Zuckerberg apologises ahead of hearings, NZ data breaches

Mark Zuckerberg has apologised ahead of hearings in Congress over Facebook data breaches and possible effects on the 2016 US election. In the meantime it has been revealed that about 64,000 New Zealanders may have been involved in the data breaches.

More talk from Zuckerberg over ongoing Facebook data revelations, but  Congress will be looking for more than apologies in two days of hearings.

Reuters: CEO Zuckerberg says Facebook could have done more to prevent misuse

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress on Monday that the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and its members’ data being misused and offered a broad apology to lawmakers.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said in remarks released by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

His conciliatory tone precedes two days of Congressional hearings where Zuckerberg is set to answer questions about Facebook user data being improperly appropriated by a political consultancy and the role the network played in the U.S. 2016 election.

Top of the agenda in the forthcoming hearings will be Facebook’s admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

But lawmakers are also expected to press him on a range of issues, including the 2016 election.

Meanwhile:

Facebook, which has 2.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, said on Sunday it plans to begin on Monday telling users whose data may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

This potentially includes thousands of New Zealanders. RNZ:

Facebook today revealed it estimated nearly 64,000 New Zealanders were estimated to have had their data collected and used by Cambridge Analytica. The company is accused of using private data to personally target voters to manipulate elections.

A spokesperson for the social media giant said 87 million people were estimated to have been affected by the “Cambridge Analytica data misuse” worldwide, with more than 80 percent of those based in the US.

The data was apparently obtained via the “thisismydigitallife” personality test on Facebook and pulled in information about users’ friends liked without their explicit permission.

“For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” the company said.

The spokesperson said that from Tuesday the company would begin showing users which apps they connected to at the top of their Facebook feed, and an easy way to delete them.

“As part of this, we will let people know if their data might have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re dramatically reducing the information people can share with apps. We’re shutting down other ways data was being shared through Groups, Events, Pages and Search.”

NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker…

…said he did not think Facebook users needed to shut down their accounts following the revelation.

Mr Cocker said the breach was a reminder for Facebook users to take their privacy settings seriously, but not necessarily to quit the social media platform.

“Facebook has responded to this breach by setting up a series of tools and improving their management of apps and if anything the breach has lead to a safer Facebook in the future.”

There is nothing obviously different on my Facebook this morning.

 

Continuing Facebook data scandal

More revelations in the Facebook data scandal, and Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before the US Congress, but will send a deputy to talk to UK MPs.

Facebook faltering, slow Zuckerberg reaction may be futile

While a lot of the recent news has focussed on a UK based company, Cambridge Analytica, and it’s involvement in many elections around the world, in particular the UK Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election, the company at the core of all of this, the enabler of all of this, has been Facebook.

After several days silence in the face of a growing storm Facebook founder and head Mark Zuckerberg emerged with an attempt at damage control yesterday. He made tis statement )on Facebook of course):

I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation — including the steps we’ve already taken and our next steps to address this important issue.

We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.

Here’s a timeline of the events:

In 2007, we launched the Facebook Platform with the vision that more apps should be social. Your calendar should be able to show your friends’ birthdays, your maps should show where your friends live, and your address book should show their pictures. To do this, we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them.

In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data. Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data.

In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for data about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from us before they could request any sensitive data from people. These actions would prevent any app like Kogan’s from being able to access so much data today.

In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.

Last week, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to confirm this. We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened.

This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.

In this case, we already took the most important steps a few years ago in 2014 to prevent bad actors from accessing people’s information in this way. But there’s more we need to do and I’ll outline those steps here:

First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well.

Second, we will restrict developers’ data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. For example, we will remove developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in 3 months. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in — to only your name, profile photo, and email address. We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data. And we’ll have more changes to share in the next few days.

Third, we want to make sure you understand which apps you’ve allowed to access your data. In the next month, we will show everyone a tool at the top of your News Feed with the apps you’ve used and an easy way to revoke those apps’ permissions to your data. We already have a tool to do this in your privacy settings, and now we will put this tool at the top of your News Feed to make sure everyone sees it.

Beyond the steps we had already taken in 2014, I believe these are the next steps we must take to continue to secure our platform.

I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.

I want to thank all of you who continue to believe in our mission and work to build this community together. I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.

It was noted that he made excjses but didn’t apologise in that statement, but he went on to say sorry in an interview.

