A group of anonymous inside sources from Facebook have recently spoken out about the whirlwind of the past two years at the company. In an in-depth Wired feature, sources explained how the naivete of Mark Zuckerberg in the early stages of Facebook's manipulation to spread fake news resulted in a lack of proactivity, making the platform, and its users, susceptible to foreign propaganda.
One executive who worked on the response team handling both the infiltration of fake news posts and foreign interference lead by Russian intelligence detailed the eye-opening moment, which came six months after the results of the 2016 election had been announced. “With the latter there was a moment where everyone said ‘Oh, holy shit, this is like a national security situation.’” Insiders also admitted that Facebook was aware of attacks from known Russian hackers early on in the campaign season, and yet they did not seem to be enough of a red flag to monitor for a more concerted propaganda campaign.
On April 27, 2017, the head of Facebook's security team, Alex Stamos, released a report on "how a foreign adversary could use Facebook to manipulate people" but it did little to name any specific group or identify any targeted action from Russian interference. Sure enough, though, Facebook's security team began to uncover through research a list of transactions made in rubles and on computers whose language was set to Russian. These hackers acted in order to manipulate Americans' political opinions through the use of fake pages and sensational content. “It seemed obvious that it was a tactic the Russians would exploit,” said a staffer from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The fallout from this initial confirmation of international interference was messy and misguided, but was largely uncharted territory for Zuckerberg, whose idea that his brainchild would always be a platform and not a publisher of content. Facebook is now being more proactive in its approach to the spread of false information, and is learning to grow and anticipate that the power of a social network can, and very likely will be manipulated again.
Read the full article on Facebook's two tumultuous years here.