June 5, 2019

Facebook Still Doing Lots of Constitutional Damage It Violates Our Rights Like It was Supposed to be that way

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Russian agents weaponized Facebook against American voters, unaccountable ad dollars ran rampant, and a data breach put 87 million Facebook profiles in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-connected political consultancy.

Fast-forward to 2019: For all of Facebook’s big talk about cleaning up its act, things haven’t really changed. Political ad spending is barely more transparent than it was in 2016 — and there’s still plenty of political dark money coursing through the system.

Meanwhile, the “Facebook primary” is already underway. The Trump campaign has already spent $4.8 million on the platform since the beginning of the year, a strategy that campaign manager Brad Parscale calls “shock and awe.” Former Vice President Joe Biden has spent $1 million since he declared his candidacy in late April.

Researchers who study the platform up close tell VICE News that Facebook has even weakened or disabled some of the key tools it released since 2018 to give watchdogs and academics more insight into what’s happening, such as:
  • Cracking down on the use of “scraping” tools on its Ad Library, making it more difficult to collect data in bulk, and forcing researchers to search the huge database manually.
  • Limiting the number of searches an account can make in the Ad Library; researchers can’t keep up with the number of new ads flooding in.
  • Facebook’s API for political ads still doesn’t include the videos or photos in ads or show how advertisers are targeting users.
As a result, we still know little about how Facebook advertisers can target specific segments of users with highly tailored messages based on their personal data. Experts worry that, once again, Facebook holds the power to deepen the existing divisions in American culture — and it won’t reveal how it wields that power.


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