How Mark Zuckerberg could stop Donald Trump

19 days ago

You may not have noticed, butMark Zuckerbergthis week hurled some serious tint at Donald Trump. What’s even less obvious is why this matters for democracy as we know it.

TheFacebookfounder didn’t mention the2016Republican presidential front-runner by name during his keynote address at the annual F8conference on Tuesday, but there was no doubt that Zuckerberg wasusing his platform to hammer Trump’s rhetoric on policies ranging from immigration to foreign trade.

As I look around the world, Im starting to see people and nations turning inward, against the idea of a connected world and a global community, Zuckerberg said. I hear fearful voices calling for build walls and distancing people they label as others. I hear them calling for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, for reducing trade, and in some cases even for cutting access to the Internet.

Zuckerberg delivered his veiled public criticism of Trump merely weeks after, asGizmodo reported Friday, Facebook employees asked Zuckerberg, What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?

Were Zuckerberg to decide that the social media giant has that responsibility, it raises a key question for the American people: Could Facebook actually prevent Trump from winning the White House?

The answer is almost certainly yesand there may be no way to stop it.

Zuckerberg vs. Trump

Trump and Zuckerberg have been butting heads from a distance since the real-estate heir launched his presidential campaign on an anti-immigrant platform last summer.

I hear fearful voices calling for house walls and distancing people they label as others .

Trump’s it is proposed to take an extremely hard line on China could trigger a trade war, which would undoubtedly hamper Facebook’sefforts to get the Chinese government to allow its citizens to use the social networking platform. In addition to Trump’s hostility to undocumented immigration, which has find him calling for the construction of awall on the U.S.-Mexico perimeter and praising a widely mocked mass expulsion endeavour from the 1950 s calledOperation Wetback, Trump has also been publicly hostile to certain forms of legal immigration that Zuckerberg wants to expand.

Both personally and through his nonprofit immigration reform group, Fwd.us, Zuckerberg has been a major proponent of the H1-B visa program, which lets U.S. companies to temporarily devote residency to highly skilled foreign workers who can fill specific needs for a business. The use of H1-B visas is popular among Silicon Valley tech firms looking for skilled workers at a moment when the market for certain types of engineering talent has truly become global, and maybe also catching a violate on labor costs.

Trump, however, charged that the program disadvantages American workers at the expense of their foreign competitors, and he proposed changing the program to make it more difficult for companies to bring in employees from overseas. In apolicy paper posted to Trump’s website last year, the candidate made a excavate directly at Zuckerberg, charging, Mark Zuckerbergs personal senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.

In response to Zuckerberg’s F8 comments, a Trump campaign spokesperson equated undocumented immigration to crime, telling CNBC, I’ll take Mark Zuckerberg severely when he devotes up all of his private securitymove out of his posh neighborhood and come live in a modest neighborhood near a border town. Then I’m sure his attitude would change.

While social media platforms like Facebook have beeninstrumental to Trump’s political success, there’s clearly no love lost between the candidate and the social networking wunderkind. Zuckerberg clearly assures a Trump presidency as dangerous for the future of the country. If Zuckerberg wanted to throw his full weight behind the #NeverTrump movement, he has a tool far more powerful in influencing the outcome of the election than his billions of dollars.

Zuckerberg has Facebook.

Tipping the scale

If Trump emerges from what’s shaping up to be anunprecedentedly chaotic Republican convention with the nomination, he’s already going to be facing a stiff headwindveteran political analyst Larry Sabato seesHillary Clinton crushing Trump by a margin of 156 electoral elections. But elections are unpredictable. If that gap closes, powerful platforms like Facebook have the ability to move the dial in the number of important ways.

Before get into the specifics, it’s crucial to point out that there’s no indication that Facebook has ever purposely targeted a candidate , nor do they have any stated intention to do so. Facebook’s power is largely in the network consequence gained from its ubiquity, how it’s used by a broad cross-section of the public. If people supposed the social network went out of its style to alter the course of an election, it would enrage the supporters of the candidate it moved against and likely incentivize them to use website less frequently or even abandon it wholly.

Voting is a core value of republic and we believe that promoting civic participation is an important contribution we are capable of make to the community. Were proud of our work on this, a Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Dot. While we encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to engage on the elections, we as a company are neutral and have not utilized our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote.

As a platform, Facebook has an enormous ability to influence public perception in a manner that is subtle enough that it may be impossible to detect. Regardless of whether or not Facebook would actively discriminate against Trump or any other candidateand there’s a strong incentive for the company not to do soit’s abundantly clear that it could .

Facebook first systematically looked at its ability to influence voting behaviour on Election Day in 2010. As detailed in astudy published two years later, researchers at Facebook demonstrated some users a button at the top of their news feeds allowing them to tell their friends that I Voted and encouraging them to do their democratic duty if they hadn’t yet done so, while other users weren’t indicated the same message. The researchers compared the data to the actual voter rolls and detected the feature had a significant effect in boosting turnoutnot just for people who were indicated the button; there was a ripple effect among their friends as well.

Our results suggest that the Facebook social message increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes, the researchers wrote.

When compared to the 2010 electorate a whole, this number is not particularly large It represents about 0.14 percent of the 236 million Americas eligible to vote in that year’s midterm election. Still, presidential elections have been decided by slimmer marginsthe 2000 Bush v. Gore contest, for example. Additionally, the I Voted effect was the result of a single item being shown on a single day. How would it affect voting behavior if Facebook consistently altered what appeared in people’s news feeds over hour? Two years later, the company aimed to find out.

