The latest development in the Russian investigation now involves Facebook.
Facebook is handling over 3,000 political ads that were likely purchased by Russians allegedly trying to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Besides that, the social media network will be making their political ads more transparent by allowing anyone to see the ads, along with who purchased the advertisements.
“We will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive of Facebook. “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for,”
“In early September, Facebook said it had identified $150,000 of political ads purchased by fake accounts linked to Russia. It attributed about $100,000 of the total, or 3,000 ads, to 470 accounts related to a Russian propaganda group called Internet Research Agency. It found another 2,000 ads worth $50,000 by searching for ads purchased through US internet addresses whose accounts were set to the Russian language. The ads touched on hot-button social issues such as immigration and LGBT rights and, according to a report from The Washington Post, included content aimed at stoking racial resentment against blacks and Muslims. About 25 percent of the ads geographically targeted certain regions of the United States. The majority of these ads ran in 2015,” writes Wired. “After suspending the accounts and writing a vague blog poston the subject, Facebook remained largely silent about what the ads contained, who they reached, or how they were discovered. But on September 21, Facebook confirmed it had shared the ads with Mueller’s team and would do the same with congressional investigators. Facebook has not yet agreed to meet with Congress for further questioning.”
However, lawmakers have questioned Facebook’s algorithms for a long time.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California sees this as a much bigger issue and believes that social networks need to disclose how they regulate political ads.
Schiff said “the use of Facebook’s algorithms and the way it tends to potentially reinforce people’s informational bias” and that “this is a far broader issue than Russia, but one that we really need to know more about.”
He also asks why it took Facebook so long to alert investigators about the ads that were linked to Russia.
“It will be important for the committee to scrutinize how rigorous Facebook’s internal investigation has been, to test its conclusions and to understand why it took as long as it did,” said Schiff.
Another lawmaker, Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed similar sentiments and said that political ads on social media is like the “wild, wild West” last month.
Facebook made roughly $300 million on political ads during the 2016 election, according to Nomura analysts.
However, Facebook is planning to hire 250 additional team members to help deter political bullying.
But, Facebook isn’t the only company being looked at by investigators. Google, which is notoriously secretive about how its search engine works and Twitter are also being scrutinized.
“Algorithmic transparency is also key to corporate accountability,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Without knowledge of the factors that provide the basis for decisions, it is impossible to know whether companies engage in practices that are deceptive, discriminatory or unethical.”
But the problem is that technology companies don’t want to give away their competitive advantage.
“When it comes to something like a social network, trying to regulate by demanding companies turn over their intellectual property is going to have a dampening effect on innovation,” said Daniel Castro, vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Author’s note: This is a difficult issue. We partly believe that these tech companies are entitled to keep their secrets because that is the competitive advantage that they have created and have most definitely earned. But on the other hand, what if their systems are biased? They have a massive influence on the U.S. society and then could be guilty of fraud.