CNN: Mark Zuckerberg has regrets: ‘I’m really sorry that this happened’

“I’m really sorry that this happened,” the Facebook (FB) CEO told CNN’s Laurie Segall in an exclusive TV interview on Wednesday.

“I started this when I was so young and inexperienced,” the 33-year-old Zuckerberg said. “I made technical errors and business errors. I hired the wrong people. I trusted the wrong people,” he said.

“I’ve probably launched more products that have failed than most people will in their lifetime.”

But ultimately, he said, he’s learned from his missteps.

“That’s the commitment that I try to have inside our company, and for our community.”

But that’s a piss poor apology. He has said he is sorry it has happened, but then went on to make excuses. His assurances he can put things right are very late and quite lame.

Also on the CNN interview: Mark Zuckerberg tells CNN he is ‘happy to’ testify before Congress

Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the data debacle that has upended Facebook and opened the door to testifying before Congress.

“The short answer is I’m happy to if it’s the right thing to do,” the Facebook (FB) CEO told CNN’s Laurie Segall in an exclusive TV interview on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge,” Zuckerberg said. “If that’s me, then I am happy to go.”

If Congress subpoenas him to appear it doesn’t matter how happy Zuckerberg is, he is compelled to appear, it won’t be his choice.

He seems a long way from properly accepting responsibility for the shoddy security of billions of people’s privacy.

And Zuckerberg and Facebook may have put themselves into a hopeless situation.

Blomberg: Mark Zuckerberg Has No Way Out of Facebook’s Quagmire

There’s simply no way to fix the fake news and data abuse problems without destroying the social network’s business model.

I think I understand why Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg hasn’tpublicly responded to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He’s stuck in a catch-22. Any fix for Facebook’s previous big problem — fake news — would make the current big problem with data harvesting worse.

Zuckerberg has obviously responded since this was written, but the same problem persists.

As a media company and one of Americans’ top sources of information, Facebook’s de facto anonymity and general lack of responsibility for user-generated content make it easy for propagandists to exploit. Making matters worse, it isn’t willing to impose tighter identification rules for fear of losing too many users, and it doesn’t want to be held responsible in any way for content, preferring to present itself as a neutral platform. So Zuckerberg has been trying to fix the problem by showing people more material from friends and family and by prioritizing “trusted publishers” and local news sources over purveyors of fake news.

Facebook continues to struggle on the sharemarket today (Thursday US time) after an abrupt fall early this week. And the worst may be ahead for Facebook.

More on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

Australia has been included in possible targets of Cambridge Analytica being used to try to influence election outcomes.

Stuff: Cambridge Analytica CEO appears to talk about election bribes, sex workers on video

According to the video posted by Channel 4 News, Nix appears to suggest the company could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house.” He later added that he favoured Ukranian women in particular: “They are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”

The surreptitiously recorded video also appears to depict conversations involving Nix, Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica Political Global, and Alex Tayler, the chief data officer. The Channel 4 News team reportedly told the company officials they were meeting with a “fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.”

The executives repeatedly appear to brag about their behind-the-scenes efforts to influence political outcomes in Mexico, Australia and Kenya, at one point teasing that they’re beginning to work in China, too.

I doubt that any use of data analysis for outside interference could have had much effect on the New Zealand general election last year given the dramatic changes in the two months leading up to the election.

For an overview from the Independent:  Why is everyone so worried about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

Facebook has been engulfed in a growing scandal over the way it harvests data.

The problems began when it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a political data company, had been using Facebook to gather information. But it is quickly broadening out – casting a light on the way data is gathered on Facebook more generally, and how it is used to sway people not only to buy things but to change how they vote and who runs the world.

What has happened?

In short, people’s data has been collected to try and understand more about them and change how they vote. That’s been the work of Cambridge Analytica, a data company that has been credited – rightly or wrongly – with helping both the Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns achieve their victories.

A whistleblower revealed that the site had been able to Hoover up 50 million user profiles by having them take a quiz on the site that gave them access to some of the data that Facebook had collected about them. That data was taken, it is claimed, to help target the kind of political ads that have received sustained scrutiny in the wake of those results – and have been given at least some of the blame (or credit) for making them happen.

This time around, though, the data was not being used for just any advertising. It was allegedly being utilised to direct messages for campaigns helped out by data firm Cambridge Analytica: Brexit and Donald Trump.

