Russian trolls used Facebook as it was designed, law prof says

Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, writes in Wired on March 11 that the Russian trolls who tried to manipulate the 2016 election didn’t abuse Facebook or Twitter, they simply used those platforms in the way that they were designed to be used:

For example, the type of polarizing ads that Facebook admits Russia’s Internet Research Agency purchased get rewarded by Facebook’s undisclosed algorithm for provoking user engagement. And Facebook aggressively markets the micro-targeting that Russia utilized to pit Americans against each other on divisive social and political issues. Russia didn’t abuse Facebook—it simply used Facebook.

Geltzer argues the major web platforms need to do a much better job of removing or blocking malicious actors who try to use their systems for nefarious purposes, and that Facebook, Google, and Twitter need to be much more transparent about their algorithms and how they operate. That kind of openness, he says, “could yield crowd-sourced solutions rather than leaving remedies to a tiny set of engineers, lawyers, and policy officials employed by the companies themselves.”

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Mathew Ingram is CJR's chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in The Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as Reuters and Bloomberg.