How Facebook Might Have Actually Helped Trump Win–And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

As was highlighted in yesterday’s indictment, there is a lot of attention being paid to Russian actions on Facebook, giving a false impression that this was the deciding factor in the election. As I pointed out again yesterday, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding Russian actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads¬†were very trivial¬†considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The¬†Congressional testimony¬†revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for ‚Äúless than 0.004 percent of all content ‚ÄĒ or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items‚ÄĚ on Facebook.¬†Over half the ads¬†were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also¬†targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states¬†which cost Clinton the election.

While the overall influence of Facebook on the election is unknown, if Facebook did influence the election there were factors far more important than the Russian activities. Both sides had many supporters who posted substantially far more on line for their candidate than anything coming from Russia. The Clinton campaign and its allies also utilized an army of paid trolls which were¬† more prevalent on social media than the Russians. The Trump campaign effectively used social media in a manner which was totally legal and had nothing to do with Russia–Facebook employees embedded in the campaign to instruct them in the most effective way to use social media.

The Guardian looked at how the Trump campaign used the Facebook embeds, based upon a story on CBS News:

The Trump presidential campaign spent most of its digital advertising budget on Facebook, testing more than 50,000 ad variations each day in an attempt to micro-target voters, Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview scheduled to air on Sunday night.

‚ÄúTwitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won,‚ÄĚ Parscale said…

Parscale said the Trump campaign used Facebook to reach clusters of rural voters, such as ‚Äú15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for‚ÄĚ.

‚ÄúI started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.‚ÄĚ

Parscale said the campaign constantly tested minute variations in the design, color, background and phrasing of Facebook ads, in order to maximize their impact. Typically 50,000 to 60,000 variations were tested each day, he said, and sometimes as many as 100,000.

But Parscale’s comments highlight how actively Facebook has pursued election advertising as a business strategy, even as its platform has come under attack as a fertile ground for Russian-backed political propaganda, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation.

Among other services, Facebook’s elections advertising allows campaigns to take lists of registered voters drawn from public records and find those people on Facebook.

Parscale said he asked the Facebook ‚Äúembeds‚ÄĚ to teach staffers everything the Clinton campaign would be told about Facebook advertising ‚Äúand then some‚ÄĚ…

Parscale told CBS he was told the Clinton campaign did not use Facebook employee embeds. ‚ÄúI had heard that they did not accept any of [Facebook‚Äôs] offers,‚ÄĚ he said.

While Clinton did not take advantage of this opportunity, there are other ways in which Facebook has been biased towards Clinton which might have offsetted this potential advantage for Trump.

Yesterday’s indictment by Robert Mueller was about violations of federal election laws by Russians. As Rod Rosenstein verified, it was not about altering the election result. It is less clear how much legal activities on Facebook contributed to the ultimate result.

Today’s Indictments Do Not Support Narratives Of Either Republican Or Democratic Partisans Regarding Russia

Once again the objective facts released with regards to the Russia investigation run counter to the narratives of both Republican and Democratic partisans. The details presented in today’s indictment issued by Robert Mueller again contradicts claims from some Republicans that there was absolutely no Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Of course that was an absurd stand from the start. Russian has meddled in our elections for years, as the United States has meddled in their elections, and both countries have meddled in elections in multiple other countries. On the other hand, the indictments provide nothing to back the Democratic conspiracy theories of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign which somehow stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

We have known for some time that Russians have been active on social media. With the long history of both sides meddling in each other’s affairs, and with the growth of social media, those who are shocked by this are astonishingly naive. Nor is it a surprise that such actions violated federal election laws. As the indictment states, “FECA prohibits foreign nationals from making any contributions, expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements for electioneering communications. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.” A far more interesting potential development would be, as I’ve speculated in the past, if there are grounds for a future indictment against Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kusnher for their attempts to obtain information from Russians at the Trump Tower meeting.

We know from the Trump Tower meeting that the Trump campaign had no qualms against colluding with Russia. However, while the Russians enticed them to attend, they had no information to actually offer. The indictment indicates other contacts between Russians and the Trump Campaign, however without the knowledge of the Trump Campaign. As the indictment states, “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

While it would hardly surprise me if there were to turn out to be some members of the Trump campaign who did knowingly communicate with Russians, at this time there remains no evidence of any collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia, even if members of Trump’s family did show a willingness to collude with Russians. Obtaining the actual facts, as opposed to promoting the claims of partisans on either side, remains the top priority.

