back to article Facebook notifications to reveal who saw dodgy Russian election ads

Facebook has revealed it's started work on a tool that will let its members learn if they saw ads published by the “Internet Research Agency”, the outfit thought to have been behind mass buys of pro-Kremlin propaganda ads during the 2016 US presidential election. The Social Network™ has come in for stern criticism for allowing …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Fostering “meaningful communities”'

    You don't think Zuk really believes his own shit do you?

    ~

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product

    ~

    "I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me. It goes back to that moment of its creation, Zuckerberg at his keyboard after a few drinks creating a website to compare people’s appearance, not for any real reason other than that he was able to do it.

    That’s the crucial thing about Facebook, the main thing which isn’t understood about its motivation: it does things because it can. Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it. Motivation of that type doesn’t work in the Hollywood version of life, so Aaron Sorkin had to give Zuck a motive to do with social aspiration and rejection. But that’s wrong, completely wrong. He isn’t motivated by that kind of garden-variety psychology.

    ......He does this because he can, and justifications about ‘connection’ and ‘COMMUNITY’ are ex post facto rationalisations........

    The drive is simpler and more basic. That’s why the impulse to growth has been so fundamental to the company, which is in many respects more like a virus than it is like a business. Grow and multiply and monetise. Why? There is no why. Because."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Fostering “meaningful communities”'

      I see what you're saying, that FB as a phenomenon really just "crystallized" out of the new environment called cyberspace, with no existing morality or code in place to govern it. Fair enough. So that makes FB a 'chaotic neutral' entity, but one of great power.

      Is it time we threw a net over FB? Hmmmm...

    2. post-truth

      "Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it."

      You're right, of course, but it needs some nuance.

      What you've done is describe not just Zuck, but also myself, pretty much all hackers, and maybe half the creative IT geeks and politicians across the entire world (paradigmatically including the president of the United States).

      We're all sociopaths and narcissists. Most of us are in denial (this is not an excuse, just an observation). Some of us try to face it later on their career and try for redemption (in my case I became a plaintiff lawyer in, coincidentally, the same field trodden by Zuck - though I'm still addicted to doing stuff just because I can).

      My point is: when you say the [perceived] problem is down to Zuck's personality you're in danger of trivializing the problem. Witch-burning won't help if we're just swapping out witches... [and now I'm in danger of talking politics so I'll stop there]

      1. handleoclast

        Re: "Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it."

        @post-truth

        We're all sociopaths and narcissists.

        Yeah, and? :)

        This is true. But in some cases these traits are mitigated/ameliorated by others.

        For me, laziness also plays a big part in my decisions. Laziness is not the same as bone-idleness or being work-shy. I seek solutions that satisfy all constraints with the minimum amount of work. I try to work smarter not harder (that phrase goes down much better on a CV than admitting laziness). But my laziness also extends to the principle of not doing something if it doesn't need doing. I don't do things just because I can, I have to have a purpose in mind. Not necessarily a noble purpose, but a purpose. Admittedly, when I was younger (much younger), there was also a strong element of "I wonder what would happen if..." coupled with "Ooooh, I can do this..." involved, but with age laziness has pretty much overwhelmed that urge.

        As for sociopathy, we're all sociopathic to a degree. There are people I have never met and do not know of undergoing all sorts of privations, but unless the media exposes their plight I don't give a shit about them (how could I if I don't know them or what is happening to them?). Most of us manage to extend our interest in the well-being of humanity beyond a single person (ourselves) to a small (perhaps very small) number of friends and acquaintances, and may even help a stranger we perceive to be in need.

        On top of all that, some of us have intellectually grasped the principles of evolutionarily stable strategies and/or iterated prisoner's dilemma. It is possible to make a large short-term gain at the expense of others but it is usually possible to make a much larger gain over the long term by co-operating. Even without an emotional urge not to harm others, that intellectual understanding curbs our actions.

        Zuckerberg seems to be more narcissistic and sociopathic than many, but how much of our perception of him is skewed by the fact that he has an eminently punchable face and red hair?

        Just some random rambles.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: "Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it."

        "We're all sociopaths and narcissists."

        you sure do have a horrible outlook on your fellow man. I, for one, don't accept that.

        There are two classifications of people that I've observed having this kind of opinion about other humans. Both of these involve some kind of CONTROL over "everyone else" "for their own good". One is religious. The other is political. Filling in the names of these classifications of people is an easy exercise for anyone who pays attention...

