The Guardian published a story on the British Government’s investigation into the role Facebook played in the Brexit vote, one that is hauntingly familiar in its overlap to that Facebook played in the election of Donald Trump, such that one could almost consider the Brexit vote a “dry run.”
In “A Withering Verdict: MPs Report on Zuckerberg, Russia and Cambridge Analytica, the Guardian reports that the British findings hold nothing back on the company. Lest you still think that Mark Zuckerberg is just a fresh faced lad leading a company that “wants to bring people together,” get a load of the synopsis of the report:
The DCMS select committee’s far-reaching interim report on its 18-month investigation into fake news and the use of data and “dark ads” in elections offers a wide-ranging, informed and sustained critique that carries with it the full weight of parliament. The verdict is withering: Facebook failed. It “obfuscated”, refused to investigate how its platform was abused by the Russian government until forced by pressure from Senate committees and, in the most damning section, it aided and abetted the incitement of racial hatred in Burma, noting that even the company’s chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, called this “awful”.
Not a lot of nuance there. Moreover, the British Government’s report recognizes that the penetration Facebook has in the “market” of social media is such that only affirmative, strict, regulation will leash the company down such that it will not happen all over again. If the report is clear on any one element of the problem, it is that left to its own devices, Facebook cannot be trusted to police itself, indeed, it will actively work against authorities to maximize its power, profiting through manipulation of false narratives.
Indeed, recommendations include:
1.“Clear legal liability” for tech companies “to act against harmful and illegal content” with failure to act resulting in criminal proceedings.
2. Full auditing and scrutiny of tech companies, including their security mechanisms, and full algorithm auditing. Strengthen the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Impose a levy on tech companies operating in the UK to pay for it. The Competition and Markets Authority should investigate fake profiles and advertising fraud.
3. A ban on micro-targeted political advertising to similar audiences.
4. A “new category of tech company” to be formulated which “tightens tech companies’ liabilities and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or ‘publisher’”.
5. A further demand for Mark Zuckerberg “to come to the committee to answer questions to which Facebook has not responded adequately to date”.
6. A code of ethics that all tech companies will agree to uphold.
As you would expect, Russia was at the heart and center of the operation and remained that aspect that Facebook wanted most kept hidden:
DCMS committee chair Damian Collins told the Observer that when it first started asking questions about Russia, it very quickly led to questions about interference in British elections, including the EU referendum. “And we noticed an aggressive campaign against us even asking these questions. It underlined the need to persist, which we have done.”
He said that the committee believed the evidence it had received so far from Facebook represented only the “tip of the iceberg”
Yes, and the only reason that the British government has seen that “tip” is that they have had the humility and fearlessness required to thoroughly examine itself and those involved in the operation – and are, they admit, only at the “tip” of the iceberg. We are not even in the water, so immersed in misdirection and need to cover-up what really happened.
This report should scare the living shit out of all Americans, because Brexit – while also an astonishingly narrow and perfect electoral success – was the first attempt, and mistakes made during Brexit were improved upon, inefficiencies tweaked, all before the FIRST Trump election. Now we hear that Trump chaired his very first meeting concerning election security and the 2018 election last week.
The British are way ahead of us, and even they admit they’re only scratching at the surface. But, even there, they seem to acknowledge that this problem is exponentially larger than they thought, more pervasive than their wildest fears.
Imagine if the American public knew only what the British government now knows?
Building a better version of Facebook? Check out the online message streaming and queuing service Kafkaesque, powered by Apache Pulsar.