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Biden, Joseph R Jr Bosworth, Andrew (1982- ) Computers and the Internet Dorsey, Jack Facebook Inc Google Inc Instagram Inc Online Advertising Political Advertising Presidential Election of 2020 Sandberg, Sheryl K Social Media Trump, Donald J Twitter Uncategorized United States Politics and Government Warren, Elizabeth Zuckerberg, Mark E

Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Ms. Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Trump’s campaign that attacked Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Mr. Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit microtargeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Mr. Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Ms. Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the re-election of Mr. Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Mr. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Mr. Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Mr. Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

Mike Isaac reported in San Francisco and Cecilia Kang reported from Washington. Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from New York.

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Bosworth, Andrew (1982- ) Facebook Inc News and News Media Online Advertising Presidential Election of 2020 Trump, Donald J Uncategorized Zuckerberg, Mark E

Don’t Tilt Scales Against Trump, Facebook Executive Warns

SAN FRANCISCO — Since the 2016 election, when Russian trolls and a tsunami of misinformation turned social media into a partisan battlefield, Facebook has wrestled with the role it played in President Trump’s victory.

Now, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times, a longtime Facebook executive has told employees that the company had a moral duty not to tilt the scales against Mr. Trump as he seeks re-election.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump. But citing the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and the philosopher John Rawls, Mr. Bosworth said that doing so would eventually backfire.

“I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result,” he wrote. “So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment.

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he said, misspelling the name of the character Galadriel. “As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

In a meandering 2,500-word post, titled “Thoughts for 2020,” Mr. Bosworth weighed in on issues including political polarization, Russian interference and the news media’s treatment of Facebook. He gave a frank assessment of Facebook’s shortcomings in recent years, saying that the company had been “late” to address the issues of data security, misinformation and foreign interference. And he accused the left of overreach, saying that when it came to calling people Nazis, “I think my fellow liberals are a bit too, well, liberal.”

Mr. Bosworth also waded into the debate over the health effects of social media, rejecting what he called “wildly offensive” comparisons of Facebook to addictive substances like nicotine. He instead compared Facebook to sugar, and said users were responsible for moderating their own intake.

“If I want to eat sugar and die an early death that is a valid position,” Mr. Bosworth wrote. “My grandfather took such a stance towards bacon and I admired him for it. And social media is likely much less fatal than bacon.”

The post by Mr. Bosworth, a former head of Facebook’s advertising team, provides an unusually candid glimpse of the debates raging within Facebook about the platform’s responsibilities as it heads into the 2020 election.

The biggest of those debates is whether Facebook should change its rules governing political speech. Posts by politicians are exempt from many of Facebook’s current rules, and their ads are not submitted for fact-checking, giving them license to mislead voters with partisan misinformation.

Last year, platforms like Twitter and Google announced restrictions to their political advertising tools ahead of the 2020 election.

Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, have faced heavy pressure from Democrats and Republicans, including Mr. Trump’s campaign, not to restrict its own powerful ad platform, which allows political campaigns to reach targeted audiences and raise money from supporters. But other politicians, and some Facebook employees, including a group that petitioned Mr. Zuckerberg in October, have argued that the social network has a responsibility to stamp out misinformation on its platform, including in posts by politicians.

Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision.

Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard as other Facebook users. They debated whether Facebook should ban or remove posts by politicians, including Mr. Trump, that included hate speech or forms of misinformation.

One Facebook employee warned that if the company continued to take its current approach, it risked promoting populist leaders around the world, including in the United States.

A Facebook spokeswoman provided a statement from Mr. Bosworth in which he said that the post “wasn’t written for public consumption,” but that he “hoped this post would encourage my co-workers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform.”

