Mark Zuckerberg Is Russia, Trump and Cambridge Analytica’s Useful Idiot

What I’d like to know is why any of us are on Facebook anymore.
I’d also like to know when we are going to stop treating Mark Zuckerberg like some benevolent potentate in the magical land of Tech, and start holding him responsible for what he is, and what he has done to our democracy.
This weekend the New York Times revealed that Cambridge Analytica, the data science firm funded by right-wing ideologue Robert Mercer and hired by the Trump campaign to run social media campaigns and analysis in 2016, snookered Facebook into handing over the private information of 50 million users.
“The firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history,” wrote the Times, God bless those investigative reporters every one. “The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.”
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How’d they do it? Per the Times:  “Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.”
Said researcher is — wait for it — a Russian-American!!
And how did we learn all this? Did Facebook conduct an internal inquiry into how the platform may have been inappropriately or illegally used to influence the 2016 election? Since we already know that it was?
Haha: I’m joking, of course.
The Times said Facebook “downplayed the scope of the leak” as its reporters pressed for answers. And when the social media giant actually checked — suddenly they were really alarmed! (There are also lots of other questions: Why would Facebook release this to an academic anyway? Wouldn’t an academic who could pay for that kind of scaled information raise alarm bells?)
“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement to the Times, adding that they’d suspended both Cambridge Analytica and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan.
In the words of Russian spyspeak, Zuckerberg now counts — like our president — as a “useful idiot.” He has contributed, and apparently continues to contribute, to the corruption of our democratic process. The Times reports that Cambridge Analytica still has “most or all” of the data.
Meanwhile, Facebook rakes in billions of dollars in profit each quarter — $7.3 billion in the last quarter of 2017 — while sucking advertising dollars away from digital media companies that do actual journalism, like Vox and Mic and Buzzfeed.
Do I sound furious? I am.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anybody that when the government asked Facebook to check on Russian-backed ads during the presidential election, Zuckerberg at first said he didn’t think it was a thing. The notion that fake news on Facebook influenced the election is “a pretty crazy idea,” he said in November 2016. (No, really: Watch the video.)
Then Facebook checked and found that hundreds of fake Facebook accounts, probably run from Russia, spent about $100,000 on ads about divisive issues such as gun control and race relations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. By now we’ve all seen those ads trotted out in Congressional hearing rooms.
Once again we must thank the Fourth Estate, in this case the New York Times, for digging out information that Facebook would rather not have shared.
Mark Zuckerberg, the Times has exposed you for your naivete and cowardice. We, your users, need to take action — like getting off your platform.  Your actions are tepid, late and lacking in credibility.
Sheryl Sandberg, you know better, what are you doing to fix this?
I’m not a fan of government regulation in general, but we need it here, and now comes word of a U.S. Attorney General investigation. That’s a start. We need our legislators to step in and regulate Facebook. Stick their nose in. Pass rules. Make Facebook accountable, because for the moment, it’s just a wild oligopoly driven by mad growth and madder profit.
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Public accountablity becomes harder when our government is paralyzed, divided and utterly broken. And it is that way — in part because of the divisions that foreign actors sowed on Facebook during our election.
Our democracy is precious. It is strong, but it has fault lines that Russia has clearly exploited. The geniuses of Silicon Valley, changing everything in our world, need to get a lot more transparent, a lot more thoughtful and a lot more accountable for what they have wrought.
Until they do, I recommend we give Facebook a wide berth.

Hopefully we’ll look back at 2016 as that weird year when fake news stories oddly garnered influence over the voting population of the country. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s also a chance we may look back one day in an effort to decode the origins of a propaganda tactic that’s continued to be manipulated by powerful and/or misinformed ne’er do wells. Either way, there’s no doubt we can learn from the false stories that started it all. 

In February, Donald Trump entertained conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered when reports surfaced that he was found with “a pillow on his face.” Alex Jones’ InfoWars had earlier reported on suggestions Scalia was killed. But the owner of the ranch where Scalia died later clarified that he did not have a pillow over his face.

In June, Trump tweeted a photo that purported to show a family of African-Americans who supported him. But they told BuzzFeed they definitely did not.

A fake NBC site alleged in August that Donald Trump was dead, inspiring the hashtag #RIPTrump. If the site’s own traffic counter is to be believed, the story got more than three million views.
From fake NBC site

One fake news story that came out ahead of the election was published by “Winning Democrats,” according to SF Gate. The false report claimed that Ireland was accepting refugees from the U.S. who were fleeing the possibility of a Trump presidency. The story reportedly got 810,000 engagements on Facebook before it was taken down.

About a week before the Nov. 8 election claims that Pope Francis endorsed Trump circulated online. It was and remains unequivocally false. The fake story reportedly originated on the satirical website WTOE 5 News, with the headline “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement.”

On Nov. 10, Trump tweeted that post-Election Day protestors were “professional,” but a professional fake-news writer, Paul Horner, admitted that he had invented a story about protesters being paid.

Fake news writer Paul Horner ‘fessed up to fabricating stories on his “satire” site (which even uses a logo designed to mimic the real ABC News logo) for a year. But he told The Washington Post a few weeks after the election, that he didn’t realize how much damage fake news disguised as real news can do. “Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected,” he said.

False stories circulated before the election that Hillary Clinton would definitely be indicted for her use of a private email server. A fake news site called WorldPoliticus claimed to have the big scoop. The Washington Post tracked down the fake story, which cited an unnamed FBI source. The story has since been taken down. 

In late November, Trump made an unsupported claim in a Twitter message: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Trump may have been referencing multiple fake stories on conspiracy websites that claim he defeated Clinton in the popular vote count, CNN hypothesized.

It earned the dubious nickname “PizzaGate”: In early December a man with a rifle who claimed to be “self-investigating” a baseless online conspiracy theory entered a Washington, D.C., pizzeria and fired the weapon inside the restaurant.
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Sandy Hook conspiracy theories have been brewing for a while, but they fueled an actual crime in early December when a Florida woman was charged with issuing death threats to a parent of one of the 20 children  killed in the 2012 mass shooting. The woman issuing the threats was reportedly inspired by the hoax theory that the elementary school massacre that also left six staffers dead didn’t actually happen.

The hashtag #DumpStarWars started trending on Dec. 8, bolstered by the allegation that the film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” included an anti-Trump message. Disney told TheWrap the claim was unequivocally false. 
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Fictitious stories out this year had real world effects

Hopefully we’ll look back at 2016 as that weird year when fake news stories oddly garnered influence over the voting population of the country. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s also a chance we may look back one day in an effort to decode the origins of a propaganda tactic that’s continued to be manipulated by powerful and/or misinformed ne’er do wells. Either way, there’s no doubt we can learn from the false stories that started it all. 

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