Was Facebook Biased or Was It Manipulated?

[Notez bien: Cet essai n’a pas été écrit par Marcy ou bmaz mais par moi. Merci. Oh, and some this is speculative. /~Rayne]

Facebook has been in the news a lot this last two weeks with regard to its sneaky surveillance of competitors and users by paying teens for their data as well as its 15th anniversary.

But that’s not what this essay is about.

This is about the 2016 election and in particular a claim I thought was peculiar when it was first reported.

Gizmodo, a former Gawker Media outlet, published two stories claiming that Facebook’s news feed was biased against conservative news based on feedback from contract editors.

It struck me as odd at the time because

  • the first story was published within the week that Trump became the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party;
  • conservative news outlets weren’t complaining about being suppressed by Facebook;
  • the story broke at a troubled outlet via a relatively new technology editor at a lesser technology outlet.

It’d already struck me as bizarre that Trump wasn’t using traditional campaign media practices to reach his base. He wasn’t spending money on ad buys and other media like a new-to-politics candidate would. The commercial media was all over him providing him enough coverage that he didn’t have to buy more. Media coverage of Trump suffocated the rest of the GOP field in addition to swamping coverage of Democrats’ primary race.

So why were these contract editors/curators complaining about Facebook’s bias if so much of the media was focused on a Republican candidate?

Gawker, as you may recall, had been under siege by billionaire Peter Thiel after its founder Nick Denton had allowed Thiel’s sexuality to be outed in an Valleywag article. Thiel helped former professional wrestler and celebrity Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hulk Hogan, sue Gawker for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, publication of private matter, and violation of the right to publicity. Gawker ultimately lost the case in March 2016 in a Florida court; it filed bankruptcy on June 10.

When Gawker lost to Bollea it was clear the media outlet suffered a mortal blow. Bollea won $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages and Gawker didn’t have that much in cash or assets. It was only a matter of time before Denton would either fold or sell Gawker.

In that nebulous period when Gawker’s fate hung in the balance, Gizmodo ran two stories about Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias within six days’ time.

Why would Facebook’s contract editors reach out to an affiliate of troubled outlet Gawker? Facebook was the largest social media platform in the U.S.; why wouldn’t they have gone to a major U.S. newspaper instead of beleaguered Gawker?

One reason could have been Gawker’s financial vulnerability. A hungry outlet might publish any clickbait-y story when they have little to lose but paychecks.

Another reason might be inexperience. The reporter/editor whose byline appears on the Facebook stories didn’t have years-deep experience in technology reporting, unlike folks at competing dedicated technology journalism outlets. The journalist joined the organization in January 2016 and stayed with Gizmodo through Gawker’s subsequent acquisition; they left for another technology outlet mid-2017. Were they approached by sources because they were relatively inexperienced and working at a distressed outlet?

The journalist’s departure doesn’t appear to be neutral based on the observation a Gizmodo sister outlet, io9, published on his exit (cached copy). Perhaps it was a grumbly “break a leg” farewell a la Larry Darrell’s character in The Razor’s Edge (1984), but this doesn’t appear to be a regular practice at Gizmodo or other Gawker affiliates.

Once Gizmodo published the story, other outlets picked it up and repackaged it as original content. The New York Times stepped in and did more digging, treating this almost like Clinton’s emails with five pieces on Facebook and political bias inside May alone:

09-MAY-2016 — Conservatives Accuse Facebook of Political Bias
10-MAY-2016 — Political Bias at Facebook?
10-MAY-2016 — Senator Demands Answers From Facebook on Claims of ‘Trending’ List Bias
11-MAY-2016 — Facebook’s Bias Is Built-In, and Bears Watching
19-MAY-2016 — Opinion | The Real Bias Built In at Facebook

The story of Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias in news editing exploded with a huge push by NYT. (It didn’t stop in May; NYT published at least four more pieces before the election focused on Facebook and political bias though not all reflected negatively on Facebook.)

One outlet published a story based on Gizmodo’s second story seven hours after Gizmodo: the Observer, formerly known as The New York Observer, a small print and online media outlet based in New York city.

At the time it ran its story on Facebook’s alleged bias, it was owned by Jared Kushner.

The media editor’s story at the Observer noted the Gizmodo story trended on Facebook.

Facebook ‘Supression of Conservative News’ Story Is Trending on Facebook‘ published at 5:15 p.m. (assume this was local time in NYC).

Was it possible the Gizmodo article had been elevated by conservative news outlets and blogs rather than normal Facebook users’ traffic from reading the article itself, especially if the contract editors on assignment that day were still applying anti-conservative filters as alleged?

The last update to the Gizmodo article included this excerpt from a statement by Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky:

…There have been other anonymous allegations — for instance that we artificially forced ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. …

If Facebook could not detect foreign interference at that time — and it was known by September 2017 the Black Lives Matter content on Facebook had been elevated by Russian troll bots — would Facebook have been able to detect any artificial elevation of the Gizmodo stories?

Was it possible pro-conservative contract editors set up this scenario in order to skew Facebook’s content so that it would be easier for the Russian Internet Research Agency to amplify what appeared to be conservative content?

Or were the Gizmodo articles used to identify conservative outlets based on their liking the article?

Or was this scenario a proof-of-concept revealing Facebook’s inability or unwillingness to detect artificial manipulation of content?

Was it possible the Observer’s media page had been prepared to cover this development long before other east coast and national news outlets?

