Although the 2016 presidential election recedes further in the rear-view mirror every day, some disturbing election stats came to light just last week:
- More than 126 million people potentially exposed to Russian-backed messages on Facebook
- More than 131,000 tweets by Russian-back Twitter accounts
- More than 1,000 videos uploaded on Google’s YouTube by Russian-backed accounts
And here is one more equally distressing stat:
- Number of CEOs from Facebook, Twitter and Google testifying last week before Congress as to how this influencing took place? Zero.
The figures of viewers, tweets and videos came from the companies themselves, as reported in The New York Times. The figure on the social media CEOs comes from my reading of the news coverage of the three hearings before various congressional panels.
It’s not that the social media giants weren’t represented. It’s that they were represented by their lawyers or security executives. I’m sure all of those individuals are highly-qualified. That’s not the point. What is the point is that this is a crisis situation and Crisis Management 101 says the presence of a chief executive officer is critical to the effective handling of a crisis.
How much the effort to sow discord among the American electorate succeeded will be both debated and investigated for some time — probably up to if not beyond the next significant national electoral event, the 2018 mid-terms. What’s not at issue is that an incursion was made into the sanctity of our electoral process and the leading social media platforms were either unaware of it or unable to curtail it or at least call attention to it. That’s not something the lawyers should be explaining. We should be hearing that directly in person from Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, Jack Dorsey at Twitter and Sundar Pichai at Google.
There have been calls to regulate political ads on social media platforms, just as they are on traditional broadcast media. Facebook doesn’t consider itself a media outlet; that might lead to more regulations on how it presents content.
It’s incumbent on all three of these platforms to come up with more stringent controls on their content so that the incursion into the 2016 elections doesn’t happen again. They will probably resist; after all, greater control costs money and that impacts the bottom line. It may even mean adding people to supplement the work of the Almighty Algorithms than run all three. Imagine that!
The social platforms have another incentive for making changes. There’s the warning to those testifying before the Senate from Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) “You created these platforms … and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it — or we will.”
I hope the absent the CEOs were listening.
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