Feb 18, 2018

Flummoxed Facebook helped Mueller

Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller, quietly supplying Russian-placed material that was cited in Friday's blockbuster indictment.

  • A Facebook source tells me: "[T]he level of detail in the indictment wouldn’t have been possible without the close cooperation of Facebook, particularly the details about the communication between IRA [Russians' Internet Research Agency] pages and unwitting Trump campaign staffers and volunteers about rallies in Florida.”

But Mueller's revelations have made Facebook an even bigger target:

  • Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti, an online favorite of media types, tweeted that Facebook and its photo-sharing service Instagram are "Unindicted, Facilitating and Abetting Co-Conspirators."
  • A front-page N.Y. Times story today ("To Create Rifts, Russians Liked Facebook Most") points out that in Mueller's indictment, "Facebook and Instagram were mentioned 41 times ... Twitter was referred to nine times, YouTube once and the electronic payments company PayPal 11 times."
  • Facebook V.P. of ads Rob Goldman went rogue on Twitter andclaimed (but later walked back): "I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal."
  • Goldman also tweeted: "The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump [sic] and the election."
  • President Trump applauded: "The Fake News Media never fails. Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!"

Facebook executives privately express frustration about the scrutiny: They know media companies have incentive to whack them.

  • Facebook has felt unfairly singled out. But now its subsidiary Instagram is being pulled in, too.
  • A Facebook official told me: "What we can do is work overtime to address the issues with our platform. And we’re doing it. You saw it’s what Mark’s 2018 resolution is — fix what’s broken."

What’s next: This isn’t an ephemeral story.

  • Facebook has too many forces incentivized to intensify scrutiny: media companies, who feel duped by its takeover of the ad market and readers’ time; liberal activists, who blame it for Trump winning; Mueller, who knows it played a role in Trump’s election; and politicians, who will respond to the aforementioned trends. 

Hard truth: You are to blame, too. One of the Russians named in Mueller's indictment emailed a family member: "I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

  • We live in era of blaming others. But the Mueller indictment makes it clear that many 2016 voters didn't pay attention to what they read, shared or reacted to. So they were easy prey. Still are. Nothing has really changed. 

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