The timing of the Gizmodo stories is awfully convenient:

26-APR-2016 — GOP primaries/caucuses in CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, all won by Trump.

03-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in IN won by Trump.

03-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo article published: Want to Know What Facebook Really Thinks of Journalists? Here’s What Happened When It Hired Some.

03-MAY-2016 — Ted Cruz withdrew from race.

04-MAY-2016 — Trump became presumptive GOP nominee.

04-MAY-2016 — John Kasich withdrew from race.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo article published at 9:10 a.m.: Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo updated article noting the piece had begun to trend with pickup by conservative sites; time of update not specified.

09-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo posted a second update at 4:10 p.m., posting Facebook’s initial response to TechCrunch, BuzzFeed, other unnamed outlets inquiries; the social media company denied suppression of content by political ideology.

09-MAY-2016 — Observer article published at 5:15 p.m.: Facebook ‘Supression of Conservative News’ Story Is Trending on Facebook.

10-MAY-2016 — Gizmodo adds final update at 8:10 a.m. with a statement from Facebook denying again any suppression by political ideology.

10-MAY-2016 — GOP primaries in NE, WV won by Trump.

17-MAY-2016 — Guardian-US published an op-ed by a Facebook contract curator pushing back at earlier Gizmodo stories. The article does not stop a steady number of stories repeating the earlier claims of anti-conservative bias.

17-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in OR won by Trump.

24-MAY-2016 — GOP primary in WA won by Trump.

26-MAY-2016 — Trump attains 1,237 total delegates, minimum required to win nomination — after CO, ND, and PA unbound delegates pledged to support Trump.

And by the end of May the race for media coverage isn’t a fight on the right among a broad field of GOP candidates but just Trump against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the next 10 days.

The too-convenient timing creates so many questions. It’d be nice to know if Facebook traffic showed an uptick of troll or bot interest promoting the Gizmodo story but Facebook has been less than forthcoming about traffic even though its business integrity was questioned.

It’d also be nice to know if the Observer had been tipped off ahead of the Gizmodo story trending and if the Observer’s report had other connotations apart from being a random story about social media.

But just as the Gizmodo journalist/editor who wrote the May 3 and May 9 stories moved on, the Observer journalist left their job, departing in late July 2016.

And the names of the Facebook curators/editors never appeared in subsequent coverage. Non-disclosure agreements may be the reason.

The kicker is another interesting bit of timing bookending Gizmodo’s stories:

19-APR-2016 — A domain for DCLeaks was registered.

. . .

06-JUN-2016 — Clinton attained 2383 delegates, the minimum threshold needed to earn the Democratic nomination.

08-JUN-2016 — A fake American identity posted a link in Facebook to a Russian GRU-associated website, DCLeaks, sharing content stolen from American servers including the DNC. The site “had gone live a few days earlier,” sharing small amounts of hacked material.

10-JUN-2016 — Gawker filed for bankruptcy.

By the time DCLeaks’ content was promoted by a fake account, the conservative commentariat from news sites to blogs had been primed to watch Facebook for a change in their coverage and Gawker as we’d known it under Nick Denton was on life support.

One other oddity about the Gizmodo stories about Facebook’s biased curation and the Observer piece observing Gizmodo’s Facebook pieces?

Trump’s name isn’t mentioned once in any of the three articles though his name had swamped all other media.



Treat this as an open thread.

55 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    For the record I hate Facebook. I didn’t like its interface or layout from the beginning. I disliked even more the continuously moving target that is its privacy policy; informed consent has never been emphasized in its constantly changing design and development. I haven’t used it for years.

    And I don’t know at the end of this piece if they were fully complicit or naively abused or something in between when it comes to this story. I know once Gizmodo published the first story management should have ripped the place apart and started over with the guidance of academics in news media to build a better platform.

    But that would take different leadership at Facebook than a guy who started this business to post statistics about women on campus.

  2. Ken says:

    Look for the link to the conservatives meeting with Zuck to address the bias. Included Trump Aides and Republicans. Zuck fired his 40 human content censors and replaced w an ineffective algorithm, which allowed all the Russian troll content to be posted and elevated. Without this manufactured bias story and Rs demanding changes, the Ru troll operation would have failed.

    • Rayne says:

      I don’t think it was just an algorithm or the conservatives’ whinefest about bias. It’s Zuckerberg’s personal understanding and that of his management team with regard to journalism. They do not understand or refuse to understand the difference between made-up shit and reported content. This kind of understanding doesn’t make an “ineffective” algorithm. It makes a piece of crap they call an algorithm. For all we know there isn’t an algorithm at all except an ongoing lightly-throttled content popularity contest — and it’d be a piece of cake for RU to game that.

      • andy says:

        Sam Harris had Jack Dorsey (twitter CEO) on his podcast this week, and I think there was a fair amount to be gleaned from it.  Jack was pretty surface-y about a number of topics, and Sam didn’t press him too hard, but there was still a lot there.  Jack’s approach (not yet implemented) seems to be to try to promote “conversation health” rather than block/hide/downrank bad actors.  That seems like the right idea, but of course it’s very hard.  I write code for a living, so I can sympathize with their dilemma.  He indicated that identifying bots is extremely hard in a era of advanced scripting and output paying humans to sit at a wall of phones and poke away.


