Donald Trump

Are Facebook Ads Part of the Russia-Trump Conspiracy Theory?

Participating in the marketplace of ideas is not interference.

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sbluerock/flickr

The Trump-Russia conspiracy hunt is scraping the bottom of the barrel—Facebook ads.

The New York Times reports Facebook "identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin." More than 3,000 ads were identified, although most of them did not refer to specific candidates.

That company, the Internet Research Agency, was reported by The New York Times in 2015 to be a troll farm. Now the Times insists that Facebook's disclosure "adds to the evidence of the broad scope of the Russian influence campaign" but admits that as of yet "there has been no evidence proving collusion in the hacking or other Russian activities."

Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said the company had shared its findings with Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed special counsel on the Trump Russia investigation, and would continue to work with him "as necessary."

What is all that supposed to mean? In a country founded on the idea of free and open speech, how concerned should we be that foreign companies make ad buys on Facebook? The "marketplace of ideas" is robust enough to handle it. Ideas succeed and fail on their merits. Advertisements can get ideas in front of people, but they can't get those people to accept or act on those ideas.

To begin with, $100,000 in Facebook ads is not a lot of ads (the company had more than $9 billion in ad revenue in the last fiscal quarter alone). For the most part, Facebook ads are pretty ineffective.

Even if the Russian company had purchased 10 or even 100 times as many ads, it's no big deal. There is little evidence political ads sway voters. The idea that a relatively small ad buy on a relatively ineffective platform interfered with the presidential election is ludicrous.

Free speech works because any idea is absorbed and subjected to the pressures of a marketplace. More voices only make the marketplace richer and give free participants in that marketplace more information with which to make decisions.

The most unseemly part of the Trump-Russia conspiracy-mongering has been the contorting of free speech in a free country to appear shadowy, devious, sophisticated, and overly influential.

Back in January, when the intelligence community released an unclassified version of its report on Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, the bulk of it focused on the operation of Russia Today (a network I've appeared on a few times) and its coverage of third-party candidates and of issues like police brutality, military drones, and mass surveillances. The spooks argued such coverage undermined American democracy. Precisely the opposite is true—increased coverage of third-party candidates and of issues often under-reported by the mainstream media can only improve decision making in a democracy.

The Trump-Russia witch hunt focuses disturbingly on political speech, and smacks of quashing it based on perceptions of the source. This "kill the messenger" premise offers the government the opportunity to suppress messages it doesn't like.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a top congressional Trump-Russia conspiracy theorist, has already suggested Facebook should do more to monitor where its ads are coming from and shut down foreign ones.

"Clearly Facebook doesn't want to become the arbiter of what's true and what's not true," Schiff told the Times. "But they do have a civil responsibility to do the best they can to inform their users of when they're being manipulated by a foreign actor."

The true manipulation comes from those who think the age-old American tradition of free speech and free press is sinister and ought to be abridged.

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  1. What is all that supposed to mean? In a country founded on the idea of free and open speech, how concerned should we be that foreign companies make ad buys on Facebook? The “marketplace of ideas” is robust enough to handle it.

    Start by divesting yourself of the notion that Facebook is a marketplace of ideas. Go from there.

    1. Facebook has proven itself to be pretty anti-free speech, which they are free to do on their own platform.

      That said, my favorite Facebook group (We Are Capitalists) hasn’t been shut down so I guess Fuckerberg could be worse.

      That hasn’t stopped every last one of the political ad’s shown on my page showing up as Progressive / Democratic though, which is highly ironic given all the shit that’s actually on my page. In fairness, Numbers USA or some shit like that shows up all the time too and I get the impression they aren’t very Progressive.

  2. Fix your marketplace of ideas link, Krayewski. Or are you and Reason trying to hide something?

    Yeah, we get bent right out of shape at the idea that voters are being told things incorrectly and/or by the wrong people. (Including some here at the Free Minds place.) Freedom of speech should include wrong or incorrect speech from whatever source, but that, like all my individual rights notions, is a pipe dream.

      1. I’m all about truth bombs.

      2. I’m the Kim Jong-UHNNN of truth ICBM’s.

        1. Lets hear you say “moose and squirrel.”

  3. The spooks argued such coverage undermined American democracy. Precisely the opposite is true?increased coverage of third-party candidates and of issues often under-reported by the mainstream media can only improve decision making in a democracy.

    I don’t really know (or care) what the ultimate goal of Russia is via the RT network. But again, reporting an alternate point of view, or covering real stories that the establishment media doesn’t cover is steadfastly uninterested is not a problem. Are the stories based in fact? Was the reporting honest?

    1. The big problem was that they didn’t have even a single shred of objective evidence for any part of the absurd Russia conspiracy theory delusions peddled by Clapper and CrowdStrike, so they needed SOMETHING to release. People forget now, but this was the report that was supposed to silence all of the doubters about he depth of evidence the American IC had for Russia hacking the DNC and giving their emails to WikiLeaks, likely with the help of Trump’s campaign. THIS was supposed to be the smoking gun. It was hyped endlessly before it was released, and then memory-holed after a weekend following its release.

