Facebook is again having to account for its role in 2016 election

Facebook’s first black eye was from “fake news.”

The social network’s secretive algorithm enabled hoaxes and lies to reach millions of people during the US presidential campaign in 2016.

Analysts were taken aback by the scope of the problem. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Then investigators found a pipeline of Russian propaganda. A so-called troll farm hijacked Facebook’s platform to sow chaos and, eventually, to try to tip the scale in Donald Trump’s direction.

Lawmakers were outraged. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Now the company is facing another embarrassing discovery. A joint investigation by The New York Times and the UK’s Observer newspaper found possible violations of Facebook policies by Cambridge Analytica, one of the Trump campaign’s data firms.

The violations relate to Facebook user data that was harvested by a professor’s research project and handed over to Cambridge.

On Friday night, after “downplaying” the papers’ findings, according to The Times, Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica has been suspended from the site.

Related: New York professor sues Cambridge Analytica to find out what it knows about him

Facebook said it asked that Cambridge Analytica destroy the data in 2015.

Once again, Facebook is vowing to do better.

But the latest round of stories may embolden politicians and other critics who want to see the company subjected to stricter regulation.

To date most of those calls have come from Democrats, not from the Republicans who wield the most power in Washington.

Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, tweeted on Saturday, “Facebook should own up to how they created a serious strategic imbalance — and, for the sake of both parties and all candidates, make sure this won’t happen again.”

It’s unclear how much political energy is really centered on these issues, however.

James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote on Saturday, “In a normal political environment” Cambridge Analytica and Facebook “would be called in for public questioning.” He added: “Of course, in normal environment, this wouldn’t have occurred.”

For its part, Cambridge Analytica said in a statement that the data set revealed by The Times was not used “as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”

But some experts have doubts about that. The new investigation reiterates how much happens in Facebook’s dark corners.

The bottom line: It’s 2018, and we’re still talking about how the sprawling social network was used and abused during the 2016 election.

Related: Facebook bans far-right group Britain First

Facebook and its rivals are pledging to be responsible players in the 2018 midterms and future elections both in the United States and around the world.

Facebook, for instance, says it applied lessons from the US election to combat misinformation during campaigns in Europe in 2017.

The company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, addressed the issue Saturday in a series of tweets.

“There are a lot of big problems that the big tech companies need to be better at fixing. We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world. Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree,” he said.

But the challenges are incredibly complex. New kinds of misinformation emerge all the time, and new ways to manipulate the algorithm are a constant threat. It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole with worldwide consequences.

Facebook executives are trying to be more proactive — perhaps in an effort to fend off regulation. The company’s representatives have been speaking at conferences and pledging to clean up some of the pollution on the site.

Some of the changes are visible: Facebook is working with third-party fact-checkers to rebut hoaxes and trying to stamp out bad actors like Russian propagandists.

But Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news products, acknowledged at a SXSW event last week that “we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

And that was before the data revelations that involve an entirely different side of the social network.

6 comments

  • Emma Hogg

    What the public needs to understand is that their social media profiles are not private for any entity that wants to pay to access their accounts. It’s in the TOS that people agree to accept when they create their social media profiles.

    With people under the age of 60, this means of “communication” is even more sinister that we realize because those people are dependent upon social media to take the place of actual human interactions. Psychologists are beginning to see the ramifications of these false social platforms, and they are warning against children, specifically, having access to these platforms.

    Until people turn stuff off and start living in the here-and-now, again, social media will continue to determine our beliefs and our decision making processes. Because of social media, there is no civil dialogue between people with opposing views, and they are either labeled alt-left, or alt-right, and the majority of people range in the middle with more conservative or more liberal leanings, rather than rabid stances. This is how the future will be determined.

  • J (@ds18301)

    The underlying problem in all of this is how incredibly gullible the American electorate has become. They are unwilling (or unable due to the dismantling of the education system) to critically analyze information and are so easily whipped into a froth of fear and paranoia by the money-grubbing corporate noise machines of the Koch brothers/Russians/Fox/Trump and their ilk. The tragedy of course is that they end up voting against their own best interests.

    • silverfishimperetrix

      What’s funny is neither the Koch brothers, the Russians, nor Fox wanted Trump to be president. The American people did. Both your premise and your ideology are flawed.

      • J (@ds18301)

        Your tin-hat “vision” of reality make the point better than I can. It is sadly all too easy to influence an uninformed/misinformed/unwilling-to-be-informed illiterate electorate, who reacts like Pavlov’s dogs to the stimulus provided. I suppose you are planning your visit to the DC pizzeria where the Clintons keep children locked in the basement. And the earth is flat, right?

      • silverfishimperetrix

        Whoomp! There it is! Typical liberal not-only-am-I-smarter-than-you-but-I-can-call-you-more-interesting-names-plus-I-know-what’s best-for-you-because-you’re-stupid rhetoric that lost the election for Clinton, not even mentioning the far-left’s embracing of socialism, where the goal is communism. Please keep yapping like that so more Conservative Republicans can win the mid-terms and President Trump can retake the White House in 2020.

        PS – I forgot to mention that even many “Republicans” didn’t want Trump to win the election either in my last post, but again, the American people did.

  • Am Light

    Oh, my……….careful careful WNEP. Censoring accurate information? Hmmmm………. not very unbiased, it seems.

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