        On the specific case of conservative targeting, I’d first point out the obvious fact that, no matter how much some people would like it to be true, HuffPo, et. al. is just not the same thing as Brietbart.  One side was not playing like the other, and one got netted more in the byzantine web of “terms of service” violations, such as making a “specific threat of violence at a specific location.”  Further, as I think you alluded to above, it doesn’t seem like a stretch at all that some actors would toe over the line on purpose to get banned, so they could then go on radio shows and fan the flames.  That’s just another way of gaming the TOS rules, after all.  The ranking/surfacing concept is an elegant solution to this problem: uprank “positive conversation”, demote “negative conversation” (but don’t hide/erase/ban it).  That is, if you could figure out how to do it.  And then stay ahead of the people who game it.  Good luck.  That model has been tried in various forms, let’s see, with reddit, boing boing, digg, going all the way back to slashdot in the 90s.  I’m sure I missed a few.

  3. P J Evans says:

    @Rayne February 6, 2019 at 11:07 pm
    It doesn’t help that Zuckerberg and his buddies aren’t journalists and have no effing clue how journalism should be done.
    (As everyone who hangs out at Tumblr knows, algorithms aren’t all that they’re made out to be. They have one that they were claiming would take out the pr0n bots and sites, and instead those are still around – and the honest users are the ones being blocked or hidden. Single-variable algorithm, I understand, incapable of learning enough to do even a half-assed job of it.)

    • Rayne says:

      It doesn’t help that management at Facebook have no background in journalism, but there’s no excuse for them not consulting with journalism academics to learn about journalism done right.

      Although I should also point out I don’t see enough from academics except criticism about Facebook. Commercial news media, nonprofit media, academia, journalism nonprofit associations, all of them appear unwilling to organize a comprehensive effort to define what good journalism looks like and how it should be featured in social media platforms (because it’s not just Facebook which has screwed this up as we all know).

      I’m thinking of my trial-by-fire learning how to do journalism as a managing editor — I had to figure out how to do just about everything to get neophyte journalists started from scratch. This included looking into press associations for credentials (which at the time discriminated against digital outlets in favor of print). Why isn’t there a press association *NOW* for credentialing digital outlets, so that social media platforms can let associations handle content vetting by validating the journalists? And why am I, who write here gratis, asking this instead of bloody billionaire Zuckerberg and his management team?

  4. Willis Warren says:

    Facebook is biased towards trends.  It has no way to distinguish between real and fake momentum.

    For instance, facebook thinks libertarianism is a real movement, not a movement paid for by fake shadowy billionaires.

    For the last ten years, facebook has been getting bad information from these libertarians, 911 truthers, or whoever.

    They were in a unique position to be bent over by the Russians.

    • Rayne says:

      I want to ignore this comment but it really can’t go uncontested because it conflates so many things.

      There is a genuine libertarian philosophy and ideology. There is a libertarian political party. It says something that the same political party can’t make a go of it any more than the Green Party can even when billionaires support its premise.

      Momentum is momentum with regard to traffic and trends are a measure of momentum. The issue is whether the traffic is driving by legitimate human users or illegitimate human+non-human users. Facebook either couldn’t take the time to continue to investigate after the May 3 and May 9 Gizmodo articles or they were complicit by the time DCLeaks was promoted by illegitimate user(s).

      And Facebook was part-owned by a Russian beginning with cash injection by purchase of 11 million shares in 2009 via Digital Sky Technologies Group; the shares were sold in 2014. I don’t think I’d call this “bent over.”

      • Willis Warren says:

        Billionaires don’t support the libertarian party.  The billionaire libertarians support the republicans.

        There is no “genuine” libertarian philosophy.  There are ancaps/austrians (who even with the Koch/Mises split never seem to disagree), who I pretty much equate with the “momentum” I’m talking about here, there are brutalists (who embraced the fascism movement), there are pot smoking republicans, and then there are the idiots who think both parties are bad, so they can be cool and accept no responsibility by being “libertarians.”  This isn’t philosophy, it’s laziness.

        None of these people are “genuine.”  The idea that gov’t isn’t good for us is something you can disprove with a TED talk, for fuck’s sake.

        And, no, Facebook has no infrastructure for dealing with Trolls who hide behind ideology.  The Russians stepped in to an existing passive and stupid way of interpreting what people were doing.  The think tanks (or whoever) were funding the whole “taxation is theft” movement since at least 1999, and then the George Soros smear campaign since 2002, and that’s where Facebook failed originally.  All of that came from libertarian sites.  Libertarian groups are disproportionately represented on Facebook.  When Trump ran for President, his “meme war” started on these Facebook group pages.

        The only time that Facebook did anything resembling good judgment was when they killed the libertarian brutalist board where Chris Cantwell and other idiots used to advocate real violence against the left.

        There are “real users” in these groups, but we’ll never know how many because Facebook didn’t care until Trump became president.

        • Rayne says:

          We’re going to have to agree to disagree.

          I think you need to look up the history of Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform. The anti-tax movement has much deeper roots.

          I also know some libertarians in real life, the kind who aren’t billionaires. The main problem the average libertarian faces is that they are incredibly selfish people and struggle to work collectively to make a successful political party. Billionaires have figured out they can buy somebody to do it for them instead — hence their co-option of the right-wing of the GOP.

          • andy says:

            The main problem the average libertarian faces is that they are incredibly selfish people and struggle to work collectively to make a successful political party.

