“Facebook is in a quagmire that only it can solve. Every day, new information comes to light about ways foreign entities used its ad platform, and others, to create tailored, targeted campaigns with the seeming intent of swaying elections. Facebook, for its part, says it is looking into it and, until earlier this year at least, had no idea this sort of thing was happening.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company’s now working hard on the problem, fighting misinformation in German elections and cooperating with government investigators. It’s set to appear in front of Congressional investigators on Nov. 1. In a Facebook post this week he also recanted for his ridiculing last year of the idea that “fake news” can influence elections.
In the uproar, there is also a sense that there’s only so much Facebook can do. With the digital advertising genie out of the bottle, policing a giant system of algorithmically-sent content for nefarious intent is ultimately impossible. The idea is that, given technical limitations, no guidelines, no rules, and no regulations–a possibility currently being drafted in Congress–would really be able to stem the spread of fake news and inflammatory advertising. Last week, when Zuckerberg described how Facebook would commit itself to the task of “catching” the “bad” stuff, he added a caveat: “I’m not going sit here and tell you that we’re going to catch all bad content in our system.”
But amid the controversies and the angry demands of lawmakers and the press, perhaps we aren’t asking the right questions. As an ad tech veteran explained it to me recently: The issue isn’t can Facebook control the content on its platform–it’s, why would it? What would motivate it to really change a formula that up until now has been good for its $27 billion business?”
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