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September 13, 2017updated 10 Jun 2022 9:35am

Sir Harold Evans: Facebook should face MPs to explain ‘destructive effect of its algorithms on democracy’

By Harold Evans

Mark Zuckerberg and his key Facebook operatives should be called to a US Senate inquiry in the US and a Select Committee in the UK.

Drip by drip come revelations about how Russian intelligence agents, pretending to be Americans,  bought ads on Facebook to pollute the 2016  presidential campaign. But we know only what very little Facebook has been willing to acknowledge.

Publishing leaders in the UK have endorsed Press Gazette’s campaign for the duopoly of Facebook and Google to be confronted with the destructive effect its algorithms have in undermining democratic discourse.

This week I compared the megas to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I stand amazed at my own moderation.

A day later, on Tuesday September 12, three reporters for the Daily Beast website got Facebook to admit – for the first time – that it had  helped the Russian intelligence agents to use its events management tool to stage protest events.

They were incited by Trumpian conspiracy staples: Beast identified an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho. But that’s not the point.

They could have been promoting Hillary Clinton for sainthood. They were outrageous because they were a blatant interference with the American election. They were, as Beast said, “the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.”

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How much of this did the Kremlin do? Facebook isn’t saying. It is way past time for Facebook  to come clean. It has forfeited its public trust. It is not transparent. It is opaque and slippery.

We deserve a full accounting of the whole mess, from 2015 on. We deserved it during the election, not grudgingly and piecemeal when the voting was over. Facebook should put every paid ad online so we can judge for ourselves.

Mr Zuckerberg deserves every bit of the contumely visited on him by CNN’s news supremo Jeff Zucker at a dinner hosted by Credit Suisse in Toronto on Monday.

“I think that Facebook has not been forthcoming in the role that they played in the election and I think that their feet need to be held to the fire way more.

“I think it is outrageous that Facebook will not be more transparent about the advertising they took from Russia, and show those ads and release more information. The fact that they tried to bury that story in August when Congress was out of session is outrageous.”

Zucker stressed: “I really do want to emphasize that Facebook’s behaviour in the election has NOT been transparent and this is a huge issue. I urge more folks to hold them to account.”

Memo to all other news chiefs and political leaders: Please copy.

Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times and Times, is the author of Do I Make Myself Clear?

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