“Facebook is a crime scene.”
“Last year data surpassed oil in value.”
“Democracy for sale.”
Democracy Now! this past week aired a 6-part report focusing on a new Oscar-shortlisted documentary called “The Great Hack” which argues Cambridge Analytica has played a significant role not just in the U.S. election but in elections across the globe. The company harvested some 87 million Facebook profiles without the users’ knowledge or consent and used the data to sway voters during the 2016 campaign. Data organizations have 5,000 data points on every U.S. voter. DN! spoke with the directors of “The Great Hack,” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, as well as former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser and propaganda researcher Emma Briant.
- Brittany Kaiser a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who is featured in the documentary The Great Hack. Her book is titled Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again.
- Karim Amer co-director of The Great Hack, which has been shortlisted for an Academy Award.
- Jehane Noujaim co-director of The Great Hack, which has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. Her previous films include The Square and Control Room
Emma Briant: “I just wanted to make a point about how important this is for ordinary Americans to understand the significance for their own lives, as well, because I think some people hear this, and they think, “Oh, tech, this is maybe quite abstract,” or, you know, they may feel that other issues are more important when it comes to election time. But I want to make the point that, actually, you know what? This subject is about all of those other issues. I also think that we need an independent regulator for the tech industry and also a separate one for the influence industry. So, America has some regulation when it comes to lobbying. In the U.K., we have none. And quite often, you know, American companies will partner with a British company in order to be able to get around doing things, for instance. We have to make sure that different countries’ jurisdictions cannot be, you know, abused in order to make something happen that would be forbidden in another country.
We need to make sure that we’re also tackling how money is being channeled into these campaigns, because, actually, there’s an awful lot we could do that isn’t just about censoring or taking down content, but that actually is, you know, about making sure that the money isn’t being funneled in to the — to fund these actual campaigns. If we knew who was behind them, if we were able to show which companies were working on them and what other interests they might have, then I think this would really open up the system to better journalism, to better — you know, more accountability.
And the issue isn’t just about what’s happening on the platforms, although that is a big part of it. We have to think about, you know, the whole infrastructure.”
Karim Amer: “I think what’s even more worrisome is that a lot of our technology companies, I would say, are incentivized now by the polarization of the American people. The more polarized, the more you spend time on the platform checking the endless feed, the more you’re hooked, the more you’re glued, the more their KPI at the end of the year, which says number of hours spent per user on platform, goes up. And as long as that’s the model, then everything is designed, from the way you interact with these devices to the way your news is sorted and fed to you, to keep you on, as hooked as possible, in this completely unregulated, unfiltered way — under the guise of freedom of speech when it’s selectively there for them to protect their interests further. And I think that’s very worrisome.
And we have to ask these technology companies: Would there be a Silicon Valley if the ideals of the open society were not in place? Would Silicon Valley be this refuge for the world’s engineers of the future to come reimagine what the future could look like, had there not been the foundations of an open society? There would not be. Yet the same people who are profiting off of these ideals protecting them feel no responsibility in their preservation. And that is what is so upsetting. That is what is so criminal. And that is why we cannot look to them for leadership on how to get out of this.
We have to look at the regulation. You know, if Facebook was fined $50 billion instead of five, I guarantee you we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
Jehane Noujaim: “Democracy has been broken. And our first vote is happening in 28 days, and nothing has changed. No election laws have changed. Facebook’s a crime scene. No research, nothing has come out. We don’t understand it yet. This was why we felt so passionate about making this film, because it’s invisible. How do you make the invisible visible? And this is why Brittany is releasing these files, because unless we understand the tactics, which are currently being used again, right now, as we speak, same people involved, then we can’t change this.”
Brittany Kaiser: Former Cambridge Analytica employees are currently supporting TRUMP 2020. They are working in countries all around the world with individual political consultancies, marketing consultancies, strategic communication firms […] there are now hundreds of these companies all around the world. […] And I’m absolutely terrified to see what is going to happen on our newsfeeds between now and November 3rd.
What news and information consumers can do:
- Educate. Become digitally literate.
- Look on the website of the Center for Humane Technology. https://humanetech.com
- Look on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. https://www.eff.org
- Look at the Beacon Trust website. https://www.beacontrustnetwork.com/our-team
- Read the Contract for the Web. https://contractfortheweb.org
- Visit The Center for Media Literacy. https://www.medialit.org
There is a new concept called DQ. It means digital intelligence, like IQ or EQ. And its a new global standard that my new foundation, the Own Your Date Foundation, is helping roll out in schools in America, that actually teach kids these things, ow to prevent cyberbullying and bet ethical online and identify fake news and disinformation.
WE HAVE TO EMPOWER OURSELVES TO PROTECT OURSELVES.
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS.
(‘Just type in ‘contact you’re legislator.’)
New Year’s Eve 2019.
Hi friends. This is my final post on fb. 2.2 billion people, a third of humanity, log on across the planet every hour, I don’t think Zuck will miss me much. Nonetheless, 17 million Americans have left FB in the last two years because of disinformation and political manipulation. Mark Zuckerberg made an additional $27 billion last year alone; he won’t be changing his behaviors any time soon. He throws all that he does under the free speech/innovation bus. His modus operandi has always been to act first, apologize later. Literal early company motto: ‘Move fast and break things.’ Based on past behaviors and weak rhetoric, I don’t think he has the moral compass to steer a moral path. He doesn’t have the emotional or compassionate intelligence to consider the meaning of truth, the limits of free speech, and the origins of violence. Peter Thiel, a billionaire who sits on his board, is the guy who once wrote democracy was weakened when women received the right to vote. Good guy. Zuckerberg is now at the center of a full-fledged debate about the moral character of Silicon Valley and the conscience of its leaders.
