Former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi tells me he has no reason to believe Facebook knowingly cooperated with disclosure of its users’ information. However, he said, “I believe this is more an issue of lack of, or sloppy, oversight.” He adds that Cambridge Analytica may have had a tie to Russian officials, which ironically is something Stephen K. Bannon “has likely talked to [special counsel Robert S. Mueller III] about.” He posits an interesting question: Is there evidence Cambridge Analytica “focused on Facebook user data in key swing states”? That’s something Zuckerberg could surely answer — under oath.
If you want an issue that cuts across the usual political divide, gets Americans riled up and motivates younger voters to get out to the polls, you could hardly do better than to put Silicon Valley executives in the hot seat. Republicans who refuse to pursue this will look as though they are once again covering for President Trump in the investigation of the 2016 election and, even worse, siding with corporate greed over the privacy interests of Americans. It’s not a good look.
Roger McNamee, an early Facebook and Google investor who now heads an equity firm, and ethics mavens Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer place a good deal of the blame for the 2016 fiasco at Zuckerberg’s feet. “Russia never would have been able to conduct ‘ information warfare’ against the United States in the way it did in the 2016 presidential election without Facebook, Twitter and Google,” they write. “The latest allegations — that a Trump campaign consulting firm with Russian connections used improperly obtained Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans to target voters — raise disturbing questions about the roles of both Facebook and Russia.” At this point, they argue, it hardly matters if Facebook was aware or merely slow off the mark. “Our top intelligence leaders tell us foreign manipulation is ongoing. They expect Russian intervention to continue in the 2018 mid-terms and beyond. Facebook, Twitter and Google have so far not been willing to take the dramatic steps that only they can carry out to ensure that history will not repeat itself.”
It’s outrageous frankly that the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have been allowed to escape public testimony and to avoid providing a full accounting under oath of what transpired. We agree with the authors that Americans deserve full disclosure of how these platforms were manipulated, when they became aware of it, what they did in response and whether they have informed “the 50 million Americans whose profiles were reportedly ‘harvested’ by Cambridge Analytica — the consulting firm now suspended by Facebook that claims to have provided the ‘secret sauce’ that drove Trump’s electoral success.” Does their business model depend on providing a sanctuary to foreign powers that threaten our democracy?
Facebook users can vote with their phones and laptops, opting out of the platform. Regulators here and abroad can seriously impair Facebook’s money-making formula. Zuckerberg’s inability to address the crisis looming over his business has already resulted in losses of tens of billions. How much more must the stock drop and how many users must Facebook lose before Zuckerberg starts behaving like a responsible corporate citizen?