            What a hilarious irony!  If only they could somehow work together, collectively, to advance their shared goals and advance the libertarian cause for the greater good of society.  Oh.

            • Carwinrpc says:

              Still waiting for the Libertarian party to release its platform on civil rights.  Been waiting.  Almost as if being a libertarian means pretending there aren’t any people of color, ain’t it?

  5. Eureka says:

    Wow, Rayne- this is really important.  So they engineered a viral campaign against FB so they could engineer a campaign on FB, nice.

    Those MFers not only hammered at every angle, but I’d guess they would have relied on Zuck/FB being just as ineffectual in response to this claim as they are widely known to be now, post-2016 hijinks.  ‘Unnamed conservatives’ would get some kind of carpet rolled out for them as needed in response to any such complaints-  as opposed to some ‘hard internal look’ at the engines (lol);  i.e. I bet they knew there was not only no precise way for Z/FB to call their bluff, but no particular willingness to do so, either.   Thus, one can imagine this paving the way for Parscale et al. to have FB employees even more at their beck and call come later (besides the bot exploitations), so they *really* could outdo Obama at the FB thing.  (Note I am using their own explanatory tropes for a reason here, though I left implicit FB’s “we’re here to help every campaign.”)  

    Zuck/FB would be an easy mark for this type of manipulation, as indicated by news reports/ interviews/ testimony; it’s fair to say that his A/B testing results are in.  However the VC types who would have interacted with him (and his product) would have been able to detect this as well.  Plus at some level, ‘Bias against conservatives’ would also read as ‘bias against money.’  One might guess that FB would fall all over that constituency to help ‘fix’ a ‘problem.’   (Oops, sorry, also imagining Jack here.)  At the least it seems they wouldn’t ask a lot of questions if the problem seemed to be self-healing, as you indicate re how this ‘reporting’ primed the way for troll bot content- temporally, at minimum.

    The ‘check engine light’ has been on at that place from the get go.  Apparently there’s more than one way to harvest the blood of the young (I’m also looking at _you_, IG).

    • Eureka says:

      Adding:  I wonder if –  prior to these reports-  ‘team downtrodden conservatives’ did some specific kinds of pilot testing, and if so, whether they then had any specific code/’algorithmic’ fixes to suggest come time for the reparations meetings, if any.

  6. SICK says:

    Zuckerberg has taught other political campaigns how to use Facebook – see India.

    No way he’s innocent here.

    • Trip says:

      Agreed. And Zuckerberg was all in for the psychological study in 2012, where participants did not provide informed consent. (Cornell & University of California, published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: who paid for it? Zuck, or someone else?)

      Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

      He was fully cognizant of influence via emotional triggers. I don’t know who concocted the BS anti-conservative narrative at the start, but clearly it gave FB permission to run the propaganda with results.

      Last thought: one thing Zuck doesn’t want and never wanted was regulation. It’s possible he was onboard with Trump’s campaign proposals to kill regulation writ large.

  7. Steve McCarty says:

    At the very least the conservatives were working the refs, and in characteristic style of vote suppression, they scared Zuck off from encouraging people to vote, which had had a big influence in earlier elections. Note that there was still no repeat of encouraging people to vote in 2018. That’s what I always hammer FB on when they ask for feedback, and it may be the touchstone of their sincerity.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      I lean towards this theory, at least for now. (Though with Facebook, it’s always worse than it seems.) The prevailing mode of conservative journalism is that the “liberal” media is structurally biased against conservatives, hence the need for an entire standalone conservative media; at the same time, the “liberal” media bends over backwards to cover accusations of bias from conservatives — even if they’re in bad faith — in order to not appear biased.

      So bringing in conservatives as part of a news curation team means bringing in people who think that the liberals are plotting against them, and who know they’ll be amplified by the conservative media establishment and given sympathetic coverage by non-conservative sources.

      All of that, of course, is exploitable by anyone with half a clue about the US media environment.

  8. BobCon says:

    As far as Thiel, he wasn’t just the guy who secretly funded the lawsuits against Gawker/Gizmodo. He’s a longtime Facebook board member and for years has been yodeling the pseudolibertarian schtick about closed liberal minds and pushing Zuckerberg to make accommodations to conservatives.

    I want to be careful here — I’m dubious he had a plan that hinged on Gizmodo specifically. And it’s possible that someone else was behind the PR campaign. There are numerous other possibilities. But I have no doubt that what we saw was a PR campaign that sought out a compliant reporter and had enough understanding of how to use Facebook’s curation to hit the ground running as soon as the article appeared.

    I suspect there was no single track scheme based on Gizmodo — I assume the same story was pitched to multiple outlets rather than risk everything on an outlet that could easily get derailed running stories about a squirrel wreaking havoc in a server room. But Thiel paid a lot of money to Charles Harder to research Gawker and its sister publications, and would have known all about their editors and writers, so it’s not a stretch to see him using in-house knowledge of disgrunted Facebook employees and connecting it to an easy Gizmodo target.

    Again, it’s also possible a separate PR campaign wanted to do a Facebook hit, and Gizmodo was simply the first outlet to rise to the bait. Social media targeting is something multiple conservative outlets had been working on well before 2016, and it’s very possible one of them was running into problems getting their propaganda elevated on the platform, and decided to do something about it. And if they were a halfway sophisticated PR outfit, they would know that they needed to have the echo chamber primed ahead of the sympathetic article being published. So no Thiel connection is necessary for this to have happened, it’s just a reasonable possibility for it.