In their opinion piece for January 1st, 2020, Idaho Mountain Express offered their New Year’s resolution for fb and Zuckerberg: “To take legal responsibility for what his platform has wrought by making it a publisher instead of a filthy rich exploiter of unsuspecting Americans.” Right on.
In 1915, Louis Brandeis, the reformer and future Supreme Court Justice, testified before a congressional committee about the dangers of corporations large enough that they could achieve a level of near-sovereignty “so powerful that the ordinary social and industrial forces existing are insufficient to cope with it.” He called this the “curse of bigness.” Tim Wu, a Columbia law-school professor and the author of a forthcoming book inspired by Brandeis’s phrase, said “Today, no sector exemplifies more clearly the threat of bigness to democracy than Big Tech.” He added, “When a concentrated private power has such control over what we see and hear, it has a power that rivals or exceeds that of elected government.”
A healthy market should produce competitors to Facebook that position themselves as ethical alternatives, collecting less data and seeking a smaller share of user attention. Like it or not, Zuckerberg is a gatekeeper. The era when Facebook could learn by doing, and fix the mistakes later, is over. The costs are too high, and idealism is not a defense against negligence.
I’ll miss my connections on this platform, my ol’ radio buds, sorority sisters, our community…I even reconnected with a dear junior high school friend from San Diego. We were 14 years old when we met. I will miss the ease in posting and sharing information. I remain hopeful someone will create a new social media site that will allow us to have a nonaddictive, advertising-free space that guards against foreign influence and disinformation, honoring privacy and our personal data. From Free Press: ‘We must have control over how our personal information is used, and prohibit its use to build systems that oppress, discriminate, disenfranchise and exacerbate segregation.’
I don’t Instagram or engage on WhatsApp…all Zuckerberg. I stay with twitter, where I follow various news organizations and journalists, because owner Jack Dorsey has committed to eliminating political ads and just recently launched a research project called Bluesky, researching decentralized technical standards for social media platforms making it easier to enforce rules against hate speech and other abuses.
The early hope for internet democracy has evaporated into a dystopian space that has weakened our democracy with dangerous disinformation, false political ads and foreign algorithms. We haven’t even begun to deal with ‘deep fake’ video yet, given media in general, the press specifically, have not found a way to authenticate what’s real and what isn’t. This virtual mess is only going to get worse.
In India, the largest market for Facebook’s WhatsApp service, hoaxes have triggered riots, lynchings, and fatal beatings. Local officials resorted to shutting down the Internet sixty-five times last year. In Libya, people took to Facebook to trade weapons, and armed groups relayed the locations of targets for artillery strikes. In Sri Lanka, after a Buddhist mob attacked Muslims this spring over a false rumor, a Presidential adviser said, “The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind.”
Nowhere has the damage been starker than in Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been subject to brutal killings, gang rapes, and torture. In 2012, around one per cent of the country’s population had access to the Internet. Three years later, that figure had reached twenty-five per cent. Phones often came preloaded with the Facebook app, and Buddhist extremists seeking to inflame ethnic tensions with the Rohingya mastered the art of misinformation.
Beginning in 2013, a series of experts on Myanmar met with Facebook officials to warn them that it was fueling attacks on the genocide. David Madden, an entrepreneur based in Myanmar, delivered a presentation to officials at the Menlo Park headquarters, pointing out that the company was playing a role akin to that of the radio broadcasts that spread hatred during the
In 2011, the company asked the FEC [Federal Election Commission] for an exemption to rules requiring the source of funding for political ads to be disclosed. In filings, a Facebook lawyer argued that the agency “should not stand in the way of innovation.” Another default argument. It became a running joke among employees that Facebook could tilt an election just by choosing where to deploy its “I Voted” button.
The 2016 election was <supposed> to be good for Facebook. That January, fb COO and billionaire Sheryl Sandberg told investors that the election would be “a big deal in terms of ad spend,” comparable to the Super Bowl and the World Cup. According to Borrell Associates, a research and consulting firm, candidates and other political groups were on track to spend $1.4 billion online in the election, up ninefold from four years earlier.
During the campaign, Trump used Facebook to raise two hundred and eighty million dollars. Just days before the election, his team paid for a voter-suppression effort on the platform. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it targeted three Democratic constituencies—“idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans”—sending them videos precisely tailored to discourage them from turning out for Clinton.
***Theresa Hong, the Trump campaign’s digital-content director, later told an interviewer, “Without Facebook we wouldn’t have won.”***
Facebook admits a pro-Trump media outlet used artificial intelligence to create fake people and push conspiracies.
In September of 2017, after Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant, Facebook agreed to give his office an inventory of ads linked to Russia and the details of who had paid for them. In October, Facebook disclosed that Russian operatives had published about eighty thousand posts, reaching a hundred and twenty-six million Americans.
Last year, Facebook spent $11.5 million on lobbying in Washington, ranking it between the American Bankers Association and General Dynamics among top spenders. Money…I mean, power and greed…along with behavior modification technology… pretty much defines how we landed here. FB is the epicenter of persuasive technology.
#2020 is going to be a ride. Buckle up. Stay vigilant. Be proactive consumers of news and information. Take the Pro-Truth pledge. And V O T E. It is imperative we remember our democracy is fragile and it fails without ‘we the people.’ Activist Greta Thunberg wrote today, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started.”
I’ll miss you, my fb friends. Happy New Year. Be safe. Only peace.
[In context of fb’s persuasive behavior modification techniques, my pages will stay active for about 30 days and then evaporate. If I log on anytime during those 30 days post depletion, the pages will re-activate, so I won’t be able to read any comments to my final fb post. Just email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter, @DayleOhlau, or my website, daylescommunitycafe.com. ♡]