Recent Facebook documents reveal that a marketing company named Rally Forge, who holds ties to Turning Point USA, funded a Facebook advertisement to mislead the democratic voter base during the 2018 midterm election. Turning Point USA is a Republican representing a company that professes a conservative message to the American youth. Therefore, to support the republican vote, the company attempted to advertise the American Green party in order to split the left-leaning voter base. In other words, by promoting another left-leaning party, the conservative company hoped to divert democratic voters toward the Greens in order to increase the odds of Republican political success in various districts.
After the election in 2018, Facebook commenced an investigation into the Green Party advertisements by the conservative company. They revealed that the company, America Progress Now, is run by the same three individuals that are behind,Turning Point USA, a supporter of the Trump administration.
The work of Rally forge advertisement campaign gathered a following of 400 000 individuals on both Facebook and Instagram with a budget nearing one million dollars.
Many discredit the legality of this misrepresentation. Former FEC (Federal Election Commission) Ann Ravel explains “It seems as if it’s a clear fraud,” and that “The requirement for the justice department to take on an electoral matter is that it be serious and willful, and clearly, in this case, it was willful, in my opinion.” (Gettys. Rawstory)
Sophie Zhang, a whistleblower who was recently working for Facebook, explained to the Guardian that “There were no policies at Facebook against pretending to be a group that did not exist, an abuse vector that has also been used by the governments of Honduras and Azerbaijan,” (Wong, the Guardian, June 11,2021)
This is not the only case where political actors have used social media to influence electoral outcomes. Social media experts like Joan Donovan believe in the need of government regulations. She explains that the power major social media corporations will soon have may be insurmountable and they will hold too much leverage on society. Thus, she argues that government intervention would allow the people to still have some power in the face of a minority of wealthy business owners. In order to prevent a social media oligarchy that controls public dialogue and more, she believes that governments could help the situation by implementing more regulations.
Devon Kearns, a spokesperson for Facebook, said: “We removed Rally Forge from our platforms for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Since the 2018 midterms, we have strengthened our policies related to election interference and political ad transparency. We continue working to make political advertising more transparent on our platform and we welcome updated regulations and help from policymakers as we evolve our policies in this space.”
Whilst the statement indicates that Facebook has clear proof of inauthenticity, they determined that the advertisements for the Green Party does not, in-fact, violate their policies.
Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, Philip N. Howard, explains that “If, once exposed, there are no consequences, others will try it, too,” Moreover he adds, “Long term, the industry shoots itself in the foot because limited action diminishes our trust in the authenticity of public life on the platforms. There’s been worry about white nationalists or other extremists using Russia’s tactics; now, it’s also the teenager around the corner who’s on the payroll of a troll operation.” (Stanley-Becker, Washington Post, October 8, 2020)
On the other hand Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, explained that the consequences for individuals acting against company policy must be observable on the Facebook interface itself. Moreover, Glecicher argues for more rigid and clear standards in order to qualify actions as deception or not in the political realm.
Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) explained to the Guardian that this case illustrates the importance of disclosure and transparency. Many individuals would see the advertisement at face value and be oblivious to the tactical efforts to undermine the democratic voter base.
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