Mark Zuckerberg would have you believe that he has created a platform for the people. Mark Zuckerberg would have you believe that his platform, Facebook, is there to help people share ideas and experiences with their friends and with the world.
What Mark Zuckerberg will NOT want you to focus on is the degree to which Facebook, under Zuckerberg’s leadership, is fully in bed with the political powers of the world and, at the end of the day, Facebook is much more about hat these interests want than actually serving as a platform of individuals.
Zuckerberg’s social network is a politically agnostic tool for its more than 2 billion users, he has said.
But Facebook, it turns out, is no bystander in global politics. What he hasn’t said is that his company actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition – sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.
The initiative is run by a little-known Facebook global government and politics team that’s neutral in that it works with nearly anyone seeking or securing power.
The unit is led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Since Facebook hired Harbath three years later, her team has travelled the globe helping political clients use the company’s powerful digital tools.
In some of the world’s biggest democracies-from India and Brazil to Germany and Britain – the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers. And once a candidate is elected, the company in some instances goes on to train government employees or provide technical assistance for live streams at official state events.
Even before Facebook was forced to explain its role in US election meddling – portrayed by its executives as a largely passive affair involving Russian-funded ads – the company’s direct and growing role catering to political campaigns raised concerns inside the social media giant.
“It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign,” said Elizabeth Linder, who started and ran the Facebook politics unit’s Europe, Middle East and Africa efforts until 2016. Linder had originally been excited about the company’s potential to be “extraordinarily useful for the world’s leaders – but also the global citizenry”. She said she decided to leave the company in part because she grew uncomfortable with what she saw as increased emphasis on electioneering and campaigns.