        (in short, I'm saying that anyone who thinks this is probably a CLOSET ELITIST at the very least)

        I like to think that everyone else pretty much just wants their own life (and that of their family) to be reasonably decent, and will therefore treat others with the same kind of respect that they want to receive, to its logical conclusion. And, with the exception of a VERY few 'bad examples" (for which we have prisons and a legal system), I think I'm right.

        post-edit: Yes, I'm talking about "socialists" and "the religious right". Might as well just say it. both see everyone ELSE as 'basically evil' and probably include themselves just to make it sound like they're not elitists (when they are). And BOTH seek to CONTROL OTHERS, "for their own good".

        1. handleoclast

          Re: "Zuckerberg knows how to do something, and other people don’t, so he does it."

          @bombastic bob

          The OP said we were all sociopaths and narcissists. I qualified that by saying we were all sociopathic and narcissistic to some extent. To the extent that some of us, at times, strongly favour our own opinion over that of everyone else, we're all to some degree narcissistic. The the extent that almost all of us have stronger feelings for friends than strangers, we're all to some degree sociopathic.

          I agree with you very much that people who want to do things to you "for your own good" can be a major problem. Not always: a surgeon who wants to chop off your gangrenous hand for your own good is probably doing you a favour, but mostly they are dangerous. Some of them believe they know better than you do what is for your own good so will ignore your protests and will happily do really bad things for your own good. Some of them only use it as an excuse to exercise power or get rich. The ones who really believe what they say are the most dangerous because they will do anything their ideology tells them is a good thing.

          Where I start to disagree with you is in your postscript. In my experience, most of the religious people on the right who try this don't actually believe the shit they spout, they just want the money. As such, if what they say becomes too unpopular with too many people they'll have a divine revelation that modifies their preachings. Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard (who is completely heterosexual) are amongst the many who spring to mind. It's the ones who really believe it who are dangerous because they'll stop at nothing to do whatever it is "for your own good."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blindsided

    "...the company did not imagine its platform could be used that way before the election."

    Say what? I thought what the Russians did with their ad buys was dead easy. Just pay and it's a done deal, right? So that being the case, I find it a little difficult to believe that those in control of that system "could not imagine" some sort of political intrusion into the FB ad-space.

    Yes, I understand that Zuck has to employ ignorance as a defense in this case, but does it have to be so pro forma? Jeez...

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Blindsided

      I think, translated, it means "our salesdroids missed an opportunity"...

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Blindsided

        "our salesdroids missed an opportunity"

        and they'll NOW compensate for it by secretly employing this "new technology" in the ad-marketing-sphere.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I think we get it, I'm not sure the FB users get it. Zuck obviously does. His business is to sell ads to a captive..err.. target audience. He really doesn't care where the money comes from or how it's obtained as long as he gets the money. This seems obvious since the only time FB or Zuck responds to this type of stuff is after he's taken the money.

  4. Ole Juul

    Coming from a US entity

    “It is important that people understand how foreign actors tried to sow division and mistrust . . .

    That's pretty rich.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Coming from a US entity

      Not just any US entity - an entity which has been used and is still being used today in other countries for the same purpose.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Coming from a US entity

        I think that was his point.

  5. tom dial Silver badge

    So FB can tell not only which ads were shown on my web browser, but they can tell also which of them I actually looked at? This on a PC with either (one case) no camera or (other case) a piece of post-it note over the camera window? I do not believe that. I also am skeptical about whether they know that I also use AdBlock Plus and some ads are not presented at all, although I have had enough refusals from paywallish sites over ad blockers to suspect they might.

    Then there is the fact that I, and probably some others, occasionally look at garbage sites for amusement, or see the "meddling" ads and have our opinions nudged opposite to what the ads appear to be promoting.

    I, for one, am tired of endless moral panic promotion by those who presume they know better what I should look at that I do; and that most explicitly includes the legislators arguing that something must be done to prevent political discussion and advocacy that they do not think appropriate for us slow-minded folks in the hinterlands between the forty mile strips along the Pacific and part of the Atlantic coasts.

    1. rmason

      @Tom Dial

      They can tell exactly what was put in your feed. Of course.

      these aren't adverts as in banners or ads you see on other websites, they're facebook posts that someone then pays t have pushed to the feeds of whatever demographics they are after.

      So yes, FB knows which of these "ads" were pushed to you, me or anyone else.

      The word "advert" always gets people. that's not what they are in the sense you're thinking.

      They're posts from a facebook user, page or group that you can then pay to pop up in feeds as "sponsored". the person paying chooses from hundreds of things like sex, age, location, things that person "likes".

