In my last blog, I spoke about the threat to our nation’s independence, via election interference on social media.
Last month Mark Zuckerberg spoke to the Aspen ideas Festival. He again renewed his seeming call for regulation. I’ve remained skeptical — because regulation often freezes the status quo, and would’t the Facebook CEO like that?
But in the event’s public discussion with Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, Zuckerberg raised two areas of concern — establishing industry privacy standards and confronting foreign election interference.
On the former, why do we need government? Let Facebook and other companies simply be entirely transparent, and then the consumer can decide among options and tradeoffs.
On the latter, why doesn’t Facebook deal with election interference itself?
One problem may be conflict in interest — because one must draw a line between commercial activity to influence elections and election interference. What if a non-foreign entity — domestic — right here in the U.S. — wants to influence elections by talking about issues and candidates? Facebook and other social media make big bucks off politics. In May, FB tried to preempt further attacks by stopping paying commissions to its sales force employees who sell political ads.
A Los Angeles Times analysis by Noah Bierman and Evan Halper noted how advanced President Trump’s campaign is in its digital operation. And that includes aggressive targeting advertising on Facebook. The campaign using FB to test various approaches. Trump’s campaign marketing guru compares their digital approach to “high frequency trading on Wall street, constantly buying and selling to see which ads bring the most value.”
But this whole discussion is beyond politics. Zuckerberg has testified before Congress, and the Federal Trade Commission, the House Judiciary Committee, the Department of Justice, among many others, including even state departments of justice, are banging down FB’s doors. But what’s of immediate concern to me is that Zuckerberg in a sense is passing the buck when he said Russia was in “an arms race…[with]…new tactics” to interfere in U.S. elections.
I think both our government AND Facebook were asleep at the switch. FB was preoccupied with its growth and profits. yet Zuckerberg has now publicly criticized the U.S. government because its lack of counter-action sent a signal of vulnerability.
Let’s get serious. Top FB executives admit the company has a credibility problem, not just on this, but overall. But it needs more than an image-makeover. It needs substance to repair a deservedly sour reputation. All this is why the public likely would not trust FB to police itself on a matter as sensitive as foreign election interference.
This reaffirms that FB needs a third-party fiduciary — FB might pay the tab for an independent firm to provide the technology to monitor the public social media for foreign interference, the technology to identify and source that foreign interference, and to engage it, interdict and stop it. All of this in real-time.
Such a massive undertaking requires an overwhelming amount of capability. Yet, the enormous cost is tiny when compared with the Facebook behemoth, and a small price for the company to become a good citizen, and for what is at stake here — the integrity of the American democracy.
Mark has my telephone number.