A recent Bloomberg report has revealed how a secret unit of Facebook has helped create troll armies for governments around the world for digital propaganda to influence elections.
Under fire for Facebook Inc.’s role as a platform for political propaganda, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has punched back, saying his mission is above partisanship.
What he hasn’t said is that his company actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition—sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.
In 2007, Facebook opened its first office in Washington. The presidential election the following year saw the rise of the world’s first “Facebook President” in Barack Obama, who with the platform’s help was able to reach millions of voters in the weeks before the election.
The initiative is run by a little-known Facebook global government and politics team led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist “who worked” on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign as well as 2014 Indian elections.
Since Facebook hired Harbath to run their secret global government and politics unit three years later, her team has traveled the globe (including India helping political clients use the company’s powerful digital tools to create troll armies for digital propaganda.
In the USA (many other countries as well), the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers. And once a candidate is elected, the company in some instances goes on to train government employees or provide technical assistance for live streams at official state events.
The unit embedded employees in Trump’s campaign. In India, the company helped develop the on-line presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who now has more Facebook followers than any other world leader.
The most famous example of this came during the Arab Spring, when clear signs of the impending protests and unrest were found on social networks days before people took to the streets.
The number of Facebook users surged around the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East around 2010 and 2011, demonstrating the broad power of the platform to influence democracy. Also Libya got destroyed with the help of Facebook and the UN bombing campaign.
At meetings with political campaigns, members of Harbath’s team sit alongside Facebook advertising sales staff who help monetize the often viral attention stirred up by elections and politics.
Once those candidates are elected, their relationship with Facebook can help extend the company’s reach into government in meaningful ways, such as being well positioned to push against regulations.
By the time Facebook named Harbath, the former Giuliani aide, to lead its global politics and government unit, elections were becoming major social-media attractions. Facebook began getting involved in electoral hot spots around the world.
Facebook has come under fire in the European Union. Facebook has embedded itself in some of the globe’s most controversial political movements while resisting transparency. The company’s relationship with governments remains complicated.
A 2014 study titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”  manipulated the balance of positive and negative messages seen by 689,000 Facebook users.
The researchers concluded that they had found “some of the first experimental evidence to support the controversial claims that emotions can spread throughout a network, [though] the effect sizes from the manipulations are said to be small”.
This takes a totally new dimension now that it has been revealed that Facebook & WhatsApp itself colluded with the establishment in creating such “troll armies” for digital propaganda, resulting directly into violence around the world.
Terrorism is defined as ‘the systematic use of terror or violence by any individual or group to achieve political goals’. In this case this terrorism is perpetrated by a foreign company.
Fake News was used very effectively during US Presidential elections. It was part of the official campaign itself run in collaboration with tech companies and it is also being alleged that even the Russians also ran their own network.
Whether by choice or by ignorance even the mainstream media starts peddling this nonsense, dedicating their entire prime time news shows in analyzing the fake news, who said what and why and blah blah… instead of identifying where the fake content was generated in the first place and getting it shut.
All 17 American Intelligence agencies have raised serious concern about the impact of this fake news industry on their election process and their society. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center a majority of Americans (a whopping 88%) believe that completely made-up news has left Americans confused about even the basic facts.
Voltaire Network / ABC Flash Point Digital News 2018.