How much of a part that marketing, or Cambridge Analytica, had to do with either of those results is still a mystery, and we’ll never truly know.

Elections are complex, with many influences, but when results are close a concerted subliminal effort to swing the result could make a difference.

Doesn’t this sort of stuff happen all the time?

Yes. The Cambridge Analytica disclosures are especially newsworthy and relate to current affairs – but that kind of data-gathering is happening on a daily basis.

Many of the apparently innocent games or quizzes you’ve signed up to on the site will be doing the same sort of information-gathering: asking Facebook for your personal details and then taking them away for whatever purposes they want. And Facebook itself is doing the same, with everything you post or do on the site being fed into a set of data that is then used to serve you relevant advertising.

I’ve always been suspicious of interactive apps on Facebook and have avoided being sucked in to participate, but many people do.

What should I do?

The most important advice applies generally to the Internet: be alert and cautious about everything you do. Just about every service is trying to take your data – which shows just how valuable it is, and therefore how important it is to make sure it doesn’t get into the hands of people who want to exploit you with it.

The same caution should apply to the things you read on the internet, too, especially if you don’t know where it has come from. The Cambridge Analytica data – like any data – won’t change anything by itself, and it’s how it’s used that’s really damaging. In the case of the recent news, for instance, the data was collected to build a database of voters and attempt to sway them by showing them ads.

Just like companies trying to sway you to but their stuff. Buyer beware, voter beware.

More explanations from BBC: Cambridge Analytica: The story so far

It’s a sensational story containing allegations of sleaze, psychological manipulation and data misuse that has provoked an internationally furious response.

Tech giant Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica are at the centre of a dispute over the harvesting and use of personal data – and whether it was used to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election or the UK Brexit referendum.

Both firms deny any wrongdoing.

But investigations are under way in the US and UK.

BBC – Cambridge Analytica: Warrant sought to inspect company

The UK’s Information Commissioner says she will seek a warrant to look at the databases and servers used by British firm Cambridge Analytica.

Ms Denham demanded access to the firm’s databases and servers after it missed her Monday deadline.

“I’m not accepting their response so therefore I’ll be applying to the court for a warrant,” she told Channel 4.

She said she wanted to understand how data was “processed or deleted by Cambridge Analytica”.

BBC – Cambridge Analytica: Facebook boss summoned over data claims

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has been called on by a parliamentary committee to give evidence about the use of personal data by Cambridge Analytica.

The consulting firm is accused of harvesting the data of 50 million Facebook users without permission and failing to delete it when told to.

Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons inquiry into fake news, accused Facebook of “misleading” the committee.

Both companies are under scrutiny following claims by a whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, who worked with Cambridge Analytica and alleges it amassed large amounts of data through a personality quiz on Facebook called This is Your Digital Life.

He claims that 270,000 people took the quiz, but the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.

Mr Wylie says that data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to psychologically profile people and deliver pro-Trump material

In a letter to Mr Zuckerberg, Mr Collins accused Facebook of giving answers “misleading to the Committee” at a previous hearing which asked whether information had been taken without users’ consent.

He said it was “now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process”.

His intervention comes after the UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she would be applying to court for a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica.

From the US:

 

Wall Street Journal- Facebook, Other Tech Giants Under Scrutiny by Congress Over User Data

Lawmakers are pushing for an aggressive inquiry into allegations that a firm tied to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign gathered data from millions of Facebook Inc. profiles without authorization, calling for hearings and possible additional regulation of digital advertising.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling for the top executives of tech companies—including Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc.—to appear before Congress to explain how they protect user data from being exploited…

A claim that Facebook helped the Obama campaign in 2012: Ex-Obama Campaign Director on Facebook: They Were On Our Side

A former Obama campaign official is claiming that Facebook knowingly allowed them to mine massive amounts of Facebook data — more than they would’ve allowed someone else to do — because they were supportive of the campaign.

In a Sunday tweet thread, Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said the 2012 campaign led Facebook to “suck out the whole social graph” and target potential voters. They would then use that data to do things like append their email lists.

Facebook has been widely exploited.

Washington Post – Facebook’s rules for accessing user data lured more than just Cambridge Analytica

Facebook last week suspended the Trump campaign’s data consultant, Cambridge Analytica, for scraping the data of potentially millions of users without their consent. But thousands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends, developing deep understandings of people’s relationships and preferences.

Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 invited outside developers to build their businesses off Facebook’s data, giving them ready access to the friend lists, “likes” and affinities that connect millions of Facebook users. Practically any engineer who could persuade a Facebook user to download an app or to sign into a website using Facebook’s popular “log-in through Facebook” feature would have been able to access not only the profile, behavior and location of that Facebook user but also that of all the user’s Facebook friends, developers said.

So even if you have avoided being baited to click, if you are on Facebook you could have been profiled and targeted.

Not surprisingly this is impacting on Facebook.

CNBC: Facebook stock drops after reports of FTC probe and UK summons of Zuckerberg in data scandal

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether the use of personal data from 50 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica violated a consent decree the tech company signed with the agency in 2011, Bloomberg reported Monday.

The probe follows a weekend of turmoil for the social media giant.

Shares of Facebook fell nearly 5 percent Tuesday, after skidding as much as 8 percent on Monday.

Still falling Tuesday (US time):

Was New Zealand’s election rigged by foreign powers?

There are big and concerning questions about the use of Facebook to gather hundreds of millions of personality profiles, and then to target those people with “rumour, disinformation and fake news” to influence elections – with Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the US, the UK’s Brexit vote, and others. What about the UK general election? France? Germany? Canada?

See Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data war.

What about New Zealand? Our election last year was probably mostly influenced by a chain of events, locally derived.

It was always going to be difficult for National to hold on for a fourth term in power, especially given the lack of support parties – a situation that had been evolving for many years.

It would be far fetched to think that Metiria Turei was brainwashed to self destruct and nearly drag the greens down with her.

It would be far fetched to think that Andrew Little was brainwashed to step down as Labour leader less than two months before the election..

It would be far fetched to think that Jacinda Ardern and her sudden rise were influenced by foreign powers – she and her media managers have been working on being ready for an opportunity for some time.

It wouldn’t be so far fetched to think that New Zealand journalists have been targeted and influenced, given their embrace of social media like Twitter and Facebook.

It wouldn’t be so far fetched that Winston Peters has been influenced to suddenly promote a trade agreement with Russia when has been generally strongly opposed to trade agreements.

The personality profile targeting of mass voters seems feasible, and worrying.

It would be far simpler to personality profile individual politicians and to target them.

Of course I don’t think I have been influenced by profilers and manipulators at all [- that’s just something that everyone else could be susceptible to.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data war

I often seen people doing and sharing surveys and quizzes on Facebook. They always looked looked suspicious to me – they looked designed to suck people in.

And it turns out some of them were exactly that – for a nefarious reason. They were used to gather data and compile personality profiles of hundreds of millions of people, and then those people were targeted with “rumour, disinformation and fake news” to influence them in elections.

The process was used experimentally in many elections in many countries – I don’t know if New Zealand was subjected to subliminal coercion (journalists?). The first big election that it was tried on was the Brexit vote in the UK, which surprisingly swung to a vote to exit the European Union.

Then it was used in the US election which resulted in Donald Trump being elected against the odds (aided by a flawed campaign and a flawed campaigner, Hillary Clinton).

Now Cambridge Analytica and the use and abuse of Facebook is being exposed.

Bloomberg: Facebook Suspends Trump Election Data Firm for Policy Violations

  • Data harvested from 50 million Facebook accounts: N.Y. Times
  • Fighting ‘culture war,’ ex-Cambridge Analytica employee says

Facebook Inc. suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data company that helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election and which may have collected data from 50 million Facebook profiles without their owners’ permission.

The social-networking company said in a blog post Friday that Cambridge Analytica received some user data through an app developer on its social network, violating its policies. In 2015, Facebook said Cambridge Analytica certified that it had destroyed the information.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” Facebook said in a statement. Cambridge Analytica and parent Strategic Communication Laboratories have been suspended from the social network, “pending further information,” Facebook said.

Cambridge Analytica said in a Saturday statement it did nothing illegal and is ​in touch with Facebook in order to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Originally funded by Robert Mercer, the conservative political donor and former co-chief executive officer of Renaissance Technologies, Cambridge uses data to reach voters with hyper-targeted messaging, including on Facebook and other online services. It was hired to help with voter outreach by the Trump campaign, whose former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, had been on the company’s board.

Steve Bannon was closely connected to this – and became closely connected to the Trump campaign.

