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The oddest part of the whole “Russia used Facebook to influence the 2016 election” argument is how it mixes together classic conspiracy elements (“Russia is trying to brainwash us with Facebook ads!”), outdated Cold War thinking (“the Russkies are coming!”) and a very limited view of how modern social media actually works these days.
The Facebook narrative takes a strange turn
As a result, the narrative about Facebook is headed in strange – and, quite frankly, dangerous – directions. For example, it’s not enough to conjecture that the Kremlin has been secretly buying up Facebook ads over the past 12 months through the use of overseas agents. It’s not enough to conjecture that vast Russian “troll farms” are engaged in relentless subversion of your Facebook feed. And it’s not enough to conjecture that somehow Donald Trump’s social media team gave advice to the Russians on just how exactly how to do it…
No, what’s needed now is to prove that the moral rot and corruption goes even deeper. BuzzFeed – never known for being a paragon of responsible news reporting – is now suggesting that Facebook executives may have been in on the deal. Even worse, they may have been paying off U.S. congressmen as a way of hiding the nefarious goings-on from the public.
BuzzFeed has examined campaign contributions from key Facebook executives – including COO Sheryl Sandberg – and suggested that they went right into the coffers of key congressmen with the ability to influence the outcome of the findings of Senate and House intelligence committees. In other words, if these committees find no evidence of Russian involvement in the election, then it can only be for one reason – they’ve been paid off by Facebook (which, in turn, has been accepting “dirty money” from Kremlin operatives).
The new Red Scare, powered by Facebook
This should be worrisome – but not for the reason you might think. It should be worrisome because it smacks of McCarthyism during the Cold War era. If you’ve never taken a course on American history during the Cold War, do yourself a favor and just Google a single term: Red Scare.
History, as they say, doesn’t always repeat itself, but it always rhymes. In other words, more than 50 years after the last Red Scare, our elected leaders have decided to give us another Red Scare, this time powered by Facebook. “Fake News” is the new Soviet propaganda. Instead of a “missile gap” with a foe armed to the teeth with nukes, there’s a “Facebook ad gap” with a foe armed to the teeth with Facebook ad dollars. Instead of Cold War spies, moles and double agents, there are hackers and trolls and Manchurian candidates.
Conspiracy theorists of the world, unite!
At the end of the day, everyone loves a good conspiracy – and social media is just making it easier to feed those conspiracies. If you’re not someone who believes in the Area 51 UFO conspiracy, then you’re probably someone who believes in the JFK conspiracy or the fake moon landing conspiracy. Or maybe you believe that the Federal Reserve is controlled by the Illuminati or that you should go around wearing aluminum tin foil hats so that the government can’t track you. As a result, it now appears that the “Facebook ad conspiracy” is going to join the ranks of some of the best conspiracy theories ever dreamed up.