      For example:

      Male, 25-55, likes "the NRA" and "X political entity" located in "y and Z areas of america"

      You then pay to have it served into the facebook posts those users see. More £ more people.

      So yes this can be an obvious advert for a brand or product, but it can also be my made up political story, my meme that pushes all the right buttons for a certain group and will get shared "Sharia no go zones in birmingham!!!! (with a video of fighting in Iran or somewhere) for example.

      It's nothing Ad block or anything will ever touch, because it's a facebook post from a facebook user. They call them adverts because they've received money to push it. but it's just a post that will appear in your FB feed like any other.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "It's nothing Ad block or anything will ever touch, because it's a facebook post from a facebook user."

        Facebook purity and other related tools do quite nicely, thanks.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        "it can also be my made up political story, my meme that pushes all the right buttons for a certain group and will get shared"

        Sounds like a fun project, for intarweb trolls, to do independently. This might get fun. POPCORN! GET YOUR POPCORN!

        I wonder if 'media matters' and other such "non-profit" organizations are already doing that... (of COURSE they are! But Zuck won't point THAT out now will he?)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook

    I've heard of it.

    1. Tim Seventh
      Coat

      Re: Facebook

      I haven't, but I've seen it. It's a book you use on your face, right? This guy used it.

      I'll walk myself out.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well that's a slippery slope.

    Dear Farcebook user,

    We noticed you voted wrong, please vote correctly next time.

    Regards,

    Farcebook.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Wait until Zuck enters politics. He knows the FB audience and how to tweak opinions. Yes, he'll be forced to work arms-length from FB, but ....

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Wait until Zuck enters politics

        too late

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why just Russians?

    Shouldn't they also look at what influence the adds from the contestants and their supporters also had if they want to get any meaningful results.

    As it stands this is only (to use the latest buzz word) virtue signalling on the part of facebook.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Why just Russians?

      If you look at the (for example) Brexit vote, the Russians would definitely gain from a weaker, divided EU. But also, so would the Americans, Chinese, and to a lesser extent India and the other G20 including countries in the EU, etc. Any of those could equally have used the same tactics and techniques to influence the vote - only the Russians/Norks/ISIS meddling in a democratic vote are bad, but the others are not bad.

      See also Cambridge Analytica and their involvement with the Leave campaign.

      Refer also to the German elections, French elections, USA elections, etc, etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Russia was hurt much worse than they admit by the EU sanctions (which we championed, and would be seen as being a proxy for the US).

        Convincing the UK to, in effect, impose far more drastic economic sanctions on itself (by quitting the single market), would seem to be a very apt act of revenge/punishment. It would also eliminate much US influence on the EU.

        I doubt it originates from the very top, Putin tends to stick to the rules when he can, but from some of the businessmen whose fortunes took the brunt of the sanctions. They would be able to recoup their (probably relatively quite small) expenses from bargains in the UK fire sale. (even if it's just currency deals).

        Putin would be aware of course, and not preventing it, but that is somewhat different to actively doing it.

        And as it turned out, they only needed a couple of percent.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        WTF?

        "If you look at the (for example) Brexit vote, the Russians would definitely gain from a weaker, divided EU. But also, so would the Americans"

        Not THIS American. Because, like Ronald Reagan, _I_ believe that "a rising tide lifts all boats". I also believe that Brexit is good for the UK, because Brussels isn't doing you any favors these days...

        So if _I_ am right, your economy will do well post-Brexit, just like ours is doing a LOT better at the moment. I certainly want the UK economy to do better. I don't think ANYONE in the USA [who isn't an evil son-of-a-bitch] would want the UK economy to do WORSE...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          >Not THIS American. Because, like Ronald Reagan, _I_ believe that "a rising tide lifts all boats". I also believe that Brexit is good for the UK, because Brussels isn't doing you any favors these days...

          Many Americans, as individuals, may want the UK to do well. However, at least one of your Presidents advisers has been advising American corporations on how they can benefit from Brexit - IIRC his words were "God given opportunity". A number of the large American healthcare providers are already circling over the British NHS and would love the opportunity to take over running it - and this extends to many areas of business.

          A weaker UK and weaker EU does give proportionally more strength to America and China across the Globe.

        2. strum

          "a rising tide lifts all boats"

          Especially pleasant when you have the capacity to hole any boats you don't like.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Take responsibility

    People need to take responsibility for questioning what they read and the decisions they make. Nobody forces you to vote for the policies of the alt.right or UKIP.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Take responsibility

      You are indeed correct however there is also a responsibility that the main stream press and social media need to take.