Now one of the people deeply involved is blowing the whistle:The Cambridge Analytica Files 

‘I created Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles.

Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research.

That should be a concern to everyone – this is not the Russian establishment, it is the US and UK establishment, which New Zealand has close links to.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

T…the job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

It turned out the the UK and US democracies were unable to defend themselves either.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology.

The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques.

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says.

Millions of people’s personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldn’t have seen, and couldn’t have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, “would work for anyone”. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?

It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.

“Yes.”

Nato or non-Nato?

“Either. I mean they’re mercenaries. They’ll work for pretty much anyone who pays.”

It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylie’s efforts, there’s no turning the clock back.

What to take from all of this? It’s difficult to know. The Wylie revelations could be fake news. Or this story could reveal a propaganda genie that is now out of the bottle, an insidious corruption of democracy.

We are all influenced with the news and views we see online. It’s impossible for us to know whether we have been targeted, whether we have been sucked in, whether we have been influenced by people deliberately trying to swing elections.

Using political propaganda is nothing new, it has been done in various ways for a long time. But using the power and speed of the Internet, the potential is certainly there to take propaganda to a new and dangerous level.

How dangerous? Enough to steer the UK towards chaos as they try to extract themselves from the European Union. Enough to install a chaotic president in the US. Enough to elect an unlikely president in France? Enough to create a precarious political balance in Germany?

What about New Zealand? See Was New Zealand’s election rigged by foreign powers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook and the Brexit vote

Facebook is also under investigation in the UK to see how much Russian operatives might have interfered in the Brexit vote.

The Telegraph: MPs order Facebook to hand over evidence of Russian election meddling

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee has demanded that the US internet giant release adverts and pages linked to Russia in the build up to last year’s EU referendum and June’s general election.

On Tuesday Damian Collins, the chairman of the committee, wrote to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking for the company to hand over examples of adverts bought by Russian-linked accounts as well as details about how much they cost and how many people saw them.

The committee is currently investigating the influence of fake news, which critics say has thrived on Facebook in the last year amid politically-divisive votes in the US and across Europe.

“Part of this inquiry will focus on the role of foreign actors abusing platforms such as yours to interfere in the political discourse of other nations,” Mr Collins wrote.

Facebook sparked a political storm in the US last month when it revealed that thousands of adverts were bought by Russians in the run-up to Trump’s election victory.

Under investigation from Congress it has handed over 3,000 adverts purchased over two years by the Internet Research Agency, a group linked to the Russian Government. Mr Collins said he was looking for similar evidence in the UK.

The US adverts, which also appeared on Instagram and were seen by 10 million people, focused on divisive topics such as race, immigration and gun rights, and were allegedly used to help propel Donald Trump to the White House. Mr Trump has attempted to play down the impact of the adverts, saying the amounts spent were “tiny” and claiming that Facebook was on Hillary Clinton’s side.

Mr Zuckerberg has said it “just wouldn’t be realistic” to stop all interference in election campaigns on Facebook, although the company has since vowed to manually review every advert targeting people by political affiliation or race.

The Internet has become a key component in the globalisation of dirty politics.

Dirty democracy: Clinton, Trump, Russia

Investigations and revelations continue on dirty democracy involving the US and Russia.

The use of Facebook by Russians continues – CNBC: House panel plans to release Russian ads that ran on Facebook, committee leaders say

The House Intelligence Committee plans to release Russia-linked ads that ran on Facebook during the 2016 election, the panel’s leaders said Wednesday, according to NBC News.

The House committee is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., are leading the probe.

Facebook has already shared about 3,000 ads bought by Russia-linked groups with the congressional committees investigating the Russian influence campaign.

Google also has discovered that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its platforms, according to reports.

Recode:  Facebook admits Russia agents used Messenger to disrupt U.S. presidential election

A top Facebook executive admitted Wednesday that Russian agents had used the social network’s popular Messenger platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus disclosed that a “very small” number of the 470 accounts active in the Russian interference campaign were using Messenger to communicate with their users.

Messenger was reportedly used by some pages with ties to Russian operatives. Marcus, like other Facebook executives, argued that the work done by Facebook around the world was being wrongly “overshadowed” by the Russia “narrative.”

Investigations continue into possible links between the trump campaign and Russians.