Ultimately, the decision on whether to allow politicians to spread misinformation on Facebook rests with Mr. Zuckerberg. In recent months, he has appeared to stand firm on the decision to keep the existing ad policies in place, saying that he believes Facebook should not become an arbiter of truth. But he has also left himself room to change his mind. In November, a Facebook spokesman said the company was “looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”

Among those lobbying Mr. Zuckerberg is President Trump himself, who claimed on a radio show on Monday that Mr. Zuckerberg had congratulated him on being “No. 1” on Facebook during a private dinner.

Mr. Bosworth said he believed Facebook was responsible for Mr. Trump’s 2016 election victory, but not because of Russian interference or the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which millions of Facebook users’ data was leaked to a political strategy firm that worked with the Trump campaign. Mr. Bosworth said the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica revelations — uncovered by The Times, working with The Observer of London and The Guardian — rightly changed the conversation around how Facebook should handle user data, and which companies should be given access to that data.

But, he said, Mr. Trump simply used Facebook’s advertising tools effectively.

“He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica,” Mr. Bosworth wrote. “He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”

Mr. Bosworth, a longtime confidant of Mr. Zuckerberg’s who is viewed by some inside Facebook as a proxy for the chief executive, has been an outspoken defender of the company’s positions in the past.

In 2018, BuzzFeed News published a memo Mr. Bosworth wrote in 2016 justifying the company’s growth-at-all-costs ethos, in which he said the company’s mission of connecting people was “de facto good,” even if it resulted in deaths.

After the memo’s publication, a Facebook executive said the company wished it could “go back and hit delete” on Mr. Bosworth’s 2016 post.

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Berners-Lee, Tim Bitcoin (Currency) Blockchain (Technology) Computers and the Internet Dorsey, Jack Facebook Inc Libra (Currency) Social Media Twitter Uncategorized Zuckerberg, Mark E

Internet Giants, Defied by Bitcoin, Now See Its Tech as a Remedy

SAN FRANCISCO — Not so long ago, the technology behind Bitcoin was seen in Silicon Valley as the best hope for challenging the enormous, centralized power of companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Now, in an unexpected twist, the internet giants think that technology could help them solve their many problems.

The chief executive of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, said last week that he hoped to fund the creation of software for social media that, inspired by the design of Bitcoin, would give Twitter less control over how people use the service and shift power toward users and outside programmers.

Likewise, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said he hopes the same concepts from Bitcoin could “take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands.”

This push toward decentralization — the buzzword people in tech are using to describe these projects — has already gained enough currency and has sounded outlandish enough that it was one of the central themes of the satirical HBO show “Silicon Valley.”

Though Bitcoin’s digital tokens are widely used among the tech set, its underlying concept — a network of computers managing the currency without anyone in charge — is what’s most interesting to many people working on decentralization.

Countless entrepreneurs are working on decentralization projects, including the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. He founded Solid, which seeks to fix the problems of the centralized internet by shifting the ownership of personal data away from big companies and back toward users.

But the other efforts have largely been aimed at taking down Twitter and Facebook rather than helping them solve their problems. And the two behemoths have plenty of problems, from policing their sites for toxic content to dealing with pressure from regulators who think tech companies have grown too powerful.

Not surprisingly, the efforts at Twitter and Facebook have faced skepticism and questions about whether they are just trying to land some positive press while dodging responsibility — and regulations.

“When a company does something like this when it is under pressure, it becomes a way to distract attention by appearing to do something,” said Mitra Ardron, the head of the decentralized web project at the Internet Archive, which has hosted the Decentralized Web Summit the last four years.

Many people working on decentralization projects are concerned that Twitter and Facebook are trying to align themselves with the work’s countercultural spirit without giving up their enormous power.

“The monoliths see it as a threat to their model, so they try to weave in the concepts into their own products to maintain control,” said Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, a competitor to Twitter. With around two million users, Mastodon has been one of the most successful alternative projects.

