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Social Media and Social Control: how Silicon Valley serves the US State Department

Facebook isn’t the only Silicon Valley firm with partisan oversight of what we see: the bipartisan billionaire class and their security state have partnered with tech firms since the dawn of the internet to control the parameters of users’ thinking.

by Morgan Artyukhina 

Part 12 - Foxes in the henhouse: fact-checking at Facebook

Direct right-wing influence over Facebook’s newsfeed arrived in April 2018, when the site began using machine learning to hunt down disinformation previously identified by humans as such, enlisting artificial intelligence in its bid to curate the information you access. However, as the Verge noted at the time, when Zuckerberg goes before Congress and says Facebook’s harmful content problems are being solved by AI, lawmakers think SkyNet or C3-PO, when really it’s more like a Google search.

The humans directing this “Disinformation Google Search” across Facebook are determined by Full Fact, part of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), which provides third-party vetting of myriad institutions it deems worthy to verify the factuality of news – although ironically, some fact-checkers apparently weren’t even aware they were supposed to be verifying advertisements, too. 

The IFCN’s choices are sometimes questionable, as when the group approved Check Your Fact, a subsidiary of The Daily Caller Foundation, a far-right associated spin site known for hiring white supremacists, as an impartial judge.

But IFCN isn’t the only group that’s partnered with Facebook to sort through mountains of data: while the Cambridge Analytica scandal is well-known, still outside of public awareness is Facebook’s partnership with the Omidyar-connected Knight Foundation as well as the Charles Koch Foundation, part of the network of nonprofits funded by the billionaire industrialists, the arch-conservative Koch Brothers.

Through this partnership, Facebook provided the foundations with a colossal amount of user data in the interests of preventing disinformation campaigns that might influence elections. However, these groups are themselves part of vast billionaire-directed electioneering networks that push the news in their own direction; that Omidyar and Koch are at opposite sides of the truncated US political spectrum is irrelevant, they have the same material interests and utilize ostensibly neutral public policy and objectivity-promoting groups to forward that.

Facebook dragging its feet in handing over enough user data to them has led to threats of withdrawal from the program. The group Social Science One, which has managed the question for Facebook since the AI sorting began in April 2018, has been hesitant to ‘okay’ data divulgence with Knight and Koch after what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

A March 2018 expose by a company whistleblower revealed that political data firm Cambridge Analytica had gained access to the private information of 87 million Americans via Facebook apps that collected data not only on the app’s users, but on their friends as well. Funded primarily by Trump’s fascistic former adviser Steve Bannon and infamous Republican moneyman Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica was hired by Trump’s 2016 election campaign to crunch numbers on voters.

According to the New York Times, the firm’s goal was to “map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook, and then use that information to target audiences with digital ads.” However, Facebook for years attempted to cover up its complacency with this operation, a very obvious violation of users’ privacy, and even after the expose, continued to claim it wasn’t a data breach because users had consented to divulge the information when they downloaded the apps in question.

At its core, Facebook, like all social media as well as Google, is a huge vacuum for personal information and behavioral data to be used by advertisers and other actors. That’s their business model: selling your information to corporations in order to market you products more effectively, and providing information to the U.S. intelligence community that can help it identify threats before they appear. In this way, social media are the true torch-carriers of ARPANET, the first internet, crafted by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now called DARPA) to provide intricate social models for combating communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia.

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Social Media and Social Control: how Silicon Valley serves the US State Department

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