Newsweek: DID TRUMP FAMILY, ASSOCIATES BREAK LAW WITH RUSSIA? A GUIDE TO POTENTIAL SUSPECTS IN MUELLER’S PROBE

It has been a big few days in the ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and possibly collude with Donald Trump’s campaign. The president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has appeared before multiple congressional committees…

Paul Manafort: At the same time, the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is delving deeper into Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.

This week, it was reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, in conjunction with Mueller, is investigating Manafort for money laundering. It is widely believed that Mueller aims to use the money laundering charges to flip Manafort and turn him into a witness against Trump.

Roger Stone: A longtime adviser to Trump, Stone boasted during the campaign that he was in communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before that outfit released emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Stone has also confirmed that he exchanged messages with a hacker believed to be responsible for attacking the Democratic National Committee.

NBC:  Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple US officials tell NBC Nightly News.

And the Clinton campaign is also reported to be close to Russia in it’s dirty campaigning too – Washington Post: Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

So both the Republicans and then the Clinton campaign have had Russian connections in what appears to have been a particularly dirty campaign.

The US and Russia have interfered in other democracies for a long time, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Russia has tried to interfere in the US election, and both sides have had connections to Russia in conducting their campaigns.

Vanity Fair: THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT THE STEELE DOSSIER

On many levels, the Post story merely confirms earlier reports about Steele’s backers. The same day that BuzzFeed published the dossier in its entirety, CNN confirmed much of Corn’s earlier reporting. “The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats,” Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein wrote. (As Howard Blum recently reported for Vanity Fair, the funding for the research originally came from a “Never Trump” Republican but not specifically from the war chest of one of Trump’s rivals in the G.O.P. primary, according to a friend of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.)

The involvement of Clinton and the D.N.C. in funding the Steele dossier is not surprising, but it does add fuel to the partisan fire. “I have to say, the whole Russian thing is what it’s turned out to be,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday morning. “This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election.” Conservative pundits and commentators celebrated on Twitter, seeing in the Post story validation of their arguments that the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia were overblown, if not fabricated.

Complicating matters is the fact that Fusion GPS has also worked with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who attended the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Clinton as part of what was described to him as a Russian government effort to help elect his father.

It is all extremely messy.

It has become a very dirty democracy in the US, with mud covered credibility. I don’t know if it is repairable.

The end result so far is the Trump presidency that risks becoming an increasingly disastrous train wreck.

Trump versus the MSM and social media

Donald Trump is claiming the media was against him again – attack is a good sign he is trying to defend or divert.

Reuters: Trump slams Facebook as lawmakers await ads amid Russia probe

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized Facebook as “anti-Trump” and questioned its role during the 2016 presidential campaign, amid probes into alleged Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by Trump’s associates.

His salvo came as the social media giant prepares to hand over 3,000 political ads to congressional investigators that it has said were likely purchased by Russian entities during and after last year’s presidential contest.

Trump appeared to embrace the focus on the social media network in his comments on Wednesday, which also took aim at more traditional medial outlets, long targeted by the president as “fake news.”

“Facebook was always anti-Trump. The networks were always anti-Trump,” Trump said on Twitter, leveling the same charge against the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Collusion?”

Trump’s success was largely due to the amount of attention he received by all media, and arguably how his campaign successfully used social media, especially Facebook.

Business Insider:  Steve Bannon reportedly tried to place a mole inside Facebook before joining Trump’s campaign

Former White House chief strategist and current Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon reportedly tried to infiltrate Facebook last year with the help of far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous.

BuzzFeed reported on Monday that in August 2016, shortly before joining the President Donald Trump’s campaign, Bannon sought t0 dispatch a subordinate to apply for a job at Facebook and serve as an informant about what the job application process was like.

Wired: WHAT WE KNOW—AND DON’T KNOW—ABOUT FACEBOOK, TRUMP, AND RUSSIA

From last November:  How the Trump Campaign Built an Identity Database and Used Facebook Ads to Win the Election

 

Party impact on social media

Here is the current imp[act of the major parties on Facebook and twitter, as measured by Zavy.

Facebook:

ZavyFacebook20170912

That may be a reflection of the amount of negative and attack politics that us prevalent.

Twitter:

ZavyTwitter20170912

Twitter is dominated by media reports, journalist comment and reactions to those. Labour dominates the activity but has the poorer ‘pulse’.

Both Facebook and Twitter pulses suggest that National is struggling to turn things around