Alexis Madrigal: “When I was editor in chief of Fusion, we set about trying to track the ‘digital campaign’ with several dedicated people. What we quickly realized was that there was both too much data—the noisiness of all the different posts by the various candidates and their associates—as well as too little. Targeting made tracking the actual messaging that the campaigns were paying for impossible to track. On Facebook, the campaigns could show ads only to the people they targeted. We couldn’t actually see the messages that were actually reaching people in battleground areas. From the outside, it was a technical impossibility to know what ads were running on Facebook, one that the company had fought to keep intact.”
Politico: “Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election… Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to promote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”
“By creating and deploying armies of automated bots, fake users, catchy hashtags and bogus ad campaigns, unidentified operatives launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated.”
Financial Times: “Like a shamed company announcing a product recall, Facebook bought full-page adverts in The New York Times and The Washington Post last week in an attempt to shore up its reputation. It was not suspending the social network that has become a ubiquitous news source and multibillion-dollar ad machine. But Russia’s weaponisation of Facebook to influence last year’s US election has raised grave questions about whether Mark Zuckerberg’s product is spinning out of control.”
Matt Bai: “It was only a matter of time before governments got around to manipulating social media platforms to their own ends, distorting the wisdom of the crowd with the agenda of a cabal. It is what they do and have always done.”
“I don’t think it’s reasonable or wise to ask tech companies to be the societal arbiters of truth… But ultimately, it’s not too much to demand that our most innovative companies slam the back door on governments and political infiltrators who would like nothing more than to destroy our faith in a free society. And if that means abandoning closely held tenets, like the sanctity of anonymity online, or the aversion to gatekeepers who exercise judgment, then so be it.”
Washington Post: “Russian operatives set up an array of misleading Web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used a powerful Facebook tool to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior, say people familiar with the investigation into foreign meddling in the U.S. election. The tactic resembles what American businesses and political campaigns have been doing in recent years to deliver messages to potentially interested people online.”
New York Times: “For three weeks, a harsh spotlight has been trained on Facebook over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential campaign.”
“But there is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using ‘bot’ accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.”
“Nine days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as ‘crazy’ the idea that fake news on his company’s social network played a key role in the U.S. election, President Obama pulled the youthful tech billionaire aside and delivered what he hoped would be a wake-up call,” the Washington Post reports.
“For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Trump campaign without making matters worse… Now huddled in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race.”
Facebook reversed itself and will give Congress copies of 3,000 political ads bought through Russian accounts, the Washington Post reports.
New York Times: “The high-profile announcement came after Facebook spent two weeks on the defensive amid calls for greater transparency about 470 Russia-linked accounts the company took down after they had promoted inflammatory messages on divisive issues. Facebook had previously shown Congressional staffers a sample of the ads, some of which attacked Hillary Clinton or praised Donald J. Trump, but had not shared the entire collection.”
Politico: “The ads have become of increasing interest to Mueller and his team, according to people familiar with the investigation, because they could show Russian efforts to interfere — and who was behind them.”
“The political world is officially obsessed with cybersecurity in 2017 — especially the Democrats burned by the hacking of their committees and operatives during the 2016 election,” Politico reports.
“Much of the Democratic Party’s permanent apparatus has already changed its day-to-day operations as a result, while beginning the slow process of persuading its decentralized, startup-like campaign ecosystem to follow suit.”
“House Democrats’ top strategists have urged consultants working on their campaigns to start using Wickr, the end-to-end encrypted messaging app used inside the DCCC — but the consulting community has been slow to give up email and embrace the program… Security measures vary widely from race to race, leaving many still vulnerable to hacking, and members of both parties say they are seeking centralized clearinghouses of anti-hacking information and services.”
Mike Allen: “Members of Congress in both parties have begun exploring possible legislative action against Facebook and other tech giants, setting the stage for a potentially massive battle in the midterm election year of 2018.”
“Following revelations about fake news and paid Russian propaganda on Facebook during last year’s election, big tech has become a big target, with politicians across the spectrum declaring on Sunday shows that more scrutiny, transparency and restrictions are needed.”
“The shift against the companies has been sudden, and is one of the biggest stories of the year.”
CNN: “One week after it told the country that it had sold $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian troll farm during the 2016 election, Facebook is still not sure whether pro-Kremlin groups may have made other ad buys intended to influence American politics that it simply hasn’t discovered yet.”
“These sources said it is entirely possible that unidentified ad buys may still exist on the social media network today. One issue preventing Facebook from making a full accounting of the problem is that ads are purchased through the company’s self-service tool, which allows buyers to independently purchase and target ads, often without human interaction on Facebook’s side of the transaction.”
“Russia’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media is a ‘red-hot’ focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and possible links to President Trump’s associates,” Bloomberg reports.
“Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents is zeroing in on how Russia spread fake and damaging information through social media and is seeking additional evidence from companies like Facebook and Twitter about what happened on their networks.”
“The ability of foreign nations to use social media to manipulate and influence elections and policy is increasingly seen as the soft underbelly of international espionage… because it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets and the U.S. doesn’t have a ready defense to prevent such attacks.”
Ben Smith: “Facebook should probably ease out of the business of bland background statements and awkward photo ops, and start worrying about congressional testimony. Amazon, whose market power doesn’t fall into the categories envisioned by pre-internet antitrust law, is developing a bipartisan lobby that wants to break it up. Google’s public affairs efforts are starting to look a bit like the oil industry’s.”
“These are the existential collisions with political power that can shake and redefine industries and their leaders, not the nickel-and-dime regulatory games Silicon Valley has played to date.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has joined the war of words concerning the international race to develop artificial intelligence, The Verge reports.
Said Putin: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Elon Musk responds: “Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3.”
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Wall Street Journal: “Facial-recognition technology, once a specter of dystopian science fiction, is becoming a feature of daily life in China, where authorities are using it on streets, in subway stations, at airports and at border crossings in a vast experiment in social engineering. Their goal: to influence behavior and identify lawbreakers.”
“China is rushing to deploy new technologies to monitor its people in ways that would spook many in the U.S. and the West. Unfettered by privacy concerns or public debate, Beijing’s authoritarian leaders are installing iris scanners at security checkpoints in troubled regions and using sophisticated software to monitor ramblings on social media. By 2020, the government hopes to implement a national ‘social credit’ system that would assign every citizen a rating based how they behave at work, in public venues and in their financial dealings.”