It now looks like Russian operatives made extensive use of Facebook to subvert the US presidential election.
The US giant revealed yesterday that as many as 126m Americans may have seen 80,000 posts on the network created by bogus Russian sources to sow social and political division.
This is apparently aside from the huge concerns around fake news stories promoted on the platform and dark political adverts (posted secretly and visible only to the recipient).
This matters to us because Facebook is the largest and most profitable online publisher in the UK.
According to the Internet Advertising Bureau some £1.05bn was spent advertising on social media sites in the UK in the first half 2017, and a rough estimate is that around 80 per cent of that went to Facebook.
That’s around £1.6bn a year, double the amount spent online with every single newspaper and magazine in the UK.
This quote seems to me to sum up the Facebook (and to an extent Google/Youtube problem) problem neatly:
“They are engines of propaganda…Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentation, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context…What the proprietorship… is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
The quote comes from Stanley Baldwin railing against the power of press barons Beaverbrook and Rothermere in 1931.
Mark Zuckerberg may not use Facebook to push his own reactionary propaganda messages as the UK press owners of the last century did.
But the effect of his platform’s huge wealth and power could be just as destructive.
While on the one hand Facebook allows anyone with a smartphone or computer to become a publisher it denudes the journalism industry of revenue and so reduces our ability to tell fact from fiction.
Just as the journalism industry has had to accept increasing amounts of regulation over the years as a check on the power of wealthy individuals to subvert democracy, so will Facebook if it is to protect its hugely lucrative monopoly position as a social media publisher.