Sep 8, 2017

2016's rising Facebook factor

Thibault Camus / AP

The N.Y. Times leads with an investigation by Scott Shane into "The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election":

  • "The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails ... Far less splashy ... was Russia's experimentation on Facebook and Twitter."
  • "On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. Many were automated Twitter accounts, called bots, that sometimes fired off identical messages seconds apart."
  • Why it matters: "The fakery may have added only modestly to the din of genuine American voices in the pre-election melee, but it helped fuel a fire of anger and suspicion in a polarized country."

Taking in this week's new revelations, WashPost media columnistMargaret Sullivan writes on the Style front that "there's increasing reason to believe" that Facebook made Trump president:

  • "[F]or all its power and wealth, Facebook is a terribly opaque enterprise. (It recently hired former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd, a former Post managing editor [and, like Sullivan, a former N.Y. Times public editor], to help with 'transparency.'")
  • "Facebook ... has never acknowledged the glaringly obvious — that it is essentially a media company, where many of its 2 billion active monthly users get the majority of their news and information."
  • "Would Donald Trump be president today if Facebook didn't exist? Although there is a long list of reasons for his win, there's increasing reason to believe the answer is no."

Be smart: In an Oval Office interview with the Financial Times 70 days into his presidency, Trump said: "Without the tweets, I wouldn't be here." Trump's authentic, direct communication with voters is the sunny side of his social-media lift. This week's revelations uncover a darker side, with the potential that a vast swath of Americans were unwittingly manipulated.

Be even smarter: We can't stress enough how much public and political opinion is shifting against the darlings of Silicon Valley. Watch for intensifying calls for new regulations on Facebook and others.

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