As¬†Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed, “There is no allegation in the indictment on the outcome of the election.” After over a year of investigations, there remains no evidence that Russia had any effect on the election result, no matter how much Hillary Clinton and her supporters wish to claim this.

While the activities of the Russians very well might have violated federal election laws, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding their actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The¬†Congressional testimony¬†revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for ‚Äúless than 0.004 percent of all content ‚ÄĒ or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items‚ÄĚ on Facebook.¬†Over half the ads¬†were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

The hysteria spread by many establishment  Democrats over Russian actions on social media, along with other false media reports regarding Russia, has had many adverse consequences including providing the Democratic establishment a bogus excuse for not correcting the actual mistakes which cost them the election after giving the nomination to a candidate so weak that she could not beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, increasing Cold War style tensions with a nuclear power, playing into the desires of neocons who have been exaggerating Russian influence on the 2016 election, and increasing censorship of Americans (not Russians) on Facebook. Using Russian activity on social media to censor Americans is a far greater threat to our democracy than any actions done by Russians.

Facebook “Techno-Fascism” Is Killing Everything From Independent News To Comedy On The Internet

Facebook is bringing communities together–and deciding what we might say and read. This includes both outright Facebook censorship in which posts are taken down and people are placed in “Facebook Jail,” to new algorithms which limit what we see on our timeline. The new algorithms have greatly reduced traffic to many outside sources harming blogs, the independent media, and even internet comedy.

Antimedia writes that¬†Facebook Begins Killing the Independent News Industry. While Facebook has had considerable impact on internet traffic for years, the problem became more severe with the spread of anti-Russia hysteria based on¬†highly exaggerated claims regarding the role of social media on the results of the 2016 election. The response from Facebook has to fight “fake news,” which, as Glenn Greenwald has warned, is often used as an excuse for censorship. Presumably the writings of those of us who warned about the dubious arguments for the Iraq war, along with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war, would have been classified as “fake news” by the mainstream in the past. Today alternative views on both the left and right are being restricted. Anti-Media saw the turning point as when Barack Obama spoke with Mark Zuckerberg about battling “fake news.”

…Zuckerberg has slowly been chipping away at¬†‚Äúfake news‚Ä̬†sites even when he previously believed that they were not even a particular issue.¬†Following the infamous¬†PropOrNot report barely a week later, which effectively labelled every single site that criticizes U.S. foreign policy as a Russian agent, alternative media has faced a slow and inevitable decline.

In September last year, acclaimed writer Chris Hedges of Truthdig wrote:

‚ÄúIn the name of combating Russia-inspired ‚Äėfake news,‚Äô Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by ‚Äėevaluators,‚Äô that hunt for key words such as ‚ÄėU.S. military,‚Äô ‚Äėinequality‚Äô and ‚Äėsocialism,‚Äô along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google‚Äôs vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 ‚Äėevaluators‚Äô to determine the ‚Äėquality‚Äô and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.‚ÄĚ

At first, it was corporate gate-keepers like the¬†Guardian¬†who¬†were begging for donations¬†in the age of Trump, as they had lost all credibility in keeping up with the needs and interests of the people. Now, we¬†are all asking for donations, as Facebook‚Äôs algorithms are cutting off close to 100 percent of our Facebook audiences…

This has nothing to do with combating¬†‚Äúfake news.‚Ä̬†I have written over¬†400 articles online, and close to 100 percent of my sources are from mainstream outlets like Reuters, the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Washington Post, and others. Why should we be censored for referencing the very news outlets that people like Obama want us to trust in the first place?

We are being censored because we look for the paragraphs in those reports which need highlighting, or the hidden reports that go overlooked, and we broadcast it to millions of people on a daily basis.

Many other sites on both the left and right are reporting similar difficulties. As Hedges pointed out, this has often been pushed by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Supporters of Hillary Clinton have been especially aggressive in filing bogus complaints with Facebook regarding those who disagree with them, and Clinton has outright attacked sources such as Wikileaks, while using what she claims is “fake news” critical of her (even when it is often true) as justification for censorship. Donald Trump has taken a position similar to Clinton’s in backing censorship.

