Facebook (FB) just can’t seem to catch a break in the media these days. I mean, to be fair, when you, as the largest social media platform in the universe, partner up with consulting firm who lied about their intentions to perform psychological research on 270,000 but ended up selling user data from 50 million profiles to help the Republican Party take the 2016 election, it’s only fair that you receive a bit of bad press.
In most recent negative news, Michael Vachon, an aide to billionaire George Soros, is demanding that Facebook (FB) conduct an external investigation following the release of a report published by the New York Times, the subject matter of which describes seemingly sketchy measures exercised by the Facebook leadership team in the wake of the 2016 US election scandal. According to the report, Facebook employed the help of Definers, a historically right-leaning research firm to “discredit protesters, in part by linking them to liberal financier George Soros.
“A research document circulated by Definers [the PR firm engaged by Facebook] to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”
–New York Times Report
The report published by the Times also suggests that Facebook (FB) used their connections to lobby a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic. Facebook (FB) immediately responded to the allegations presented in the report, and fully denied ever instructing Definers to conduct any sort of a smear campaign on its behalf.
“Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company.To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”
–Official statement from Facebook
In addition to handling the Soros investigation, on Thursday, Facebook (FB) published the details of thirteen national security letters sent from the FBI demanding immediate access to the platform’s user database.
For the uninformed public, a national security letter or NSL is an official request from the federal government for information related to an investigation into a threat to national security. Traditionally, NSLs are served in secret to companies or individuals in question, alongside a cute little NDA or, “non-disclosure agreement,” commonly referred to in the business as a “gag order.”
In the aftermath of the Russian interference debacle, Facebook (FB) added a ‘Transparency’ section to their platform as a sign of good faith to any mistrusting users. The page alleges that every request the company receives from the government is “carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency” and, on occasion, the company “may reject or require greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague.” Facebook’s latest transparency report indicates that demands from the federal government have climbed nearly 26% year-over-year, from 82,341 to 103,815 requests. According to the report, over 50% of the requests included a non-disclose agreement that restricted the company from informing its users that their data was being analyzed.
“While fulfilling your obligations under this letter, please do not disable, suspend, lock, cancel, or interrupt service to the above-described subscriber [Facebook user] or accounts. A service interruption or deflation may alert the subscriber and account users to the investigative action.”
-FBI National Security Letter File No. NSL-17-431971
In laymen’s terms, the FBI, on multiple occasions, conducted investigations into Facebook (FB) user data, and the feds expected Facebook (FB) to keep its mouth shut. The obvious question is this: can we still trust Facebook (FB)? The fact that at any moment, pursuant to a subpoena from the US government, our data may be analyzed and used as evidence to support a federal investigation.
Though I fully support deterring threats to national security, I think if the FBI is flipping through my profile pictures and “likes/dislikes” I, along with the other billion users on Facebook (FB), have a right to know.