What to make of Facebook’s revelations that “inauthentic” Russian actors bought $100,000 worth of advertisements on the social media platform over the past two years, amid allegations that Russia swayed the US election results? While the ads did not contain specific messages about the candidates or the election, they did focus on policy issues from gun rights to race issues that were hugely important in the campaign.
All this only provides more proof that Facebook, which along with Google controls 85 per cent of the digital advertising market, is not only an economic powerhouse, but a major political influencer as well.
Already, the announcement has drawn criticism. “I’m sceptical that this is a ‘robust’ response,” says Jonathan Taplin, the author of Move Fast and Break Things and Director Emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.
Facebook的爆料已招致批评。南加州大学(University of Southern California) 安嫩伯格创新实验室(Annenberg Innovation Lab)荣誉董事乔纳森?塔普林(Jonathan Taplin)表示：“我对于这是否是一种‘稳健’的回应持怀疑态度。”塔普林著有《行动敏捷，打破传统》(Move Fast and Break Things)一书。
Taplin points out that Facebook has not published the Russian ads, and notes that the company has knowingly done things with perhaps even more political impact, like embedding employees in the Trump-Cambridge Analytica war room in Texas to help support the campaign, as Trump spent $80m on Facebook ads.
A Facebook spokesperson says: “Our data policy and federal law limit our ability to share user data and content.” This is the reason given for failing to release the ads. Facebook was, of course, an equal-opportunity monetiser in the 2016 election, putting employees in Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters too. Many publishers and advertising firms might do the same thing. But therein lies the key point — how different is Facebook from any other kind of company?
Facebook, along with Google and many other large platform companies, have been under fire for some time now about not taking responsibility for what happens on their websites; indeed, a little-known legal loophole, section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act, allows them to avoid, with a few small exceptions, “intermediary liability” for what anyone does or says on their sites. That same loophole also allows them to police their own sites for problematic behaviours, acting as “good Samaritans” without incurring liability.
与谷歌和其他很多大型平台公司一样，一段时间以来，Facebook一直因不对其网站内容承担责任而受到批评；实际上，根据《传播净化法案》(Communications Decency Act) 230条款，它们可以不对用户在其网站上的任何言行承担“中介责任”，只有少数例外。这是一个不为人知的法律漏洞。这个漏洞还让它们有权监督处置自己网站上有问题的行为，在不承担责任的情况下充当“正义之士”。
Facebook’s investigation into its own role in the 2016 election would seem to fall into this category of self-regulation. And yet, the results of this investigation also make it more and more clear that the platforms’ business models have changed so dramatically that they no longer deserve the sort of blanket exemptions for liabilities that companies in every other industry incur as a cost of doing business.
Platforms are no longer the “town square”, but run advertising businesses that monetise both fake and real news (and data of all sorts) in ways that mimic traditional publishers and retailers — yet with a precision and lack of legal accountability unknown to those businesses (Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland professor who is an outspoken critic of Big Tech, covers the issue well in this video).
如今平台不再是“城镇广场”，而是在经营广告业务，它们用仿效传统出版商和零售商的方式把真实和虚假新闻（以及各种数据）变现，但其精确性和法律责任的缺失是传统出版商和零售商闻所未闻的（马里兰大学(University of Maryland)教授弗兰克?帕斯奎尔(Frank Pasquale)是一位出言直率、对科技巨擘持批评态度的人，他在这则视频中详细讲述了这个问题）。
The company’s investigations into the Russian fake news scandal, as well as those of the Federal Election Commission, continue. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation that could challenge the CDA230 loophole — and Big Tech’s business model. Watch this space.
Facebook针对俄罗斯假新闻丑闻的调查以及联邦选举委员会(Federal Election Commission)的调查将继续。与此同时，两党参议员已引入立法，可能会挑战《传播净化法案》230条款这一漏洞以及科技巨擘们的业务模式。让我们拭目以待。