This week brought new revelations about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election. New details released by the Department of Homeland Security show that Russia’s operation during the campaign was more sophisticated than previously thought. Fake news ads were heavily targeted toward two swing states that Trump won by small margins – Michigan and Wisconsin – implying that those responsible for the misinformation campaign possessed advanced data analytics.
Furthermore, it emerged that Russia continued its campaign after Trump was elected. Sham Facebook accounts kept disseminating pro-Trump fabrications through the inauguration, confirming that Russia had (and likely continues to has) a genuine interest in seeing Trump succeed.
Facebook has turned over a multitude of fake news ads to the Senate intelligence committee. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Sens. Richard Burr and Mark Warner told reporters that the committee will not release those ads.
If Facebook did not have the slightest sense of what was going on – a sophisticated and politically dangerous campaign to spread demonstrably false information – that reveals a shocking lack of safeguards that is damnable in its own right. If some staff actually did know something, than that constitutes outright criminal negligence.
Fake news and propaganda continues to plague the US in other ways, as well.
Immediately following this week’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, fake news stories spreading conspiracy theories that the shooting was fake proliferated online. Somehow, Youtube’s algorithm prioritized these videos over those rooted in fact and actual reporting. Facebook and Google actually pushed news stories from extreme right-wing blogs that falsely identified a random individual who is a registered Democrat as the murderer, and that the motive for the massacre was hatred of Trump.
Social media and the internet play outsized roles on society and politics. If these companies – which have profited from fake news – cannot get their ship in working order, then the public and their elected representatives need to hold them accountable.