The Facebook Follies

What harm does Facebook do? In the last several months, it appears to have done plenty, opening its platform to operatives who were directly or indirectly employed by the Trump campaign. There is always someone new to blame for electing Donald Trump: depending on who you ask, it was Bernie Sanders, “the alt right,” Bernie bros, “the Russians,” Jill Stein, anyone who ever criticized Hillary Clinton, the electoral college, “the left,” Susan Sarandon, women who are going to hell for not supporting other women, Robbie Mook, Anthony Weiner — you could probably add to this list.

The search for any reason Donald Trump became President, other than people going to the polls of their own free will and voting for him, is becoming a obsession among liberal and left-wing Democrats. This month, the prime suspect is Facebook. New — or rather more complete –information about the Trump campaign’s data operation (otherwise known as “Project Alamo”) reveals that, as Vox  reporter Alvin Chang put it on March 23, “the Trump campaign, via the help of a political consulting firm, was able to harvest raw data from 50 million Facebook profiles to direct its messaging.” Chang describes the relationships between the campaign, the Robert Mercer-funded Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook here, illustrated with helpful flow charts.

But the takeaway is this: an academic researcher, Alex Kogan, built a quiz that took advantage of a security hole in Facebook’s API. This meant that not only did the quiz harvest data from those who took it (acceptable, according to Facebook’s terms of use) it harvested data from all of their friends (not acceptable, says Facebook: that wasn’t part of the contract.) Cambridge Analytica was supposed to expunge the data: they didn’t. Latest reports say it is still on their servers.

There have been numerous responses to this revelation.

For the rest of this post, published at Public Seminar on March 28, 2018, click here.

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