While we encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to engage on the elections, we as a company are neutral .

In 2012, Facebook’s researchers wanted to determine if increased exposure to hard news about politics affected users’ inclination to election. They tweaked the news feeds of approximately two million users so that if any of their friends had shared a news story, that tale would be boosted to the top of their feed. These are narratives the targeted users had a probability of find anyway. If one of your Facebook friends likes or shares a piece of content commonly, there’s a chance it will end up in your feed. This experiment all but guaranteed that exposure for a certain type of content.

Facebook then polled those users and received 12,000 replies. The respondents reported an increased likelihood to follow politics and were more likely to report voting in the November election. Interestingly, the effects was more pronounced for infrequent Facebook users than “its all for” people who logged in every day like clockwork.

Facebook data scientist Lada Adamic detailed the 2012 experiment in a public presentation. But when Personal Democracy Media co-founder Micah Sifry contacted Facebook about such studies while doing research for a2014 article he published in Mother Jones , the clip was quickly taken down fromYouTube.

Sifry afterward uploaded a video of that video to YouTube 😛 TAGEND

First of all, Facebook has pretty much routinized the use of its voter megaphone tool and has been deploying it in countries around the world when there’s a democratic election. They’ve actually offered no additional transparency about how the tool works, Sifry told the Daily Dot , nodding to Facebook’s famously opaque algorithm. I consider it to be an ongoing problem that we basically have to trust the engineers at Facebook to use this thumb on the scale in a wholly neutral way.

Engineers, remember, who may very well feel that the company should place that finger.

Sifry remembers back in 2007, when PresidentBarack Obama, then a U.S. senator, was still in early stages of his hunt for the keys to the Oval Office. When Facebook launched Platform, a toolkit that allowed third-parties to develop applications for the site, the Obama team was the first political campaign to gain access. At the time, this moveraised questions about why Obama got early access while other campaigns, like those of Sen.John McCain( R-Ariz .) and or then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, didn’t get the same early access. Should that exclusive access be viewed as an in-kind contribution from Facebook to the Obama campaign? Or was it merely one promising, young, tech-savvy organization offering the opportunity to beta test its product to another promising, young, tech-savvy organization?

The core of the questions is that, 12 years after its birth in a Harvard dorm room, Facebook has come to play a such a crucial role in how people around the world communicate, virtually everything it does threatens to have an effect on politics. Through its ubiquity, Facebook is often viewed as a utility akin the telephone company, rather than just another website adrift on an seemingly endless and indifferent Internet.

What they don’t know, they can’t govern

The power to theoretically choose the outcome of election isn’t limited to Facebook. Similar concerns have been raised about the power ofGoogleto swing results of the election. A 2015 analyze published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that manipulating the order connections appeared in the results page of a search engine could have adramatic impacton undecided voters’ perceptions of political candidates.

This problem naturally invites the question of whether regulation is needed to police how these web giants can affect elections. When contacted by the Daily Dot, representatives from the Federal Elections Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission all indicated this issue wasn’t covered under their specific jurisdictions.

Paul Ryan, deputy executive director at the election watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center, used to say if Facebook or Google were directly coordinating with a candidate to manipulate what their users find for the campaign’s benefit, then it would be considered an in-kind contribution, effectively a donation. However, that regulation only applies if there’s direct coordination.

If Facebook or Google or another Internet business were to manipulate their public interface for the benefit of a candidate, the company would be sailing in uncharted legal waters .

If its doing these things independently of nominees, and they stop short from expressly advocating a candidates election or defeat( e.g ., Google stops short of including a message like ‘Vote for Trump’ at the top of its listing search results for a term like ‘presidential election’ ), Ryan said, then federal campaign finance laws wouldnt apply.

At any rate, Im quite certain that the Federal Election Commission has never to reflect on any formal style( rule-making, advisory opinions, enforcement actions) how federal campaign finance laws would or would not is in relation to such activities, he continued. So if Facebook or Google or another Internet business were to manipulate their public interface for the benefit of a candidate, the company would be sail in uncharted legal waters.

Any attempt to regulate how online platforms affect voter turnout is extremely tricky. Due to the demographics of its user base in the United Stateswhich tends towardthe young, the female, and the urbaneven if Facebook equally boosted turnout across the board, it would advantage Democrats over Republican, because those groups have a tendency lean Democratic rather than Republican. Facebook promoting more people to vote is an unequivocal good, but even when the company applies civic pressure to the public uniformly, there’s likely be a partisan advantage. In that context, it’s impossible to impose regulation without proscribing the social network from making any moves to boost voter turnout.

Facebook publishing the results of its experiments is a rare occurrence, but the firmlike every other Internet company worth its saltis constantly operating experimentations, tweaks in the design of its platform to see how they affect user behavior. The Internet makes this so-called -AB testing relatively easy, and involving companies to check with government regulators before each exam, just to ensure its not boosting one side over the other, is unreasonably onerous.

Of course, enforcing any rules is dependent on determining that this sort of manipulation is even occurring in the first place. Large teams of people working in tandem across the country on Election Day might be able tell if only Democrat assure the I Voted button, but no one outside of Facebook’s administrators would be able to tell if Republican were slightly more likely than Democrats to find the type of hard news tales that would activate them to vote.

So, what if Facebook’s algorithms ascertained the type of news stories that increased civic participation also triggered more sharing, but merely for Democrats and not Republican? In that case, would even Facebook know what effect it was having on republic?

Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.

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