    • Rayne says:

      …I’m dubious he had a plan that hinged on Gizmodo specifically. …

      Okay, sure. Uh-huh.

      Peter Thiel, Tech Billionaire, Reveals Secret War With Gawker – By Andrew Ross Sorkin – May 25, 2016

      Note the date as it falls inside the tick-tock in my post.

      EDIT — accidentally cut this off. I meant to add we don’t know exactly what Thiel did to take revenge on Gawker. A man willing to spend $10 million dollars on someone else’s SLAPP/defamation suit, also willing to own up to it, is capable of quite a lot. A guy who believes so strongly in the First Amendment that he’ll donate to the Committee to Protect Journalists and yet will punish a media outlet for exercising its First Amendment rights doesn’t strike me as someone wholly predictable.

      • BobCon says:

        The reason I’m dubious that he had a plan that hinged on Gizmodo specifically is that relying on them to publish a story is like relying on a cat to perform a trick on cue.

        I mean, you can train a cat, but if I was a world famous jewel thief and wanted to construct an elaborate plan to break into the Duchess of Nottinghamshire’s apartment by having a pet open a window at a specified time, I’d want a dog to be that pet. Or at least a backup.

        Gizmodo was, and is, a pretty flaky outfit. They’re the kind of place that would spike a story because they decided to go with articles about robot ants and a drunken fight between Game of Thrones actors instead. Or maybe an editor thought it would be funny to spend a week swapping staff with Jezebel. That’s not a putdown — it’s a just a way to talk about how loose things are there, and how I don’t think you’d ever want to make a plan based on being able to place a story there.

        Which means that I have to assume that any PR campaign wouldn’t focus on Gizmodo — there would have been multiple friendly outlets as potential targets for placing the story. At this point I think Thiel or whoever else was behind the campaign would have seen Gizmodo as the messenger was a bonus, but breaking up Facebook’s control systems as the main purpose.

  9. Trip says:

    Whenever anyone wishes to come up with an innocent explanation for Zuckerberg’s actions, they should always come back to this:
    I was one of Facebook’s first users. I shouldn’t have trusted Mark Zuckerberg

    Zuckerberg was lying then and he’s lying now. We do not have “complete control” and we never have, as evidenced by the fact that even people who never signed up for Facebook have “shadow profiles” created without their consent. He has been getting away with this same spin for 14 years, two months, and eight days…So here’s what I know about Mark Zuckerberg. During those first few weeks of Facebook’s existence, while he was assuring his fellow college students that we could trust him with our identities, he had a private conversation on instant messenger with a friend. That conversation was subsequently leaked, and published by Silicon Valley Insider. It is as follows:

    ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
    ZUCK: just ask
    ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
    FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?
    ZUCK: people just submitted it
    ZUCK: i don’t know why
    ZUCK: they “trust me”
    ZUCK: dumb fucks


    • Trip says:

      And the financing:

      Russia funded Facebook and Twitter investments Institutions with close links to Kremlin financed stakes through investor in Trump son-in-law’s venture, leaked files reveal

      The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser…The files show that in 2011, VTB funded a $191m investment in Twitter. About the same time, Gazprom Investholding financed an opaque offshore company, which in turn funded a vehicle that held $1bn-worth of Facebook shares…Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was so impressed with Milner’s rise that he invited the Russian to invest in Facebook. Milner’s company “stood out because of the global perspective they bring”, Zuckerberg said when announcing their first $200m deal in 2009. “I believe I had some expertise at the time that Mark found valuable,” Milner said.
      The pair became friends and Zuckerberg attended Milner’s wedding in California late in 2011. The ceremony was held at a vast mansion atop a hillside near Silicon Valley that Milner had recently bought for $100m. Milner and Zuckerberg are advisers to each other’s philanthropic ventures and remain close.

      • Rayne says:

        DST Group sold its shares in 2014. I think it’s important to ask if Milner was able to influence Zuckerberg to permit non-consensual human experiments in the period when DST Group was invested in Facebook.

        • Trip says:

          The selling of the shares, IMO, doesn’t matter. Zuckerberg got the money when he needed it, when other banks weren’t up for it then, and he became friends with Milner after. There’s a parallel there to Trumpiness, greed and perhaps misplaced loyalties. Zuckerberg is for international expansion. It’s the billionaire mindset that they are country-less, and loyalty is toward ever growing self- profit.

          But yes, I haven’t dug in very deeply, but who proposed the studies and who paid for them? It’s an interesting coincidence with the timing in 2012.

    • P J Evans says:

      I was reading stories about FB, long before 2016, that made it clear their business goal was selling eyeballs to advertisers, and that that was their only reason for existing as a business.

      • Trip says:

        I don’t think FB has/had any issues with the sale going beyond advertisers. As long as it expands their business and profit or market share in general.

  10. jaango says:

    Eureka was correct with the statement of:  “Wow, Rayne- this is really important.  So they engineered a viral campaign against FB so they could engineer a campaign on FB, nice.”

    Since I have never been a participant at Facebook, I continue to remind myself that, as a Chicano, the Chicano Movement will continue, albeit, quietly self-restrained given that today’s “Eye-on-the Wall” intelligence-gathering systemic continues, without much attention being garnered.  Thus, editorial platforms will be ‘retrained’ when, in 2021, a Democratic president adopts Her Saturday Morning’s Internet Bloggers Conference that is focused on Unassailable Facts and for not having to contend with Facebook. and all that it is determined to portend when it comes to its “propaganda and pooper-ganda.”

