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Inside Facebook’s Election ‘War Room’ (nytimes.com)
44 points by coloneltcb 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

If Facebook cares so much about influencing elections and interfering in democracy, why do they do it themselves?


That’s FB using the official election-influencing methods. The controversy here is about the government being upset that people are influencing the elections outside the approved channels.

because if you don't, your enemies will win, because they do it.

> the War Room will house a team of about 20 focused on rooting out disinformation

Something tells me that they aren't putting much effort into this. Hopefully it's because FB knows that a war on lying is about as winnable as a war on drugs.

Indeed, fighting the "Firehose of Falsehood" propaganda model is quite challenging:


> Since its 2008 incursion into Georgia (if not before), there has been a remarkable evolution in Russia's approach to propaganda. The country has effectively employed new dissemination channels and messages in support of its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its ongoing involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and its antagonism of NATO allies. The Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency. Although these techniques would seem to run counter to the received wisdom for successful information campaigns, research in psychology supports many of the most successful aspects of the model. Furthermore, the very factors that make the firehose of falsehood effective also make it difficult to counter. Traditional counterpropaganda approaches will likely be inadequate in this context. More effective solutions can be found in the same psychology literature that explains the surprising success of the Russian propaganda model and its messages.


It's only propaganda when people you don't like do it.

You're making the unstated statement that those parties have the same propaganda models. I think it's pretty clear that they don't.

They tend to have a commitment to consistency though, to the point of absurdity even, but you kind of have to in order to maintain the perception that everything is legitimate. Russians on the other hand likely have already known things aren't for a very long time, so no point in faking it.

Pretty chilling that 'private' companies like this are able to set up such operations that could easily sway federal election results without providing any transparency or having many regulations to follow.

I think that Silicon Valley's technology companies can be counted on to act in a completely non-partisan manner, in the best interest of the country.

Oh, wait...


Like a newspaper, magazine, or TV station?

That's a false equivalence. Facebook has an inordinate amount of power over person-to-person communication. TV and print media is not even in the same ballpark of influence.

Conglomerated media companies like Sinclair are in the ballpark, but true independent media outlets don’t, for sure.

And it’s not false equivalence in my mind, just worth noting the difference in magnitude and considering the difference that might make.

False equivalence definition: "A common way for this fallacy to be perpetuated is one shared trait between two subjects is assumed to show equivalence, especially in order of magnitude, when equivalence is not necessarily the logical result." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_equivalence

It is hard to see the equivalence between a traditional media company such as Sinclair that produce content for distribution and a social platform for individuals to share their thoughts such as Facebook.

When we are talking about potential effects on personal communication it does not make sense to compare the magnitude between a traditional mass media platform product and a social media platform, because the latter focus is entirely on personal communication and the former is a mass media company.

Recently Australia lost our Prime Minister due in part to (alleged) agitations by Rupert Murdoch. - https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/sep/19/turnb...

Private interests and public have always interacted. Whether this fact matters is open to debate, but I find dealing with current reality more useful.

As someone unfamiliar with Australian politics, is The Guardian AU a reputable source for this story? I don't generally consider that domain, granted a .uk, very useful to provide information.

Here's another article from the ABC (generally considered reputable in Australia)


TV and print media went through a period of regulation when they had a similar market share. We may be able to learn from that time.

With these everybody can see what they are publishing. On the other hand Facebook can send individualized content and nobody knows what anybody else gets to see.

Something harder or nearly impossible on all of those other mediums, aside from on the web I suppose, but still wouldn't be too impossible to spot.

Well, like a multinational newspaper, magazine and TV station conglomerate, with few ethical boundaries when it comes to profit, a willful disregard for truth, that bugs and tracks their global audience on behalf of anyone with money to spend, and has executives with personal political ambitions.

Newspapers, magazines, and TV stations are single products with known editors and known biases, and no one assumes otherwise.

Facebook is an essential service and "the internet" for most people, who assume it's a common carrier of sorts - and Facebook has done very little to dissuade anyone of that perception.

So, no. Not even remotely the same thing.

How is this legal? Don't they need to register was a political action campaign? What the hell? They must at a minimum describe and disclose their methods, procedures, determination factors, cash flow/conflicts of interest and some kind of transparent audit log. Who determines "fake news" -- a subjective term. The whole premise is that they don't believe people can determine that for themselve and must be "managed". What a travesty of our democracy. Big tech big brother.

Social media is just one 'propaganda center' to be concerned with.

Hollywood is a notorious mouthpiece for politics. (They are also very heavy-handed in controlling the message through use of carrot-and-stick.)

Big media is of course totally lopsided, one way or the other. Fox is as bad as CNN is as bad as MSNBC. Take your pick.

For my tastes, the best way to get a central view is to look at a site like 'Real Clear Politics', which shows the most outrageous headlines from both sides of the aisle. The reader is left to triangulate a position, after having seen the most persuasive arguments from both sides of the aisle.

> ... biggest companywide reorientation since our shift from desktops to mobile phones...

Putting 20 people behind it?

Tech companies are like glaciers, 20 people at the tip of this project will be leveraging all of FB’s internal tooling and might be able to get more done.

Also, it would be difficult and maybe a waste of effort to try to scale a team faster than that, with midterms so close. For sure they can increase headcount if it’s successful.

My point was that this isn't as significant as they make it out to be--comparing it to the transition to mobile is marketing BS.

You're joking right? FB has over 25 thousand employees and you think 20 people is a significant reorientation effort? Or that a team any larger would have problems a scaling?

Then put 100 people in the room? 1000? Not sure what's the point of having everyone in the single room, when the entire company is in the single company anyway.

The article lists several on the team. They’re mostly senior executives, data scientists and engineers. They’re definitely pulling strings from that room - in total, there’s a team of 300 specifically working on the issue, not to mention the dozens of teams that make this type of real time analysis and decision making possible.

Depends. Can those 20 people then pull in other teams on a high priority basis and have them do work for them? I agree generally that 20 people can't do much, but if it is 20 people with the institutional support of thousands then it is a different story.


Pithy but insubstantive.

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