Mr. Dorsey said Twitter was just starting to look at the idea and had committed only five people to it. Facebook has moved ahead with its Bitcoin-inspired cryptocurrency and has beefed up encryption, but the company has otherwise taken few steps to decentralize its services. Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg, though, have frequently discussed decentralization, suggesting they have a personal fascination that goes beyond business interests.

Mr. Dorsey also hired a small team at his second company, Square, to work full time on Bitcoin, without any commercial responsibilities. And he recently announced that he was hoping to take an extended sojourn in Africa to understand how Bitcoin was working there.

“It’s clearly catching on in part because people believe in it,” said Neha Narula, the director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the M.I.T. Media Lab. “It’s not necessarily that it is cheaper or more efficient or faster or easier. In fact, it is much harder. But it’s clear that this idea speaks to people.”

Mr. Dorsey’s tweets last week suggest that he wants the new team, Blue Sky, to build essentially a basic version of Twitter that would be available for anyone to copy. This would make it easier for outside developers to build on top of Twitter and to compete with it. A competitor might be able to offer a version without ads, or one that recommends tweets to readers based on different standards.

While that would most likely pose a commercial threat to Twitter, Mr. Dorsey said it would also force the service to be “far more innovative than in the past” and could draw more overall users to it.

The idea of decentralization harks back to the basic design and ideals of the internet, which was supposed to be a global gathering place where everyone was welcome and no one was in charge.

Mr. Dorsey said the invention of Bitcoin had made it possible to revive those early ideals. The key to Bitcoin is its blockchain database, which provides a way for a network of disconnected computers to agree on a single set of records for every Bitcoin in existence.

Mr. Dorsey is following in the steps of the many cryptocurrency advocates who have argued that the underlying technology could be used to record all the users and activity on a social network, and to agree on a single set of rules for the network, without having any single company in charge. He said, though, that it would most likely take “many years.”

Facebook has pursued several projects over the past year that would shift control to its users.

The company’s most notable effort with blockchains is the Libra cryptocurrency, which aims to create money outside the control of any one company. The Libra effort has faced crippling opposition from politicians, regulators and even some of the project’s original partners. But it appears to have inspired central banks in China and Europe, which are also considering ways to duplicate Bitcoin’s underlying technology.

Already, many start-ups have tried to use blockchains to create social networks to compete with Twitter and Facebook. But these networks, with names like Minds and Steemit, have faced many of the same problems that Bitcoin has, struggling to attract mainstream attention and leaving users to fend off hackers themselves. Many investors have largely given up on blockchain investments.

Several up-and-coming projects focused on decentralization, including Mr. Berners-Lee’s Solid, have steered clear of the blockchain entirely because they don’t believe it is useful for anything other than financial transactions.

Mr. Dorsey said one of the great appeals of a decentralized future was that Twitter would no longer be the only one in charge of deciding what is and isn’t allowed on the network.

To many people, that sounded like an effort by Mr. Dorsey to wash his hands of the hardest but arguably most important responsibility of social networks today: identifying and filtering bad actors and disinformation.

“I’m concerned that Twitter may try to foist the responsibility for dealing with these problems onto the decentralization community,” said Ross Schulman, the senior policy technologist at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

A spokeswoman for Facebook had no comment on the company’s efforts.

Mastodon, the Twitter competitor, allows anyone to tweak the software in order to create his or her own version of Mastodon. If people don’t like the rules set up in one version, they can move to another.

But Mastodon has provided a window into just how difficult these problems are to deal with, even with decentralization.

The Mastodon software was created to form a refuge from anger and hate speech on Twitter. But recently, a social network with close ties to hate crimes and the far right, Gab, used Mastodon’s software to create a new home after it was pushed off the mainstream internet. Mastodon’s leaders were opposed to it but could do little to stop it.

“Building these types of decentralized social networks comes with a slew of challenges that we haven’t figured out how to solve yet,” said Ms. Narula, who was a co-author of an article titled “Decentralized Social Networks Sound Great. Too Bad They’ll Never Work.”