While not true of all, many of us in the blogosphere and alternative press also frequently use mainstream news outlets as a major source of information, even if we do highlight key facts which are often ignored by the talking heads who try to tell us what to think on cable and broadcast news. Articles coming from a small site such as this typically are backed up with multiple references from major media sources, but Facebook algorithms now hide what we write.

The alternative press is probably suffering the most, but Funny or Die also complains about How Facebook Is Killing Comedy:

The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone‚Äôs content.¬†Today, there‚Äôs no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet…

Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content. If you run a large publishing company and you make a big piece of content that you feel proud of, you put it up on Facebook. From there, their algorithm takes over, with no transparency. So, not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers. So, Facebook gets the ad revenue from the eyeballs on the thing they are seeing, and they get revenue from the publisher. It’s like if TheNew York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.

The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We‚Äôre used to a world where if you put something out there that‚Äôs good, people see it and share it. But that‚Äôs just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it‚Äôs not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn‚Äôt do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore…

Facebook says that they are building communities, but really they’re fracturing us. We are all on our own little news bubbles and on our own little islands. It’s also fracturing our own creative projects. The internet has turned into a place where you can’t have many different people speaking as one entity and expect those people to make a living. And to me, those are the most exciting, rewarding projects, and I can’t make those now. I am looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but you can say categorically that the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.

It looks like we have been warned about this. Back in 2015, Mark Carrigan warned about Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of techno-fascism.

Facebook Misses The Point Regarding The Effects of Social Media on Democracy In Censoring Posts


Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook Product Manager, Civic Engagement has a post up entitled Hard Questions: What Effect Does Social Media Have on Democracy? The post is part of a series on social media and democracy which Facebook has started.

In light of all the problems with Facebook censoring discussion I entered this comment:

Democracy thrives with open discussion, but instead Facebook had been censoring political discussion, using algorithms which incorrectly label comments as spam, or perhaps due to falling for partisans who file false complaints because they disagree with a post.

Democracy thrives with the free spread of information, but instead Facebook also frequently blocks posts with links, falsely calling them spam, or perhaps seeing them as fake news. Labels of fake news have far too often been used as an excuse for censorship.

Rather than finding ways to restrict discussion, if you believe in democracy you should be getting out of way and allow us to freely discuss the issues and share information.

I subsequently saw another post discussing this from Cass Sunstein and added a similar response.

Washington Post Columnist Debunks Claims Of Russia Affecting Election Result Despite Many Other Misleading Articles At The Post On Russia

The Washington Post has been spreading a lot of false stories which increase hysteria about Russia, similar to stories about fictitious WMD in Iraq prior to the Iraq war. However, despite the general fallacious editorial view of the newspaper, one columnist actually got matters right recently, debunking claims that Russian ads on social media affected the election results.

Glenn Greenwald once again criticized the coverage in The Washington Post yesterday in an article entitled  WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral:¬†one on¬†how Russia is behind a massive explosion of ‚Äúfake news,‚Ä̬†the other¬†on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a¬†humiliating editor‚Äôs note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the¬†story were fiction: The first note was posted¬†a full two weeks later¬†to the top of the original article; the other was¬†buried the following day¬†at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I¬†wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no ‚Äúpenetration of the U.S. electricity grid‚ÄĚ as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor‚Äôs note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of¬†a separate article¬†admitting that ‚Äúthe incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility‚ÄĚ and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That‚Äôs because journalists ‚ÄĒ including those at the Post ‚ÄĒ aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper‚Äôs executive editor, Marty Baron,¬†recently boasted¬†about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It¬†was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post‚Äôs expos√© of the enormous reach of Russia‚Äôs fake news operation, based on what he heralded as¬†the findings of ‚Äúindependent researchers.‚ÄĚ Baron‚Äôs tweet went all over the place; to date, it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

