“The crisis at Facebook intensifying.” “They handed out data like candy.” “A firm called Cambridge Analytica accessed data to 50 million users.” “Data-harvesting programs where we would pull data from users of apps and all of their friend networks.” “That is just the tip of the iceberg.” From fake news to troll farms to bots, and now a sinister data-mining company that used third-party apps on Facebook to manipulate Americans into supporting Donald Trump. I don’t know about you, but I’m scared that I’ve been helping to elect authoritarians just by filling out that quiz that told me I’m a Miranda. I already knew I was a Miranda! Look at me. So are social media platforms like Facebook helping to undermine democracy, not just in the U.S. but around the world? And who’s going to protect us? Our story begins with a sweet global PR firm, Strategic Communications Laboratories, who together with Steve Bannon, data analysts, a Russian professor and billionaires Robert Mercer and daughter Rebekah – the Gomez and Morticia Addams of the ultra right – birthed Cambridge Analytica, a company that harvested the Facebook data of at least 50 million of people in order to impact and coerce politics around the world, which we’re gonna get to soon, but let’s start with the U.S. In addition to Steve Bannon, Trump advisers like Corey Lewandowski, Brad Parscale and Michael Flynn also apparently worked with the company. And thanks to 27-year-old whistleblower Christopher Wylie, we now know just how much the company shaped Trump’s messaging. “We were testing all kinds of messages and all kinds of imagery. That included images of walls, people scaling walls, we tested ‘drain the swamp.’ And I was surprised when I saw the Trump campaign started to talk about building walls or draining the swamp and I’m remembering in my head, wait, we tested this.” Holy sh*t. Is Donald Trump just the mushroom that grew out of the dankest memes of the internet? That’s at once reassuring and terrifying. Ermahgerd … We Erndermerned Our Dermercrasrr. Cambridge Analytica mapped people’s online ape brains into so-called psychographics to micro-target political content to them. And I know what you’re thinking, is that really that hard to do? Our online habits are pretty obvious, it’s mostly just WebMD searches about the rash on our elbow, what koalas look like when they sneeze and how our ex is doing. And apparently the answer to all of that is And what Cambridge Analytica developed and weaponized against the American people, they also used in countries like Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil and Kenya. Their work even included the UK, where the firm helped the Leave campaign get voters to vote to leave the EU. Which makes sense, since Cambridge Analytica funder Robert Mercer is friends with Brexit proponent Nigel Farage. And Farage is tight with Bannon and even advised Trump himself. They’re all friends. They’re like the X-Men, if the “X” stood for Xenophobe. And the incredible effectiveness of the company is probably why whistleblower Christopher Wylie has gone on virtually every news show to repent. “I’m taking responsibility. I’m owning up.” “It’s something that I regret.” “Do you regret what you created, what you did, Christopher?” “Yeah. Absolutely I regret it.” Thank you. Now, Don, it’s your turn. Anything you wanna tell the American people about CNN’s role in helping Trump get elected through incessant coverage of his campaign? No? No, no time? Oh, gotta cut to an empty podium cause Trump’s about to give a speech? No cool cool … Now of course, if the tables were turned and the Clinton campaign did this exact same thing, the right would make this a story all about how Killary and Huma Abedin watch you through your phones. But in an effort not to be partisan, let’s look at the bigger story, which is of course, Facebook. The thing about how Cambridge Analytica mined and used people’s data is that it wasn’t a bug in Facebook’s system. It was a feature. And according to a former employee, Facebook not only allowed these third-party apps to access your friends’ data without their consent, but it lost control over how the data was used. “People are missing, it was not a breach, Facebook gave the data to these developers.” “Yeah, I’m glad you say that. This is the business! The entire premise of Facebook is we are the product, right? You and I are the product.” “I don’t use Facebook.”
