Tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been called to testify before Congress about how their platforms may have been used to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. This has experts wondering: how much, if any, culpability do these companies have when it comes to potential Russian involvement with the US political system?
Facebook in particular is facing some heat. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record saying the company could definitely do better, but he notes that Facebook doesn’t actually have that much control over its algorithm. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’re going to catch all bad content in our system,” he said. He argued it’s a matter of freedom of speech: “We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think society should want us to.”
It’s an interesting stance to take for a company that, in the past, has done an excellent job of using strong-arm tactics to select and prioritize content. Game companies like Zynga have had their messaging limited, independent content apps like SocialCam and Viddy have been demoted, and changes in the NewsFeed algorithm were quickly implemented to combat clickbait articles from places like Upworthy.
And when it comes to freedom of speech, Facebook has had its hand in that, too: They reportedly provide a censorship tool for countries like Vietnam and China that want to limit the amount of anti-government sentiment available on social media.
According to Forbes, Facebook has announced it will be far more vigilant about political advertisements on the platform, perhaps as an attempt to avoid future gaming of the system like the Russians reportedly used. However, as Jay MacGregor notes, it’s extremely easy to fly under the radar of Facebook’s current regulations. MacGregor himself performed an experiment in which he set up a fake account—with enough fake likes to make it appear much older than it was—as a way to disseminate fake ads. Despite all these red flags, the page and its ads have never been called out.
If Facebook—and other big name tech companies like it—truly want to improve security and prevent unlawful use of their platforms, the tech world will need to see some significant changes beyond rhetoric.
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