    Consequently, the nexus that is Facebook, Gizmodo and others, is systematic of a much smaller political manipulation,  when seen through the prism that is today’s Chicano politics as per our  civil discourse.  And yes, Chicano are paying attention to the ‘manipulations’ that is Facebook and others well-heeled contributors, both here in the U.S. and Overseas.

    • Rayne says:

      Dude. I don’t understand why you aren’t working to build your own digital social ecosystem instead of waiting for somebody else to do it for you, or trying to gin one up in comments here.

  11. Trip says:

    Article from today, FB combining data from sites and apps:
    Facebook Wants You to Have Privacy, Just Not From Facebook

    And OT, but while we’re at it, Bezos was recently bragging about the value of his data collection, but somehow people view Amazon as benign. Big mistake.

    A couple of weeks ago, I caught a small portion of a discussion on CSPAN, where the panel was suggesting that China will win it all in the future because they have no privacy laws. So yes, this group was advocating for absolute collection of all private data as a method of being in control of the globe. (fuck the people who live there). This is the wave. Either gaining info through sneaky user consent (FB, Amazon, Google, etc) or stealing it, via spy software (Israel), this is what governments are competing on. And it is directed at private citizenry, not just gov’ts or states.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      Yes, seems to be the plan. Don’t have the citation at the moment, but a year or so ago I read that China was spending 30 billion a year on tech. Mega times the US. Don’t think it included dark money!

      Then there is the China, McSenate connection…

      • Trip says:

        AI is a big deal.

        I’m not permitted to link to their site, but do this search:
        “An internment camp for 10 million Uyghurs Meduza visits China’s dystopian police state”
        Meduza 10:11, 1 october 2018

        or search tag words on different sources.

        The people in China are subjected to unbelievable amounts of surveillance, including the use of facial recognition software everywhere and they are assigned a “social credit score”. Muslims are being sent to reeducation camps. It is beyond Orwellian.

        [Quit pushing Meduza. Encourage people to search for content on “China’s internment of Uyghurs” or “Uighurs” without pushing people toward that site; there are other more reputable sources without the risk of malware or spyware. Next time you push that site your comment goes in the bin. /~Rayne]

    • Ken Muldrew says:

      Picture this near future: Ron Suskind attends a posh dinner, given in honour of a well known Russian oligarch to celebrate his successful operation to humiliate an American politician. Many of the world’s richest are in attendance. Suskind is approached by a coarse fellow of long aquaintance, the consigliere of an American billionaire. The fellow is smooth enough in public, but he is clearly never quite in step with the manner, let alone born to it. Tonight, though, he will surpass any words he has ever known, with an eloquence that he has been asked to claim as his own. And never has he wanted anything so desperately. His instructions are clear, however, he must demand anonymity for ever more. Well so be it, as long as people see them whispering, the rumours will start sure enough.

      Suskind peppers him with small-minded questions about the ultimate futility of targeted advertising and consumers who have reached the end of their means. Finally our friend feels the moment is right and looks down on the reporter with utter loathing and delivers his payload.

      “You just don’t get it. When people hear the music, they always dance. They have learned the steps from childhood on, and the music never fails to move them in just the right way. And while you’re studying that music, marvelling at the exquisite connections between our will and the people’s behaviour, we will be writing new music, which you can study too, and that’s just how things will shake out. We make the music, we make the weather, we make the society. We are history’s creators…and you, all of you, will be left to just study the music…or dance to it.”

      [OK, not as eloquent as the missive that Rover delivered, but still, the point is that the power has shifted. The ultra-rich are now shaping people’s behaviour for their own nefarious ends. Yes, nefarious, and nefarious again, and a third time, nefarious. They are bypassing the political process entirely (or soon will be) and they must be stopped.]

      [disclaimer: the riff on “we’re an empire now” was stolen (in part) from a passage that an anonymous data scientist fed to Shoshana Zuboff]

  12. SICK says:

    Yuri Milner (DST) owner was an owner of 10% of Facebook’s stock in 2010.

    This was Russian govt money – Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, a RUSSIAN government-controlled financial institution. (See Paradise Papers).

    More importantly, Milner was also the Chairman of Mail.Ru in 2010 (andMail.Ru Group is controlled by USM Holdings, a company founded by Alisher Usmanov, who was included on a list the U.S. Treasury Department published in January of Russian billionaires with ties to the Kremlin).

    Yuri Milner was the chairman of Mail.Ru Group until he stepped down in 2012.

    Yes DST eventually sold their shares in Facebook, but this missed the point entirely.

    First, Milner developed a VERY close relationship with ZUCKERBERG (even hosted his wedding) that continues to this day….and Mail.Ru Group developed hundreds of Facebook apps, some of which were test apps that were not made public.

    Mail.Ru (itself closely linked to the Kremlin) was among the firms to which Facebook gave an extension which allowed them to collect data on unknowing users AFTER its purported policy change supposedly stopped such collection.

    By Facebook’s admission (see Senate Intelligence Committee Records) at least two of these apps (collecting friend data without permission) were granted an extension by Facebook, that would have allowed them to collect friend data beyond 2015.

