When it comes to social media influencing elections, all eyes seem to have trained themselves on Facebook. So, perhaps it’s little surprise that Facebook is trying to tuck a lot of of information out of sight.
According to the U.K. Telegraph, Facebook has quietly deleted a page advertising how the social media giant worked with the Scottish National Party to “achieve an overwhelming victory” in the United Kingdom’s 2015 general election.
The SNP, a left-leaning Scottish independence party, achieved an enormous result in the 2015 general election, gaining 50 seats in Parliament and winning almost all of Caledonia.
The shift to the SNP was devastating for Labour, who usually counted on Scotland’s liberal voters to gain several seats in the far north of Great Britain.
However, in late December of last year, it emerged that Facebook had been using its work with the SNP as one of its “success stories” helping political parties and movements game social media.
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The article, called “Triggering a landslide,” highlighted how Facebook’s secretive “global government and politics” team helped the SNP nearly sweep the entirety of Scotland.
According to the Telegraph, the team “helps political parties to capitalize on the site’s features, including by aiding their efforts to take advantage of mass advertising and carry out live webcasts, as well as tackle abuse.”
The Telegraph reported that there were several other success stories listed on the page, including Bernie Sanders‘ run for the presidency and Republican Rick Scott’s run for governor in Florida. But all were pulled, save for a relatively uncontroversial piece about advocating for green spaces in Finland.
After the Telegraph contacted Facebook about its story, the newspaper reported, the page was deleted.
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Now, what the Telegraph called the “government and politics page” takes viewers to business success stories.
Of course, most of the attention focused on Facebook and electioneering has involved Russian ads and fake news in the 2016 election, most of which has proved to be rather small potatoes. In terms of the actual political impact social media interference may have had on elections, however, the SNP story is much, much bigger.
Beyond the import of it — SNP’s wiping out of Labour in Scotland almost assured a huge Tory victory that year and helped seal the fate of former Labour leader Ed Miliband — the mechanics of how Facebook helps its political clients are disturbing.
If, for instance, Facebook is aiding clients in taking advantage of mass advertising, the company is presumably not offering a level playing field to their opponents. In fact, Facebook could theoretically game the system so that the advertising was actually less effective than it could have been. If their team helped clients “tackle abuse,” the implication is that other abuse would go untackled, perhaps even deliberately.
The other grotesque implication here is that this kind of treatment could extend beyond parties or candidates. With the politicization of media, both mainstream and alternative, it would only make sense that the same global government and politics team could be used in the service of promoting or suppressing viewpoints to a greater extent than we’ve previously thought possible. Given Facebook’s ideological leanings and connections, it’s not difficult to guess who this manipulation would favor.
Facebook is a private corporation, of course, but it’s a platform that has serious transparency issues in myriad areas, especially when it comes to politics. Dubious fake news sites claiming that Hillary is a robot puppet of the Bilderbergs or covert Russian ad campaigns are actually the least of our worries when it comes to Mark Zuckerberg’s baby.
Don’t believe me, though — believe Facebook, which, up until earlier this month, was quietly letting political elites know that if you paid it enough money, it could influence elections for you.
Meanwhile, the social media giant is touting a new downvote system, a way users can express displeasure with content they dislike. Perhaps this could be a useful tool, were it in the hands of a company we could trust.
Yet, given the company’s tacit admission that they “tackle abuse” and promote advertising at different levels based on their clientele, it’s easy to see why Facebook’s conservative users have every reason to be concerned — particularly given that they’re being made collective whipping boys for a 2016 presidential election that didn’t go as Silicon Valley (or the world) had planned.
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