Manipulating Facebook To Manipulate Voters

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Manipulating Facebook To Manipulate Voters


by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


The art of pleasing is the art of deception.     

Luc De Clapiers

We all hate being duped. Conned into believing one thing only to find out later it was false. That we had built arguments and made decisions based upon false information we had every reason to believe is aggravating and embarrassing.

It is our own fault to some degree that we get suckered. We are geared to believe that which strokes our egos, our prejudices, and reinforces what we are already inclined to hold to be the truth. There is a word for those tendencies – motivated cognition.

Motivated cognition is “a tendency to bias our interpretation of facts to fit a version of the world we wish to believe is true. For instance, one study found that college basketball fans, viewing the same video of a game, were likely to believe the rival team committed at least twice as many fouls as their own,” Gregory Ferenstein, a fellow at the University of California Center for the Study of Democracy, writes.

When we are prejudiced in our thinking it is hard to get us set straight. “Research has found that when psychologists confront political partisans with facts contradictory to their opinions, they become even more convinced of their existing beliefs,” Ferenstein adds. It pleases us to be deceived because we are rewarded by the praises of close friends and associates who also believe the way we do.

When the source doing the conning is a trusted place we go to for information about family and friends we are even more setup up to buy into what we are being told. Such is the case with the manipulation of Facebook by Russian propagandists doing the work of the Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.

Now that simple statement will already have offended some of our readers weary of the allegations that candidate Trump somehow colluded with the Russians to become President Trump. That is not what this column is about. This column is about the sanctity of American elections and the imperative to ensure that they are not meddled with by powers foreign or domestic.

Elections in America are sacred. That citizens inherently trust that they are conducted fairly is fundamental to the legitimacy of those we elect to serve. If we don’t believe our leaders were elected fairly, it destabilizes our government, leads to protests, sometimes violent, and further deeply divides citizens into opposing camps.

Investigations into the extent of Russians meddling with our 2016 presidential election by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have discovered that Facebook was paid around $100,000 for the placement of ads that could have reached nearly 70 million Americans. Those ads were placed by a Russian-based company linked to the Russian government with the intent to influence American voters.

The Facebook-placed advertising campaign to manipulate American voters wasn’t simply through subtle messages that tried to damage the character of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, it also involved messages that tried to sway voters on sensitive social issues such as the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights - building animosity toward the Democratic Party.

“The Daily Beast reported that Russian operatives also sought to organize conservative protests in the U.S., using false identities to create Facebook events designed to inflame partisan divisions over immigration and Islam,” Vanity Fair magazine reporter Maya Kosoff writes.

Russians were also able to create false identities on Facebook complete with fictitious biographies and stolen family photos. Reporters investigating Facebook’s ties to Russian hacking of our election found that a Brazilian man’s photo with his then three-year-old daughter had been used to create a false identity of an American citizen. That “citizen” then gathered friends on Facebook attempting to influence them with political messages against Democrats.

We are finding out that some of the advertising placed by Russians may have been targeted to states that were decided by the barest of margins in the 2016 election. Three states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were won by Trump by a margin of 0.09 percent, or 107,000 votes. Turn these three losses by Clinton into victories and she would be president.

Did Facebook advertising play a role in swaying undecided swing voters in these three states? That is one question that is being investigated. The outcome of the investigation is not going to change the outcome of the election – even if there was meddling Trump remains president.

However, if collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian efforts to influence our election can be proven, then criminal charges will be filed against those involved. Again, these charges will not affect the outcome of the presidential election. Only if Trump himself had personal knowledge of the attempts by Russians to influence our election, or knew of collusion to work with those efforts, is he personally in trouble.

Facebook has also been used by racists and other hate groups to create communities of like-minded individuals that then work to have an impact on elections, investigators have found.

Facebook has been working to rid itself of false identities, groups that intentionally disseminate false information, and racist groups. It is now working with special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates the Russian hacking of our election as well as its ties to the Trump campaign.

Strong supporters of President Trump, and even many average American citizens, say they are tired of the investigation into whether or not the Russians tried to influence the outcome of our election.  But it is essential we know the extent to which our election was tampered with by a foreign government to ensure that their efforts to do so in future elections is prevented, or at least, more easily detected and deterred.

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