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Should Facebook be held responsible for the influence of fake advertisements and news stories?

Last week, several new sources reported that special prosecutor Robert Mueller has served Facebook with a search warrant to gather information on Russian-linked accounts. Facebook claims that these accounts purchased at least $150,000 worth of advertising throughout the 2016 election.

This story, combined with other “fake news” that has propagated through Facebook’s vast platform, has gained a fair amount of media attention. In the second quarter of 2017, Facebook’s userbase has tapered off to somewhere around two billion monthly users. News shared on Facebook, through advertisements or the like, is incredibly culturally significant whether we want to acknowledge its validity or not.

Although $150,000 is only a miniscule fraction of Facebook ad purchases, many theorists argue that it is significant enough to sway an American election, which can depend on several thousands of people.

More concerning is the idea that there is no middle-man to monitor the advertisements and stories posted on Facebook. Anyone, and that literally means anyone, can post an ad on Facebook with questionable validity. Facebook has designed a system of artificial intelligence to filter these advertisements, but considering the controversy following the 2016 election, this system has not been sufficient. In recent months, The New York Times questioned if Facebook is “bad for American Democracy.”  However, for a platform of at least two billion people monthly, it is difficult to go about designing such a platform.

Facebook, like any massive corporation, has ethical responsibilities of its own, for the sake of its userbase and the political climate. In 2016, Pew Research Center found the 79% of American adults use Facebook. The news and advertisements spread on Facebook are not merely social, but incredibly political. They should be accordingly treated and monitored like other widely-used online sources of information.

Of course, this becomes tricky when we consider the issues of censorship and free speech, especially in how they relate to social media. Facebook has truly become a hybrid platform. It is one of the largest sources of news and information available online while being the most utilized social media platform in the United States.

The question is then how we are meant to monitor something so vast and complicated. The controversies stirring around “fake news” and a Russian-influenced election have placed Facebook at the forefront of American politics. Facebook is no longer a pop culture phenomenon, but a political phenomenon. In the last few years, these lines have truly blurred. We should accordingly approach Facebook like a political phenomenon. Like any multibillion dollar corporation, Facebook has marketing and information technological ethical responsibilities.

In any case, $150,000 in fake news by a foreign government is a serious issue for the American political sphere, and we should be paying a little more attention.

Original Story: “Politicians Aren’t Talking About the Biggest Challenge to the Labor Market” The Atlantic, Nov. 6, 2017.

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