“I don’t either.” “I’m not on Facebook where all the plebes are I only use Facebook to connect to Western Horseman online. That still counts? Oh dear. But Chuck is right in saying that when it comes to Facebook, we the people are the product. In 2017, 98 percent of Facebook’s revenue came from ad sales. All the platform does is sell your every move, every like, every share every status update — proving George Orwell never saw Facebook coming. If he had, it wouldn’t have been Animal Farm, it would’ve been Animal Farmville. And Facebook knew that political advertisements had the power to sway elections. It boasted about helping turn out voters to get Florida’s Rick Scott elected and triggering a landslide for the Scottish National Party in the UK’s 2015 election. Both of those case studies, however, are now curiously hidden on Facebook. And today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is denying the company ever had such power: “If you told me in 2004 when I was getting started with Facebook that a big part of my responsibility today would be to help protect the integrity of elections against interference by other governments, I wouldn’t have really believed that that was gonna be something that I would have to work on.” Except swaying elections was what you were telling marketers that you did, Mark! That’s like the makers of Viagra being like, “If you had told me that our product would lead to an increase in elderly STDs, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Oh yeah, then why do you keep pushing ads in the middle of the Price Is Right, Viagra?! You know my Grandpa Joe loves that show! And things get even creepier when you look outside of the U.S. to see how Facebook has wittingly or unwittingly aided authoritarians. “I watch with horror as authoritarian leaders in many countries around the world use social media’s exponential power to spread propaganda. Use anger and hate to manipulate their people and to create alternative realities.” And she should know. That’s Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, and she’s alluding to Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, who once compared himself to Hitler. Turns out before he was elected, Facebook trained the Duterte campaign on how to use its tools for political purposes, and the campaign then promptly employed a social media army to help prop him up in the worst ways. “People who are pro-Duterte supporters online really going after critics and opponents, and targeting them in really personal manners and really violent, aggressive manners. So there was this kind of trolling aspect of the campaign early on. And then there was also the fake news element.” And Ressa’s news outlet documented how a mere 26 fake accounts ultimately reached 3 million people on Facebook. And those troll armies had the same name as Duterte’s real-life army of hired assassins, who infamously kill drug users in the country. Which is super scary. That’s like if Jeff Sessions renamed ICE “The Pepe Patrol.” Then there’s Myanmar, where the UN has said that Facebook played a “determining” role in violence against the country’s Rohingya population. “Sites like Facebook and Twitter are playing a role in the spread of anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim vitriol. Many perpetuate the myth that Rohingya are illegally entering from Bangladesh. Some even accuse the Rohingya of burning down their own homes.” Yeah, and that “some” include Myanmar authorities and leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who’ve used official social media accounts to discredit Rohingya women who have reported rape. “Suu Kyi, dismissing them as fake news, you know, ‘fake rape.’ That’s what you read on Aung San Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page. ‘FAKE RAPE.’ ” That’s terrible. And coincidentally, ‘fake rape’ will also one day be the entirety of Trump’s legal defense. The thing is, for Myanmar, like the Philippines and many other countries in the Global South whose internet use through mobile phones has exploded more recently, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. Because logging onto Facebook doesn’t incur mobile data costs – people can access it for free. And that’s been a project set up by, whaddya know, Facebook in dozens of countries under the ominous name Internet.org. Just listen to Zuckerberg sell it. “If a local fisherman gets access to free internet services he couldn’t otherwise afford, to help him sell more fish and support his family, then that’s good.” Depends on the fish, Mark. Are we fishing for tilapia, trout or or a Muslim minority struggling for survival? And while helping local communities with internet access is noble, given what we’ve gone over, going online purely via Facebook might be undermining democracy. Just ask this young Burmese man concerned about how social media has fomented anti-Rohingya violence. Damn, that is a harsh metaphor. Also coincidentally, slide 18 of Zuckerberg’s pitch on Internet.org entitled And then there’s the most informationally totalitarian country of all: China. And you’d think that a country that censors websites and sends tweeters critical of the government to three-year prison terms might give Facebook some pause. Instead, Zuckerberg has been bending over backwards to try to tap into the Chinese market by learning Mandarin, jogging through Beijing and, oh yeah, developing a tool that would allow the government to conduct targeted censorship on his platform. Xie xie, Mark!! And while Facebook eyes Asia, so too does …. Cambridge Analytica, which isn’t going away just ’cause it was shamed. It wasn’t programmed for that emotion! Onwards and downwards! And the continued work of these data propagandists is actually scaring Zuckerberg to the point where he’s even saying thing like this: “Given the stakes here, why shouldn’t Facebook be regulated?” “Um, I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated.” What? Damn. Zuckerberg admitting regulations are necessary is like ExxonMobil going, “Just take some of our oil tankers away, please! We are killing the planet! Have you seen a pelican lately?” It’s disgusting!” And yet imagining that the very governments who utilized social media to get elected would turn around and regulate the platform that helped them do it is a stretch. Which means a lot of this comes down to us, he Mirandas, the Carries, the Samanthas – and sure, the Charlottes — to become more savvy. Revoke privileges of third-party apps, use tools to maintain our privacy and read the entire terms of service agreements before we accept them. Line 29b: “Fascism”?! Wait a gosh darn minute … Thank you for watching Newsbroke, I’m Francesca Fiorentini, please follow me on Twitter. And hey! We made it to 40k subscribers on YouTube! So thanks to all of you who continue to watch us and support us and lovingly comment on our videos. As a thank-you … we have another video next week! So you’re welcome.