    Also, Mail.Ru’s large portfolio of companies includes many online game apps including approximately 20 Facebook games.

    To my knowledge, Facebook has NEVER disclosed how much user data the Mail.Ru Group obtained or if any data was obtained about American citizens. The company declined to elaborate on its methods for determining how Mail.Ru may have used personal data, citing confidentiality between Facebook and developers.

  13. sand says:

    There was a story on the radio this morning about Kermit Roosevelt’s manipulation of the Iranian press as a prelude to overthrowing Mosaddeq. Considering that manipulation of the media by government and non-government actors is a tried-and-true tactic, I’m wondering how the 4th Estate as a whole is doing in defending itself. For example, is there one or more premier international professional societies that focuses on the intersection of journalism, political science, and cyber security? Perhaps one on this old list? http://blog.journalistics.com/30-organizations-dedicated-to-keeping-journalism-great/

    I ask because I think that professional organizations in my own industry–infrastructure engineering and construction–are one of the best tools that the little people have to fight corruption. We share lots of ideas, and if you don’t work day-in-and-day-out in the field, you tend to stick out like a sore thumb. I’m not going to argue that we’re winning, but it’s nice to have more weapons and allies, even when the odds are against you.

    If people here go to media conferences, I’m wondering if anyone from Facebook has ever shown up. They might benefit from presentations on the modern Kermit Roosevelts of the world. I’m sure there are many. Too much time coding and not enough time thinking about human motivations is bad for the brain of anyone in the business of “connecting the world” (or whatever they say they’re trying to accomplish).

    (For the record, I am a Facebook user. I rarely post, but I enjoy seeing all the accomplishments of everyone’s kids and being connected to old friends when I otherwise would lose track of them. I do wonder and fear that we’ll all regret posting these pictures one day. Hasta la vista, baby.)

  14. jaango says:


    In your reply to my post, I tried the Reply button, but it didn’t work for me.

    I like emptywheel and where it specifically address “national security” and all that it entails. However, I like to emphasize, National Security AND National Defense. As such, a Saturday Morning Bloggers Conference, once implemented, would provide, for all of us, the opportunity to require our questions to be answered, and if so, five cabinet secretaries would have to adhere to the numerous questions being asked, and consequently, we would not be at the mercy of the new media outlets to address our concerns relative to National Security AND national defense. Thus, our attention of the speciousness of Face Book and relative media platforms for our ‘discussions’ for unworthy items, that have nothing to do with national security, as this pertains to our voting behavior, is indeed important. And not all Muellar Investigations and related tangents, is of nor much importance, in my daily life.

    And don’t get me wrong, the writers and commenters are indeed “smart as hell” and are to be commended, despite what I perceive this thread to be, i.e., click bait.

  15. Carla says:

    I spent a while looking into this in early 2017 after getting supremely pissed off at the reporter’s failure to either comprehend or acknowledge his role in the clusterfuck. I tracked down at least some of the sources and came to the conclusion that it was extremely unlikely to have been deliberately planned, but once the opportunity presented itself the usual suspects in the media and congress eagerly exploited it, and they got plenty of assistance from ordinarily competent journalists who were only too happy to have another excuse to give Zuckerberg the finger.

    The reason the sources went to that particular guy was that they’d been friends for years. Some of them had been at Columbia together, and there was a group of them who were constantly interacting on social media. At least three listed ‘Facebook news feed curator’ or ‘Facebook trending topics’ as a previous job on LinkedIn. After digging a little deeper I was told that one of them had actually been fired after this story was traced back to him.

    What’s not clear to me is whether the second article on the news curation team—the one that actually alleged suppression of conservative views—was based on new information from someone who reached out after reading the original, or if it was just the same people reframing it in a more sensational way after it failed to make much of a splash the first time round. I suspect it was the former.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the same thing happened with Google. They were accused of rigging search results against Trump, but because they’re so lovely and colorful and actually competent when it comes to PR it didn’t have the same impact. What’s stupid is that the search results genuinely were being gamed, but it wasn’t in Clinton’s favor. I believe Michael Cohen has information about that.

  16. Savage Librarian says:

    Apologies to all that I don’t have a citation at hand but will look for one and get back to you if/when I locate it.

    Time has become very iffy, but I think I read about this 6 months to a year ago.

    The article was about a prototype already in existence. Through some combination of AI, VR and AR, this technology can create seamless visuals that produce events and people doing things as if it was real.

    In other words, POTUS (or anyone) could be in a news feed but not be POTUS at all. Yet, the vast majority would think it is real.

    So, that is what we have to look forward to…

    • Rayne says:

      Save your time and effort. The technology is called Deep Fakes. Its integration with AR has already been done with some entertainment like this horror video.

      This is a topic in need of regulation sooner rather than later; the question is how to do so with First Amendment prohibitions of regulating speech.

  17. Coffae says:

    Great article, thank you!

    I remember thinking that when these articles about FB being slanted against conservatives, that it was skullduggery. I had good friends (that I now avoid) re-posting stuff that was ridiculous, and incredibly biased towards right-wing verbiage. It made me sick to my stomach how much these folks gobbled up the goop.

    I admit to using facebook just to post stuff on the RU investigation, and to keep track of my out of country family, but have largely lost interest in it. Facebook and Twitter were abused by these ultra- right-wing groups to push their agenda. It is interesting how Twitter was able to become more balanced, but Facebook seems to continue to deny its part the 2015-2016 misinformation cycle.