But¬†after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism ‚ÄĒ from¬†Adrian Chen in the New Yorker¬†(‚Äúpropaganda about Russia propaganda‚ÄĚ),¬†Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone¬†(‚Äúshameful, disgusting‚ÄĚ),¬†my own article, and many others ‚ÄĒ including¬†legal threats from the sites smeared¬†as¬†Russian propaganda outlets by¬†the Post‚Äôs ‚Äúindependent researchers‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ the Post finally added its lengthy editor‚Äôs note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (‚ÄúThe Post ‚Ķ does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot‚Äôs findings‚ÄĚ and¬†‚Äúsince publication of the Post‚Äôs story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list‚ÄĚ)…

Greenwald proceeded to provide many more examples of poor media coverage. Of course misleading coverage is not limited to The Washington Post as I described here. There have been multiple examples of various news sources posting material on Russia which was later retracted as false. Then there is the hysterical coverage at MSNBC.

Despite the overall misleading coverage, there is a recent exception at The Washington Post. Philip Bump wrote,¬†There‚Äôs still little evidence that Russia‚Äôs 2016 social media efforts did much of anything.¬†This overlaps with the material ¬†I previously posted here,¬†but includes some additional facts worth reading. As I previously noted, the information released after the Congressional investigations showed that¬†material from Russian pages accounted for ‚Äúless than 0.004 percent of all content ‚ÄĒ or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items‚ÄĚ on Facebook.

Bump discussed the false narrative that Russia was responsible for Clinton’s loss, and wrote:

All of that, though, requires setting aside what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a series of examples of the sorts of ads purchased by the Russians in November. Many, as The Washington Post reported, focused on highlighting divisive cultural issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration.

Of the 30 ads shared by the Democrats, six, viewed 1.2 million times in total, ran in 2015. Only seven ran in the last month of the campaign, totaling about 340,000 views. The ads targeted none of the four closest states in the election ‚ÄĒ New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ‚ÄĒ specifically; most were national ad buys. States that were targeted specifically included Texas and New York, neither of which was considered a swing state.

A little-noticed statement from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailed how unsophisticated the Russian ad targeting actually was in the context of the election. Among the points he made:

  • Maryland was targeted by nearly five times as many ads as was Wisconsin (262 to 55).
  • Thirty-five of the 55 ads targeting Wisconsin ran during the primary.
  • More ads targeted DC than Pennsylvania.
  • A total of $1,979 was spent in Wisconsin ‚ÄĒ $1,925 of it in the primary.
  • The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania were $823 and $300, respectively.
  • More of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016.

Facebook‚Äôs own public numbers hint at how the ads were weighted relative to the campaign. Ten million people saw ads run by the Russian agents ‚ÄĒ but 5.6 million of those views were¬†after¬†the election.

Bump also debunked the claims regarding Twitter:

Just before Election Day in 2016, Twitter¬†announced¬†1 billion tweets had been sent from August 2015 through that point. Even assuming all 202,000 of those tweets from the Russian accounts were in that period, it means they constituted 0.02 percent of the election-related tweets. On Election Day itself, there were¬†another¬†75 million election-related tweets. If¬†all¬†of the Russian-linked tweets had been dropped on Election Day ‚ÄĒ closer to the point at which they would have directly helped suppress or boost turnout ‚ÄĒ they would still only have constituted 0.27 percent of the tweets that day. But they weren‚Äôt.

Perhaps, one might argue, there is classified information about Russia’s meddling that suggests a more dramatic problem. Perhaps. On Thursday morning, though, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) of the House intelligence committee told CNN he hadn’t seen much evidence of any criminal collusion the American people weren’t already aware of. (There’s also the argument that, in an election as close as that of 2016, even small efforts by Russian actors might have had an outsized effect. This is true, but it is also true of hundreds of other small things that happened (and didn’t) in the closing days of the presidential race.)

As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.

In other words, while there is evidence of Donald Trump acting to cover-up crimes such as money laundering, the evidence disputes Clinton’s claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election results.

Study Casts Doubt On Fake News Affecting Election Results

Fake news was probably the most over-used word of 2016-7. This was used to refer to both false information (as if this was a brand new problem) and subsequently used to refer to any material people did not like, regardless of its veracity. Hillary Clinton has used claims that fake news affected the election to support censorship. Facebook has been censoring legitimate news in their overreaction to fake news. While I don’t think that anyone doubts that the internet is full of false information, the more important question is whether people are actually fooled by it. While providing no definitive answer,¬†The New York Times reported on a study which presents reasons to question whether fake news had a significant effect on the 2016 election results.

