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Facebook and democracy

Written By: - Date published: 7:56 am, October 16th, 2017 - 27 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, democratic participation, facebook, interweb, spin, us politics - Tags: , , ,

Much has been written about social media and democracy, but this long and extensively linked piece is one of the best. Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic: What Facebook Did to American Democracy. Well worth reading the whole thing, but for a road map here are the featured quotes:

The potential for Facebook to have an impact on an election was clear for at least half a decade.

From the system’s perspective, success is correctly predicting what you’ll like, comment on, or share.

If every News Feed is different, how can anyone understand what other people are seeing and responding to?

Across the landscape, it began to dawn on people: Damn, Facebook owns us.

Videos changed the dynamics of the News Feed for anyone trying to understand what the hell was going on.

By July, Breitbart had surpassed The New York Times’ main account in interactions.

The fake news generated a ton of engagement, which meant that it spread far and wide.

The influence campaign just happened on Facebook without anyone noticing.

“These social platforms are all invented by very liberal people. And we figure out how to use it to push conservative values.”

“Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

The very roots of the electoral system had been destabilized.

27 comments on “Facebook and democracy”

  1. Which means that facebook and other social media need to be heavily regulated so as to prevent such manipulation through fake news and other forms of lying.

    • esoteric pineapples 1.1

      Funny how that’s exactly what Steve Bannon wants:


      And the Conservative Party in Britain:


      The only people who are going to benefit from regulation are those who want to control the media, not those who are interested in free speech.

      • You may not have noticed but the manipulation is already happening and we can’t do anything about it due to lack of regulation.

        You’re making the mistake of assuming that regulation is bad because the Tories want it.

    • shorts 1.2


      Fake news and outright lies were the mainstay of the regulated mainstream media through the election cycle – reporting what they were told…

      regulation won’t stop those with no ethic or morals whom have a high level of contempt for the average voter

      Labour suffered this election to Nationals lies… how can that be changed given bullshit attracts… explanations repeal

      there’s no easy answer as long as the electorate is uneducated to issues and policy – ie apathy

      • Fake news and outright lies were the mainstay of the regulated mainstream media through the election cycle – reporting what they were told…

        Are they truly regulated?

        Sure, there’s codes of behaviour but they’re regulated by themselves and not by some government agency with teeth.

        Labour suffered this election to Nationals lies… how can that be changed given bullshit attracts… explanations repeal (repel?)

        We know National lied. We have lots of evidence for that. Such lies should result in those MPs becoming ex-MPs and going to jail.

        there’s no easy answer as long as the electorate is uneducated to issues and policy – ie apathy

        We can be reasonably certain that maintaining zero regulations is not the way to go about it though.

      • red-blooded 1.2.2

        Actually, Shorts, the MSM did quite a valiant job in pointing out the fact that Joyce and English were lying. They called them on it multiple times. Many other experts were called in to counter the fake news. That’s not to say that the lies didn’t have an effect – they did, but I’d say it was mainly through advertising, rather than news,e editorial and opinion pieces. These all leaned heavily towards trying to clarify matters for the voters and point out that the only ones peddling this line were National.

        • shorts

          not sure I’d say they did a valiant job, the non mainstream types did the initial work and the mainstream followed behind… while happily pocketing the ad revenue for nationals taxes ads etc

          the time for them to have acted was when widely reporting the initial lie, not a few days later, by then social media was in heavy confirmation bias mode

  2. Adrian Thornton 2

    I find it pretty ironic that MSM have this well founded fear of the fake news, however they never acknowledge their own very real part in creating news ( which is by extension fake news), just look at our own election cycle, NZ MSM told us all that there was this huge youth quake about to explode on to the political landscape at any moment…this narrative was never true and never based on any facts that I am aware of.
    MSM need to get back to the job of reporting the facts on stories and not creating them.

  3. Bill 3

    Haven’t the Brexit Brigade (or was it the Tory party in the GE) been had up for employing a US based company to target fb posts to identified demographics?

    And if a US based company could be employed by a UK political actor, then it has to be presumed that said US company had experience in targeting posts/messages, no?

    And yet right up at the top of that Atlantic piece we have a reference made to the Russian information ops agency – whatever the fck that is or might be beyond the fevered imagination of a certain class of idiot that probably concurs with Morgan Freeman’s assertion that “We are at war”.

    And then we have the further idiocy – actually just another instance of propaganda – that refers to some propaganda as “fake news” as though some other propaganda is nought but objective truth. 🙄

    edit – some links pertaining to my comment added retrospectively.

    • Sparky 3.1

      Yes their has been all sorts of nonsense flying around. Calling Russian news sites “foreign agents” for example:


      Reality is I have checked a lot of reporting on sites like RT and for the most part its pretty accurate and unbiased.

      • William 3.1.1

        Really! I used to dip into RT off the satellite, until during Ukraine and the Crimea and passenger aircraft being shot down, when it became obvious ‘accuracy’ & ‘unbiased’ were the last things they were interested in.

        Have you looked at the comments on that article you’ve linked to? Lots of

        This message was deleted.
        This message was deleted.
        This message was deleted.