    I remember also that one of the reasons that President Obama was elected was he used social media to make his agenda known and popular; and conservatives took note. However, the abuse by the RW was a whole different ball of wax. It was outright lies that leveraged human fear. In fact, even the widely accepted idea that the media; PBS, Times, NY Times, NBC, Politico… is liberally slanted is BS.

  18. Jenny says:

    February 7, 2019 at 11:07 am
    The article by Jim Rutenberg was of interest because he saw the 2010 movie “The Social Network,” again in 2018 with a new perspective considering Facebook currently has major problems. Watching The Godfather and Goodfellas years later with a whole new perspective with current WH occupant – oops I digress.

    Facebook, started out as a great idea. Never a fan, never signed up. To me, it is a company more interested in serving share holders.

    Greed grew at Facebook to value investors. More interested in making money rather than being a company who values employees and users. Large company (like many others) forgetting who is the foundation of the company.

    • Rayne says:

      Nope, I’ve no plans at this point to write a followup; the point of that post was about NYT’s gross editorial failures like the 31-OCT-2016 story, Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.

      I don’t think all the facts are in about Abramson’s book — and it’s not her first book, either. The first one she co-authored was with Jane Mayer, IIRC. I don’t know if Abramson had any ghostwriting assistance on this one in question; I’ve seen suggestions that there were, and other publishing editors have pointed out other potential risk factors. Writing a book as a personal endeavor is also very different from editorial oversight of NYT staff; I’m far more concerned about the latter given NYT’s history of leading us into war and helping elect a bottom-feeding real estate developer with a penchant for golf and grift.

      • SaltinWound says:

        Agreed. My point at the time was that she was part of the oversight that led us into war and your faith that things would be different with her at the helm seemed misplaced. Happy to see how the story develops.

        • Rayne says:

          First, Howell Raines was NYT’s executive editor until May 2003; Bill Keller took over in July. Keller was an Iraq hawk. He may have brought on Abramson as his managing editor from her DC bureau role but I don’t think she was wholly responsible for the run-up to war. There was a considerable amount of pressure on her by Raines to go along, and she’s said since she regretted not pushing back harder. I’m sure it would have cost her job to resist Raines, though. Think back across the last +2 decades to the number of women who’ve resisted men in management, been whistleblowers, and ended up with treadmarks on their backs.

          Second, my piece on NYT’s fail pointed out gender diversity may have been and may still be a problem with NYT. Imagine if the men who helmed NYT in 2002-2003 had treated Miller’s reporting as Abramson treated Miller.

          I’m not going to bother following the Abramson situation for a while — too much dust in the air. Whatever becomes of her book doesn’t affect the public the way stories like NYT’s 31-OCT-2016 did. Or even the interview with Trump this past week which Marcy covered.

          • SaltinWound says:

            I miscommunicated if you thought I said she was wholly responsible for the run-up to the war. I do not think that. I’m not insane. I was suggesting she’s not great at her job and–responding to the thrust of what you wrote–I agree with you about The Times and gender. I disagree that things would have been better with her at the helm.

            • Rayne says:

              Could it be worse under Abramson than it has been under Baquet? Would she have run that POS on 31-OCT-2016? Would she have allowed the endless But Her Emails coverage all through 2016 to the exclusion of real investigative coverage of Trump? Would she have encouraged the perma-beat of “economic anxiety” coverage aimed at red state rural whites? Would she have hired Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens in a lame attempt to swing right in the op-ed page?

              I just don’t see her doing that. And all that above is why I haven’t and won’t have a subscription to the NYT.

  19. Willis Warren says:

    Re: Taxation is theft

    I’m familiar with anti tax history, but the specific phrase I mentioned is first attributed to known child slavery advocate Murray Rothbard in the 80s (Murray coined the term Kochtopus, too). We probably agree more on libertarians than you think, Rayne, but I’m a huge asshole to them and anyone else whose political ideology is based on selective evidence seeking.

    “Taxation is theft” was pretty heavily propagated throughout the think tanks via social media. It’s mainstream now, but back in 2006 it wasn’t. I watched that unfold in real time because of my involvement/huge waste of time in political groups on myspace and facebook.

    Libertarians cannot agree on a common platform because the default libertarian position (gov’t is bad) is a stupid thing to form a political party around. Trump is, ironically, the perfect libertarian candidate because he’s so worthless.

  20. orionATL says:

    this puzzle of facebook management caving in to a putsch from the american rightwing’s media brownshirt troops at the same time there was a highly conservative movement with a highly adept political manipulator taking control of the republican party wouldn’t seem to require a lot of deep thought. we’ve seen this movie before.

    the pressure on facebook management was, politically, just another brooks brothers riot – old indian hunters trick – a noisy, smokey, fabricated crisis to drive a panicked herd of buffalo over a cliff. zuck folded like a cheap lawn chair.

    this all occurred, recall, in the context of brad pascale having told-and-sold trump on using social media as his way to communicate with voters. pascale just happened to be thinking in the vein of thought that would allow the russian internet research agency organized by putin’s pal yevgeni prighozin to manipulate american voters’ minds about clinton’s fitness for office and to engage in voter discouragement and allianation activities.

    as for libertarian’s, they don’t seem needed to explain this story which i suspect belongs in the roger stone style dirty tricks and political manipulation section of the political library.

    all you need to know:


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