Not surprisingly fake news is widespread, and more widespread in conservative circles.¬† The study found that, “the most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of visits to fake news sites.” That comes as little surprise after the 2016 election. There were both factual and totally fictitious reasons spread in 2016 as to vote against Hillary Clinton. In contrast, while some attacks on Donald Trump might have had some minor errors, the case against him was generally based upon reality. Plus there is a long history of false information coming from conservative sites, such as the Birther claims when Obama was president, and much of what is on Fox every night. (Unfortunately MSNBC is now acting increasingly like Fox).

From the description of the study:

In the new study, a trio of political scientists ‚ÄĒ Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College (a regular contributor to The Times‚Äôs Upshot), Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter ‚ÄĒ analyzed web traffic data gathered from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by the survey and analytic firm YouGov.

The data included website visits made in the weeks before and after the 2016 election, and a measure of political partisanship based on overall browsing habits. (The vast majority of participants favored Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton.)

The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false stories, as defined by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow in research published last year. On 289 such sites, about 80 percent of bogus articles supported Mr. Trump.

A key finding was that, “false stories were a small fraction of the participants‚Äô overall news diet, regardless of political preference: just 1 percent among Clinton supporters, and 6 percent among those pulling for Mr. Trump. Even conservative partisans viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”

Most of the people reading fake news were both intensely partisan, probably making them unlikely to change their minds based upon fake claims, and obtained information from a variety of sources (hopefully making them more likely to see through fake news):

‚ÄúFor all the hype about fake news, it‚Äôs important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,‚ÄĚ Dr. Nyhan said.

‚ÄúThey were also voracious consumers of hard news,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúThese are people intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.‚ÄĚ

Given the ratio of truth to fiction, Dr. Watts said, fake news paled in influence beside mainstream news coverage, particularly stories about Mrs. Clinton and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Coverage of that topic appeared repeatedly and prominently in venues like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Of course many Democratic partisans are likely to see the email scandal as fake news. As I noted at the start of this post, fake news has increasingly been used to refer to material people do not like, regardless of whether it is factual.

It was not terribly surprising to see that, “Facebook was by far the platform through which people most often navigated to a fake news site.” However the article does not compare this to the amount of factual information which is also navigated to through Facebook. Regardless, Facebook is hardly the best way for people to get their news, as this post at Mashable pointed out.

This data does not say definitely whether fake news affected the election result. Is possible that some people did vote against Clinton based upon false information in the battleground states which cost her the election. However, considering what the study shows about the readers of fake news, it is more likely that economic conditions in the rust belt, along with Clinton’s many mistakes while campaigning, as opposed to reading some of the more outlandish fake stories about Hillary Clinton, cost her the election.¬†It is doubtful that fake news had any more impact than the rather insignificant Russian ads on social media.

The Power Of Facebook Necessitates A Reconsideration Of First Amendment Rights In The Digital Age

The First Amendment, written in a previous century to protect the freedom of expression of Americans, is under a new challenge in the digital age which the Founding Fathers could not have imagined. Increasingly communication is done online rather than in newspapers or shouting from the town square. The internet can increase opportunities for free expression when anyone can write from their own web page, but increasingly communication is being channeled through limited sources. Facebook has become indispensable for communicating, now with over two billion active users worldwide.

Unfortunately First Amendment rights to not apply on Facebook, and Facebook is showing an irresponsible disregard for freedom of expression among its users. This is seen both in intentional censorship and when people are prevented from communicating due to poorly conceived policies and faulty algorithms.

I previously discussed Facebook censorship in this post in October. Examples included a political candidate who was prohibited from posting on his own campaign page.

Censorship is not limited to politics. A healthcare blog, The Doctor Weighs In, has discussed absurd Facebook policies which restricted them.¬† Facebook called¬† picture of a child receiving a vaccination ‚Äúshocking, sensational, or overly violent.‚ÄĚ A post on burning fat was rejected because some might find it degrading.