      Lets take an example, the EHCR, it's not connected to Brexit but I guarantee if you randomly asked twenty people they would say it is.

      The ECHR in my opinion is an important thing that we follow, the main stream press on the other hand demonise it at every opportunity, Abbu Hamza being the main example. They fail to show or report in a very limited way any example where the ECHR works for the benefit of the people. Then there is negative stories about immigration. Once you put all these together it's not difficult to understand why there is a rise in alt.right support and why people voted for Brexit.

      My own favourite conspiracy theory is that this is intentional with the motivation being war.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Take responsibility

        Many of those who criticize the ECHR and the Human Rights Act fail to realise that the biggest inquest in the UK came about as a direct result of the Hillsborough victims families using their Human Rights to pressure the government. Without it, a number of senior police officers would have escaped without the criminal charges that they are facing.

      2. Andytug

        Re: Take responsibility

        Maybe not war, but certainly a lot of people make money by playing the market as it goes up and down when disruption occurs. Given that a lot of the world is stagnating at the moment (so no going up and down is happening much) then to make money those people must create some disruption, perhaps?

  10. Palpy

    Information is not the same as power...

    ...just ask the guy reading about the history of social justice whilst serving a life term behind bars.

    But information and disinformation can be a powerful weapon in the service of those who can wield it. What the West is seeing is a Russian (mostly) campaign of social disruption using targeted disinformation. The "Heart of Texas" Facebook account encouraged Texans to secede from the US; the corresponding Twitter account was "ItsTimeToSecede". Both were run by the Russian "Internet Research Agency". Similar Russian efforts promoted secession of California, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and secessionist factions in various racial groups. (See blog link, but there are many other credible accounts of this.)

    How can one not regard fanning secessionist movements as attacking the integrity of the United States?

    One of the goals in a shooting war is to disrupt the enemy's society so that supply lines fail, recruitment of new troops becomes difficult, and chains of command start to break. Targeted disinformation is being used in similar ways in the non-shooting conflict between Russia and the West

    How is the Russian effort different from other information, propaganda, and disinformation? All US political entities use targeted information, and most throw in a bit of disinformation -- fake facts -- at least until they're caught at it. The US has a number of sweaty peanuts like Alex Jones and Michael Savage spreading rank bulls**t over various media. We also have a number of news sources supplying reasonably fact-based journalism, and many supplying information-with-a-spin to various politically partisan populations.

    We also allow citizens to carry guns. And sometimes they shoot at things, living or dead. Legally. That does NOT mean we want Russian spooks scurrying around the US carrying guns and shooting at things they want to shoot at. Just because we have our own weapons -- information-weapons -- inside our borders does NOT mean we want cold-conflict enemies sending stealthy, targeted information-weapons across our internet-borders.

    Therein lies the rub, really: If disinformation is weaponized (it has been for a long time, darling Tokyo Rose), and the Internet allows worldwide access to disinformation (that's more recent, and accelerating), then how do we even think about national security and borders with respect to weaponized disinformation?

    Personally, I think we need to think about it pretty quick. We in the West are behind the curve on this one. Putin has already put up his own first layer of defenses by banning VPNs and anonymizing services, and "managing" the Internet inside Russia. He can do that; in a free-speech democracy we have to find other ways. But the West is lagging the Russians on both offensive and defensive technology with regard to weaponized disinformation.

    If you read this far, you must have eyeballs of beryllium-steel alloy. I salute you. We need a TL;DR icon.

    One last note -- personally, I think Zuckerberg is an immature cluck. Eat only meat from animals he has killed himself? Childish posturing, a real "Oooh, look at my cool life" pose. But if Facebook hadn't been a success we would be having this conversation about MySpace, or some other social network. Zuck is just a distraction.

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad
      Pint

      Re: Information is not the same as power...

      "We need a TL;DR icon"

      No we don't. Have a beer instead.

      By the way, this stuff from St. Petersburg isn't bad at all:

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltika_Breweries

  11. sloshnmosh

    Facebook Graph

    I wonder if any of these "bad actors" were using the Facebook Graph API to disguise their posts, comments, likes or shares using other users access tokens using the Facebook Graph API?

    I have been finding the API in a lot of questionable apps recently and wondered if it could be used for just this purpose.

    https://developers.facebook.com/docs/graph-api/using-graph-api/

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