If you’re reading this, chances are that you have a Facebook account. According to Facebook’s own data, which they show to investors and shareholders, Facebook has 2.2 BILLION users across the world. It’s become the most common social media platform, and it is truly a monolithic website for communicating with relatives and loved ones.
But behind the veneer and polish of a well-designed and decently functional website, Facebook is not what many think it to be. And while rumors abound that Mark Zuckerberg sees a political future for himself in the United States, he is no bystander in the political world as it currently exists.
In September, after President Donald Trump accused Mark Zuckerberg of running his website with a left-leaning bias (a claim proven time and again), Zuckerberg wrote a statement that includes, in part, “we hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.” That’s a fine line to take, one that seems to be in favor of free-speech for all around the world. Too bad Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook don’t live up to it.
What his flowery rhetoric does not make any mention of is the fact that Facebook works around the world with political parties and national leaders, including those who are looking to use the social media site to target, stifle, and arrest opposition, sometimes working with ‘troll armies’ to help spread misinformation. A group inside Facebook, run by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked for the Giuliani presidential campaign in ’08, assists political parties around the world in utilizing Facebook’s digital tools.
When it comes to choosing which political parties and leaders to work with, truly Facebook is agnostic. They work with everyone from French and German parties, where the small group of employees from the global government and politics team basically become campaign workers for a foreign government, helping them to use Facebook to spread their message effectively and helping political parties and governments best target their advertising.
Well before Facebook become the focus of liberal claims of ‘collusion’ and ‘propaganda’, the social media outlet had a team dedicated to helping foreign governments utilize Facebook for just such purposes. Employees were not happy with it, either, including some rather high up in the corporation. Elizabeth Linder, who formed and ran Facebook politics’ efforts in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, said “it’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign.” She had dreams of seeing Facebook as the new ‘town square’, where citizens could view what politicians had to say, but not of the efforts Facebook was making to make itself an accessible propaganda wing for governments and political parties. Linder left the company in 2016 as she grew uncomfortable with its increasing role in elections around the world.
Facebook helped numerous campaigns in recent history, from assisting Donald Trump’s campaign (Hillary inherited Obama’s tremendous digital media and social media teams, and so declined the help of Facebook), to helping develop a better online presence for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the most ‘friend’-ed world leader on the platform. They also helped the German ‘Alternative for Germany Party’ (also known as AfD), which is widely regarded to be anti-immigrant, and helped Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte gain power.
Facebook claims that its role in helping these individuals was minimal, and that their team simply shows politicians and parties how to use Facebook to get their message across, not what to say or how to best say or present it. It does this because Facebook derives a lot of money from the purchase of targeted advertising, such as is common in political races around the world, and they seek to make money, even if they make it off of dictators. Because it is essentially acting (whether it will admit it or not) as a lobbying group for these foreign powers, Facebook has been requesting a blanket exemption from Federal Election Commission laws concerning political advertising disclosure since 2011.
Similarly, Facebook, which admits that it is a common source for discussion of ideas, has a somewhat crooked line on what is and is not permissible speech on their platform. The Golden Dawn, a far-right Greece political organization that is commonly said to be ultra-nationalist received a ban, while ISIS, the terrorist organization, remains free to use Facebook.
For all its talk of being in favor of free speech, Facebook is surprisingly cozy with dictators around the world, and there are even allegations that it worked with dictators in the past to help identify members of various anti-government movements and of opposition political parties. It is believed that Facebook will have to agree to identify dissidents for the Chinese government in order to operate there, and Facebook is likely to cave on that demand in order to be able to reach an additional 1.7 BILLION people.
Mark Zuckerberg has deep political ties to politicians around the world, and because of this, his desires to impose his will on American elections and as an American politician are both questionable. Facebook should not be trusted any more than it has to be, by citizens, politicians, or governments.