Facebook had a rough year in 2016. It’s been trying to fight the widely held view it influenced the election while at the same time trying to teach users to spot fake news. It was clearly hoping, as 2017 dawned, to put this behind it, but scandal has a way of pulling everyone in, and sure enough, Facebook is on the spot in the Trump-Russia probe.
According to CNN, Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been visiting the company and looking into allegations that Facebook was basically serving as an unwitting Russian stooge helping to spread propaganda:
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, met with Facebook officials in California more than a month ago as part of his committee’s investigation into potential collusion or election interference, and he’s convinced the company can explain whether anyone from the Trump campaign helped Russians boost fake news articles targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Warner is testing the theory popular among Democratic operatives that Russia was behind spikes in fake news that were anti-Clinton and that Russia had help targeting those articles from US political operatives.
Warner will also be investigating whether Trump’s digital advertising director helped guide Russian money to the most effective ways to promote these stories. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the FBI has been tackling it from the other direction, investigating Infowars and Breitbart for potential ties to Russian-funded spambots that buried Facebooks in links from their sites. That those sites were the beneficiaries of a Russian propaganda campaign is a given, to many, and it’s mostly a question of whether they were aware of the activity, or were just used as unwitting stooges.
For Facebook, though, it probably doesn’t matter. It was the platform, and it’s struggling to figure out how to keep this from happening again. James Comey said it best: If the Russians think this worked, then they’ll be back.