If you are among the millions of Americans who make use of Facebook, you probably have seen at least a little political content in your newsfeed. This is why the Mueller investigation into Russian propaganda about our political process is the daily fixation of news networks. Social media in general, and Facebook specifically is the wild west of political media since it is not governed like broadcast and print media in the U.S.
Over the weekend, Facebook executive Rob Goldman took to Twitter to talk about the Russian ad purchases on Facebook – and then he was forced to apologize. Goldman inadvertently implied that the Russians probably didn’t have a significant influence on the U.S. elections by pointing out that they purchased ads after the election. If that was the only mistake he made, perhaps that would be alright.
The simple fact that Goldman decided to weigh in on a subject that should have been forbidden by Facebook management is the real problem. By extension, Goldman has openly suggested to the public that he and his co-workers might have a clue about the political implications of the content their employer puts out on the web. He is an ad executive, and his co-workers are in marketing, IT, and programming. None of their job descriptions involve objective analysis of political impacts of the content they publish. On the contrary, their founder has repeatedly denied claims that Facebook is a media entity (which might engage in real analysis), and still insists that Facebook is a communication platform.
Facebook deals in information without analysis. The only analysis they are competent at completing is limited to user experience on their website, and if you ask many of their users they might say Facebook can’t even get that right. “Fake news” is a phrase that is bandied about by people who are upset about the substance of a given news report, but on Facebook it should be used to describe the billions of poorly sourced words that float through their systems unchecked. Just from the sheer volume, it is impossible for Facebook to police their content properly, so the only real solution is for people to view the site in the same way most teachers view Wikipedia. It’s a fine place to start, but it is not a reliable source for accurate information. That places it at least a step below “trust but verify” level information.
Goldman should serve as an object lesson for Facebook policy. Maybe it’s time to end the “open posting on Twitter” rule for management, and start requiring that their executives get their tweets about Facebook cleared before they go live. No matter what, it’s time for Facebook to tell their people to stop posting about things they know nothing about on social media – like politics.