        RT have a page about posting rules
        which seems fairly standard, but somehow they feel the need to delete frequently.

        Grounds for deletion includes ‘complaints about your posts being deleted’

        • Sparky

          i doubt William any news site is completely unbiased. With regards to the passenger jet no one really knows who is responsible for that.

          In terms of comments some of them are “toxic” so yes they are moderated and those complaining are in my experience often the ones posting nonsense to start with.

          I would say show me a Western news service that allows you to post comments at all and indeed of those that do moderation is the norm.

          • William

            Sparky wrote;
            “I would say show me a Western news service that allows you to post comments at all and indeed of those that do moderation is the norm.”

            First you challenge me to identify a service that allows comments at all (implying none do), and then you turn around and agree they do, but with moderation. Make up your mind.

            Regarding MH17 that was shot down, I wasn’t placing blame (although the Dutch investigation has since produced compelling evidence), but commenting that RT’s coverage at the time was certainly not ‘accurate & unbiased’ as you claimed.

            • Richard Christie

              RT’s coverage at the time was certainly not ‘accurate & unbiased’ as you claimed.

              Sure, but western media coverage of the MH17 incident was easily as biased as RT’s coverage at the time.

              I suggest that much RT’s bias was a deliberate counter, made in response the the western media’s hysteria, Putin demonisation and blame laying.

            • Sparky

              I think my comments were pretty clear and I stand by them William.

              Most services in the West don’t allow comment and those few that do moderate as does everyone.

              With regards to MH17 no one knows emphatically what happened and any claims really amount to speculation.

              End of story.

    • Peroxide Blonde 3.2

      Farage and the Tories were supported by the Mercer family who control Cambridge Analytica and other entities that were behind the Russian manipulation of Brexit and Trump’s election.
      I can’t wait to see Farage arrested. He also met up Assange a few times in the London embassy. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

      The commentator who has been proven to be right and ahead of the news is Louse Mensch https://twitter.com/LouiseMensch .

      This has been the most phenomenally successful Intelligence

  4. Sparky 4

    If the MSM were such a reputable source of fair and unbiased journalism they would have little to worry about from social media and other non standard news sources.

    • Bill 4.1

      I don’t think they’d need to be “fair and unbiased”. Honestly bias and informative would more than suffice (and is achievable).

      • Sparky 4.1.1

        I was being ironic Bill but yes if they could moderate themselves that would be nice but I wont hold my breath…….

  5. William 5

    The media reporting of how Russia uses facebook has emphasized the paid advertising. But as reported in The Atlantic article;
    “As many people have noted, the 3,000 ads that have been linked to Russia are a drop in the bucket, even if they did reach millions of people. The real game is simply that Russian operatives created pages that reached people “organically,” as the saying goes.”
    Facebook is hypocritical in the way they require users to register using their real name ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook_real-name_policy_controversy ) and yet they then allow users to anonymously create pages that carry absolutely no information identifying the creator. Not only can creators make posts, they can also moderate the resulting comment threads to enhance their perspective, all secretly. This problem occurs at all levels, I see it in a very local controversy within my suburb.
    This could be easily fixed, require page creators to identify themselves!

  6. Et Tu Brute 6

    I think the only way forward is education. If people know how to spot lies and nuance, if they know what counts as proof and how arguments are constructed, then they’ll be less influenced by fake news. Government control would just put power in the hands of those who control the narrative. It would struggle to actually stop fake news spreading, because once it is out there the damage is done. Deleting it 24 hours later doesn’t work. And if not Facebook news feeds, it will be on blogs, or other news sites. Have a look at China and see how ineffective the great firewall is at actually stopping news getting through. In fact it could make it worse. At the moment the boogieman controlling the media in every conspiracy theory doesn’t exist. Bring in some heavy handed government control, and all of a sudden that boogieman becomes far more believable.

    • If people know how to spot lies and nuance, if they know what counts as proof and how arguments are constructed, then they’ll be less influenced by fake news.

      Spotting lies is difficult. The only way to do it as far as politics goes is to have the facts on hand and being able to do that would take time.

  7. reason 7

    Sorry William …. rather flippant of me.

    I just couldn’t be bothered writing a long post on the anonymous marketing and false bot accounts of which I’d imagine Russians are but a comparatively small part of in the face-book scheme of things.

    Google with its search market dominance …. combined with Zucker-book would seem to have our internet set up to deliver western propaganda … if they choose.

    25,000 odd staff at the NSA … China would probably be the next largest group of Govt internet hackers and gatherers …. Israelis … Brits ….. Russians…..

    ……All these Govt prats swarming the internet …. and they still can’t sort out The dick pics problems …. .

    RT is undoubtedly a propaganda platform ….

    But Pilger and others who appear on it are often denied the same airtime in our mainstream media…. I pick my media by watching or reading reporters and writers who time has proven truthful.

    RT has a few of them on,

    People like Nickey Hager, Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman Fisk etc …. are not given the voice of our Plunkets, Henrys and Hoskings in our media ….

    and our media propaganda is just as undeclared as Zucker-face-book political marketing campaigns ….

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