The Intercept describes today how Facebook is deleting accounts at the direction of the United States and Israeli governments. The New York Times provided additional examples of similar Facebook censorship two days ago.  Journalists have often been caught up in Facebook censorship, such as in this example of a Pulitzer-winning reporter described by The Guardian. Forbes noted:

Indeed, journalists themselves have frequently served as a check on Facebook’s power of censorship. Time and again, Facebook has deleted a post or suspended a user who tries in vain to get their post or account restored for days or weeks to no avail, only to have the post/account instantly restored the moment a major news outlet contacts the company for comment. If journalism itself was subject to the same power of censorship and Facebook could simply delete, prohibit or deemphasize posts about its censorship activities, it could very rapidly eliminate one of the few avenues of redress for its actions.

Unfortunately most of us do not have the ability to force Facebook to review its actions as major news outlets do. Individuals on Facebook can have posts blocked, and be placed in “Facebook Jail” and be unable to post for variable lengths of time. While sometimes there might be actual violations of their “Community Standards,” quite often that is not the case. Posts might be picked up as “spam” by their faulty algorithms, or due to politically-motivated complaints from people who disagree with them.

Last week this blog post was blocked by Facebook. While some might disagree, I bet nobody can find anything actually offensive in it. I appealed, saying it is not spam but only received a response saying, “We’ll try to take another look to check if it goes against our¬†Community Standards¬†and send you a message here in your Support Inbox if we have an update.” A week has passed with no further response. It doesn’t necessarily help if they do review a post. Earlier in December I was placed in “Facebook Jail” for a post which they initially said was spam. After I responded that it was not spam I got this response:

Thanks again for letting us know about this post. We took another look and found it doesn’t go against our¬†Community Standards, so we’ve restored your post. We’re sorry for the trouble and appreciate you taking the time to get in touch with us so that we could correct this.

They technically restored the post, but despite agreeing that the post was not spam they left me in Facebook Jail which mean that I still could not post in groups for a few more days, and the post they restored could not actually be seen.

Facebook is increasingly being used for political organization, but its censorship could interfere with protests. Today those who question aspects of “Russiagate” are often censored. Would Facebook have also censored those of us in 2003 who were questioning the government’s claims about WMD in Iraq? Would Facebook have suppressed discussion of the Pentagon Papers and other protests about the Vietnam war? They previously censored the iconic picture of a¬†9-year-old girl fleeing napalm bombs in 1972. Conservatives also complain that their views are being censored by Facebook. Facebook should not be deciding what views can be expressed from either the left or the right.

While preparing this post I found the above examples of censorship by Facebook and other social media sites, along with many more. I also found this Online Censorship organization which is seeking examples of censorship. Hopefully online organizations can be pressured into being more accountable towards their users and to show greater respect for freedom of expression.

Russia Tries To Play Hillary Clinton’s Game, Complaining Of Foreign Interference In Their Election

Russia is taking a lesson from Hillary Clinton in whining and irrational complaints, now complaining of foreign intervention.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination in a system which was essentially as rigged as picking nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled room–or almost as rigged as a typical Russian election. When she thought that she was going to win,¬†Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. When she subsequently lost as a consequence of her own faults, Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of losing to place the blame on others, and later became even more aggressive in questioning the legitimacy of the election.

Clinton participated in a sham nomination battle in which the rules were rigged to deliver her the nomination and refused to accept the legitimacy of the general election after losing. Putin didn’t even bother with super delegates or debate restrictions–and he is not going to risk making losing a possibility. He simply prohibited¬†opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against him when he runs for reelection. Navalny was barred from running due to an embezzlement charge which the European Court of Human Rights¬†determined in October¬†to be”arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

As I noted back in a 2007 post, this is not the first time in which the Russian government has acted to prevent opposition forces from competing in elections.

The State Department protested:

…a State Department representative expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”

“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded on Facebook by accusing the US of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs.”

In our era of constant world-wide interaction on social media we will always see “interference” in foreign elections if any comments by one government is considered to be interference. What matters is that there is no reason that the United States State Department cannot comment on the undemocratic nature of the Russian election. This “interference” is no more likely to alter the results of the Russian election than Russian activity on social media affected the results of the US election.

