Russian trolls behind Zuckerberg contradicting Trump
Facebook's CEO and US President Donald Trump have disagreed publicly about the role of the social media platform.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg posted a long update on his personal account on the platform after Trump suggested the social media company he owns was "always against him".
"Every day I work to bring people together and build a community for everyone," wrote Zuckerberg.
"We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like."
Zuckerberg had initially rejected the idea that his platform played any role in swaying the US election and that voters could tell the difference between media and the real world. He called these suggestions "crazy".
But now Zuckerberg says he was wrong, which has led to Trump's sudden attack on the platform. Trump is facing a federal investigation into the role of the Russians in the run-up to the November 2016 US election, and the president's own staff who were meeting Russians at the time.
Zuckerberg believes that a number of things changed in the November election and his platform was in the middle of those changes. But he also defended Facebook saying in his statement that:
1. More people had a voice in this election than ever before. There were billions of interactions discussing the issues that may have never happened offline. Every topic was discussed, not just those which the media covered.
2. This was the first US election where the internet was a primary way candidates communicated. Every candidate had a Facebook page to communicate directly with tens of millions of followers every day.
3. Campaigns spent hundreds of millions of dollars advertising online to get their messages out even further. That's 1000x more than any problematic ads we've found.
4. We ran "get out the vote" efforts that helped as many as 2-million people register to vote. To put that in perspective, that's bigger than the "get out the vote" efforts of the Trump and Clinton campaigns put together. That's a big deal.
Trump had said :
But in response, Zuckerberg admitted being wrong about the role of his company in the US elections.
"After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea. Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it."
That's as special FBI investigator Robert Mueller has targeted Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, his security advisor.
Trump's firing of James Comey as FBI director is also been probed and the president is sensitive to any suggestion that Russia had anything to do with his election victory, calling it fake news.
However, the CIA and FBI have both publicly stated that Moscow was behind an attempt to influence the outcome which has weakened Trump's public position.
The revelation by Facebook's CEO that Russia had used his social media platform in an attempt to influence voters led directly to Trump's tweets. While the to-and-fro continues, Trump has faced a number of defeats in both the Senate and in elections.
He supported Luther Strange in the Alabama's Republican primary for US Senate on Tuesday night. Roy Moore, who was not Trump's preferred candidate, won the primary which is seen as an embarrassment for the US president.
Social media's role in changing public perceptions has become more profound over the past three years, according to the conservative-leaning Pew Research Center.
By the end of 2016, it found that 62% of adults in the US receive news on social media and 18% do so often. Around the world, the indications are that social media has become the go-to zone for breaking information, as well as political discourse.
The Center for Digital Ethics and Policy released an outline in 2015 which outlined how user-generated content (UGC) is "now a standard part of the journalist’s news-gathering toolbox".
It says the increased proliferation of UGC in news media "is a byproduct of our culture’s increasingly symbiotic relationship with social media".
That also means that national interest and funds can be utilised to change conversation on social media. Facebook, for example, features page boost as part of its business model to increase story coverage.
Anyone with a credit card can pay a few dollars a day to boost pages and reach tens of thousands of people. Facebook has admitted that more than $100,000 was spent by at least 470 pages linked to Russian propaganda before the November 2016 US election.
Facebook and Google have started to police propaganda but both have steadfastly refused to editorialise, and thus cut material or even double check. They both rely on users to police the zones on their behalf and flag problems.
But the Center of Digital Ethics and Policy says it's time for these companies to take responsibility.
"Google is reportedly taking steps to ensure that fake news culprits are not able to use its ad-selling software. This is an admirable first step, but it is imperative for people to continue applying pressure on Google to ensure that the problem doesn't fall by the wayside," David Stockdale wrote in 2017.
He also says that Facebook is largely responsible for creating what he calls a partisan environment that allows false information to spread quickly. It's analogous to a virus spreading.
"Sites such as Facebook are largely responsible for creating the partisan environment that allows false information to spread online like a contagious virus." British filmmaker Adam Curtis aptly describes the process in his 2016 documentary, "Hypernormalisation", telling how the algorithms and filters on social media have gravely limited the content people see.