      It simply turned out that the best ‘evidence’ they have for the entire Russia story is the fact that RT does a better job of covering American politics than the American legacy media does.

      Unfortunately, the average American was stupid enough to lap it right up, because hey, the Washington Post and CNN said it was legit.

  4. The true manipulation comes from those who think the age-old American tradition of free speech and free press is manipulative, sinister and ought to be abridged.

    Only when the wrong people are engaging in speech. Duh.


  5. The Trump-Russia conspiracy hunt is scraping the bottom of the barrel?Facebook ads.

    It’s adorable that you think there’s a bottom to that barrel.

  6. Advertisements can get ideas in front of people, but they can’t get those people to accept or act on those ideas.

    You aren’t familiar with the work of groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are you? According to them, the Number 1 evil in America is those evil corporations like Coke and Frito Lay and Kellogg’s and McDonalds using their Nazi brainwashing techniques on us to force us to shove junk food down our gullets.

    1. I saw an ad for Stoli on election day and downed a fifth of it before going to the polls. I now can’t remember who I voted for and its all the fault of the Ruskies and evil ad men.

    1. I told you yesterday, “verrit” is the sound made when you get stepped on by a frog.

    2. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. Keeps them all in a virtual Neverland.

  7. Of course, if you’re going to look at undue Russian social media influence in the election, which candidate did surprisingly better than expected? Is it really just a coincidence that this candidate was an old unrepentant Stalinist whose support was largely from the group of young people most likely to be using social media, the same kids who are, even as we speak, parading around in the streets waving the hammer and sickle in their Antifa loot-and-pillage outings? Where the hell’s the investigation or the calls for investigation into that elephant turd in the punch bowl? If Bernie Sanders wasn’t a tool of the Kremlin, I’ll eat my Che T-shirt.

    1. A prog friend of mine actually posted something about this on FB a few weeks after the election-I’m not kidding! It basically said that Putin backed Bernie to fuck up Hillary’s campaign.

      1. I’ve heard it MANY times. Go to any place where Berniebots are questioning Russiagate, the comments will be full of Democrat lapdogs claiming Bernie is a stooge of Putin, too.

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  9. So its all coming into focus. Mark Zuckerberg is a paid Russian agent!!!!!

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  11. Time for the government to shut down facebook

  12. OH NOES! The wrong people are buying advertisements! However will democracy survive?!?!?

  13. You’re full of s*** to call it a Witch Hunt at this point. It’s a federal crime to solicit a campaign contribution from a foreign government and that’s exactly what we have here and it’s all in writing. Trump’s lawyer’s emails are even more damning then his son’s emails. Trumps lawyer said they were going to get Putin’s help getting Trump elected and getting the Trump Tower built in Russia. That’s collusion with a foreign government and the conspirators took meaningful steps to accomplish this conspiracy. It wasn’t long after Trump Jr’s meeting with the Kremlin agents that the DNC emails were released. Regardless of whether they understood exactly how Russia was going to help the campaign, Trump’s campaign solicited the help with the understanding and hope that they could profit from building a good relationship with the Russian govt. And there’s more to it. These motherfuckers are going down.

  14. The author of this article misses the point, perhaps intentionally. Foreign powers do not have First Amendment rights in American elections.

    Moreover, under the Foreign Agent’s Registration Act, foreigners or their agents seeking to effect political change must register before engaging in political activity. That didn’t happen here.

    We also have to remember that for every one cockroach you see on the floor there are a thousand in the walls. This is not an isolated piece of evidence to be dismissed, but part of a much larger collection of evidence including Sessions’ perjury, Comey’s dismissal, Russian financing of Trump interests (including organized crime money) etc.

    Reason embarrasses itself as it continues to act as a shill for the traitor in the White House. Trump’s loyalty lies with a hostile foreign power and it is absurd to continue to be his apologist.

  15. Original article begins and ends with Trump. I call BS One statement “Facebook did not make public any of the ads, nor did it say how many people saw them. But Mr. Trump regularly offered outspoken comments on those issues during the campaign, denouncing “political correctness” and rallying his supporters on the right.”
    Does it bother anyone when something is censored, but we can’t show you why, but rest assured it was well worth censoring. Fair enough my feminine sensitivities must be protected at all cost, but the writer of this sentence above more than insinuates Trump offered outspoken comments on those mysterious issues which are too offensive to share. Which makes me wonder which other candidate perhaps offered outspoken comments on those issues as well and who needs to see that!

  16. The NYT is a rag. Trump is a dishonest, woman-groping narcissist. Reason ought not defend him against even phony charges. https://reason.com/reasontv/201…..dium=email

  17. If the ads did illegally affect the election wouldn’t Facebook be some kind of coconspirator? So we ought to be thanking/blaming the zuck?

  18. Also, wow is some lefty site obviously linking to this article.

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