Besides, Democrats in the United States have been helping Putin quite a bit. Russian opponents of Putin have complained that the false portrayal of Putin as such an powerful puppet master that he can alter foreign elections enhances his reputation and political strength.

Facebook Posts Tool To Tell If You Followed Any Russian Pages

Facebook recently posted a tool which will check whether you followed any of the alleged Russian Facebook pages or Instagram accounts. I thought it was certainly a possibility as during the election I did follow several anti-Clinton pages. It looks like the were all legitimate after using their tool. Several Facebook friends have also checked and so far I have not found anyone who reports that any of the pages they followed was Russian.

Russian material very likely was lost among the huge amount of noise present on Facebook.¬†¬†Russian material was a minuscule percentage of overall material on Facebook.¬†The¬†Congressional testimony revealed that¬† material from these Russian pages accounted for ‚Äúless than 0.004 percent of all content ‚ÄĒ or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items‚ÄĚ on Facebook. That is hardly enough to have impacted the election result.

It is also probably because the Russians ads appear to have been targeted towards a more conservative audience. Most people are not likely to change their minds as to who to vote for based upon something they see on Facebook, and people joining a political group already have their minds made up. Sure they can get some clicks by posting anti-Clinton material directed towards Republican voters, but those voters 1) already have seen the same from multiple other sources, and 2) were not going to vote for Clinton even before seeing material from Russia.

While the Russian material is portrayed as being pro-Trump and anti-Clinton, much of it had nothing to do with the election, and that which was about the election was not necessarily pro-Trump.¬†The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election.

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by¬†Jackson Lears,¬†Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Mat√© in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all.¬†Mat√© concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia.¬†Mat√© began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the ‚Äúvirtually uncontested truths‚ÄĚ of the year‚Äôs ‚Äúbiggest story‚ÄĚ remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence‚Äôs¬†January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are ‚Äúnot intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.‚ÄĚ Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually¬†every¬†major¬†outlet¬†reported¬†claims¬†in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. ‚ÄúThe majority of the activity was simple scanning,‚ÄĚ Krebs told a¬†House panel. ‚ÄúScanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.‚Ķ If that context was not provided, I apologize.‚ÄĚ He added: ‚ÄúWhen we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.‚ÄĚ

Krebs‚Äôs contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and¬†continue¬†to¬†do so¬†as part of Russiagate‚Äôs ‚Äúvirtually uncontested truths.‚ÄĚ The falsity of the ‚Äú21 states‚ÄĚ claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that¬†took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN‚Äôs¬†erroneous report¬†that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks‚Äô trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails¬†before¬†their public release. In a story line worthy of¬†Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong‚ÄĒsomeone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only¬†after¬†they were already all over the Internet. As¬†Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story‚Äôs ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their ‚Äúmultiple sources‚ÄĚ all ‚Äúconfirmed‚ÄĚ the same incorrect date.

Mat√© discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago,¬†The New York Times¬†warned¬†that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote ‚Äúcould raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum‚ÄĚ itself. ‚ÄúI have a very simple message for Russia,‚Ä̬†declared¬†British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. ‚ÄúWe know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.‚ÄĚ

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing:¬†According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers.¬†Facebook reported¬†a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, ‚Äúall centered on immigration and aimed at American users,‚ÄĚ reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May‚Äôs confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The¬†forced registration of RT America¬†as a ‚Äúforeign agent‚ÄĚ was followed by the¬†revoking¬†of the outlet‚Äôs congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation,¬†The Huffington Post¬†removed an article¬†by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that¬†methodically challenged¬†Russiagate‚Äôs precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein¬†confirmed¬†that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, ‚Äúcollusion with the Russians.‚ÄĚ

Despite¬†multiple¬†interviews¬†explaining the nature of¬†a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a¬†Kremlin stooge. ‚ÄúHere‚Äôs hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,‚Ä̬†commented¬†liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase ‚ÄúJill Stein is a Russian agent‚ÄĚ to his Twitter followers¬†eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a ‚Äúresurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.‚ÄĚ But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. ‚ÄúAny genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,‚ÄĚ the¬†New York Times¬†editors write of Trump‚Äôs right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a ‚Äúself-sustaining fantasyland‚ÄĚ of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump‚Äôs reality.