
Below, more on Facebook in the spotlight.
- A united front against Silicon Valley: Echoing BuzzFeed’s Smith, Politico’s Nancy Scola writes that tech giants are increasingly facing criticism from both the left and the right, “and tighter regulation no longer seems a far-fetched scenario.”
- Make Mark Zuckerberg testify: Criticizing the “complete inscrutability” that is a hallmark of Facebook’s DNA, The Intercept’s Sam Biddle argues that Facebook’s founder needs to appear before Congress. “If the company is as powerful as it promises advertisers, it should be held accountable,” Biddle writes.
- Impact on the ground: The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins, Kevin Poulsen, and Spencer Ackerman report that “Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event-management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the US.”
- “A terribly opaque enterprise”: The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan argues that Donald Trump would not be president without Facebook’s help. “I don’t know how to deal with Facebook’s singular power in the world,” Sullivan writes. “But having everyone clearly acknowledge it—including the company itself—would be a start.”
- The trust gap: Re-upping this from last week: CNN’s Brian Stelter makes a concise case for why it’s so hard to trust Facebook.
Other notable stories
- NiemanLab’s Joshua Benton has a smart take on what Apple’s incremental shift away from an iPhone-focused life means for journalism.
- Rupert Murdoch’s bid to acquire Britain’s Sky TV is in trouble after UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said she plans to order an extensive review of 21st Century Fox’s broadcasting standards. Bloomberg Gadfly’s Chris Hughes now puts the odds of a successful takeover at 50:50.
- Time Editor in Chief Nancy Gibbs is stepping down at the end of the year. She told Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, “I’ve loved every day of this, but there’s a time for everything.”
- The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada reviews Katy Tur’s campaign memoir. “What elevates Unbelievable beyond one more pedestrian campaign memoir is Tur’s skill at capturing the constant indignities of campaign reporting while female, including the worst indignity of all: enduring the fixation of Trump himself,” Lozada writes.
- In light of Steve Bannon’s recent 60 Minutes interview, Margaret Sullivan calls out the hypocrisy of Donald Trump and Bannon’s critique of the mainstream media.
- For CJR, Ariel Sophia Bardi looks at the way news designers in India are changing how people picture sexual assault.
- Best thing I read this week: Carve out some time to read Rembert Browne on Colin Kaepernick.