Trolls, Free Speech, and Money

In 2017, the House Intelligence Committee learned that Russian agents purchased Facebook and Twitters ads seemingly trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Representative Jackie Spier was quoted as saying “We basically have the brightest minds of our tech community here and Russia was able to weaponize your platforms to divide us, to dupe us and to discredit democracy.”

To me this constitutes a form of cyber warfare, attacking the political system by means of disinformation. I have spoken with some that believe it is not. All of the ones I’ve personally spoken to that believe the posts Mrs. Spier is speaking about were either jokes, or just didn’t see the harm. They believe that because they can see through the obviously false information, that everyone can. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone can. In fact, a lot of people can’t and that’s exactly why these attacks worked as well as they did.

Twitter recently banned paid political posts on its platform. I’m sure that hit their bottom line a little, but I believe, like they do, that it was the correct path to follow. Facebook is facing increased scrutiny for their role in enabling these disinformation attacks. Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, is calling his role “a champion of free speech. I personally feel that while he may believe that is what is goal is, he’s just as motivated by his company’s profits. Facebook makes quite a large sum of money from paid political advertisements, and offers minimal content moderation in regards to political ads and posts.

On one hand I can agree with Mr. Zuckerburg, as regulating what is made available to the world is a very slippery slope. On the other hand, though, as an organization that has a daily audience of over 20 percent of the entire planet’s population, more moderation is necessary. I believe, as do many others, that fact checking ads and posts should be a bare minimum.

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