Facebook takes down data and thousands of posts, obscuring reach of Russian disinformation

Social media analyst Jonathan Albright got a call from Facebook the day after he published research last week showing that the reach of the Russian disinformation campaign was almost certainly larger than the company had disclosed. While the company had said 10 million people read Russian-bought ads, Albright had data suggesting that the audience was at least double that -- and maybe much more -- if ordinary free Facebook posts were measured as well.

Albright welcomed the chat with three company officials. But he was not pleased to discover that they had done more than talk about their concerns regarding his research. They also had scrubbed from the Internet nearly everything -- thousands of Facebook posts and the related data -- that had made the work possible.

Never again would he or any other researcher be able to run the kind of analysis he had done just days earlier.

Twitter Would Like You To Know It Is Committed To Being More Transparent

Twitter pledged to do better in such situations, noting "we will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future."

For close observers of Twitter's opaque harassment rules and its inconsistent enforcement of them this is a familiar dance. That's because Twitter wants everyone to know it is committed to transparency. It is also committed to committing to being committed to transparency.

Twitter was committed to transparency last month when it refused to clarify its stance toward president Donald Trump's tweets about North Korea, which the country said it viewed as an "act of war."

Twitter affirmed its commitment to transparency 4 times last month in a blog post summarizing its Russian election interference testimony before congress. Sen. Mark Warner described Twitter's presentation as "inadequate" in almost every way.

In January of this year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledged to be more open and transparent about addressing the company's decade long battle with systemic harassment on its platform.

This summer -- despite reports that repeat harassment victims were still finding their abuse reports wrongly dismissed -- Twitter affirmed its commitment to greater transparency.

That same month, when BuzzFeed News presented the company with 27 explicit examples of harassment, Twitter replied with its boilerplate statement. And company co-founder Biz Stone promised the company would be more transparent.

This is likely because Twitter has a history of committing to being more transparent.

Like in 2015, when Dorsey apologized to developers for Twitter's past restrictions of third-party apps and pledged to be more transparent.

Similar to the kind of transparency the company promised in 2015 when Twitter began making federal campaign contributions.

Transparency, you see, is part of Twitter's 10-year plan.

But Twitter is committed to openness and clarity. Pledging a commitment to transparency is one of the things Twitter does best.

Perhaps that's because the company has been doing it since 2008.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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5 Responses:

  1. jwz says:

    I also like this comment by clawsoon:

    When reached by journalists from numerous outlets, including BuzzFeed News, Twitter offered its boilerplate response: it does not comment on individual accounts for privacy reasons.

    Later on, after numerous angry tweets from celebrities and others, Twitter clarified its reasoning, explaining McGowan was briefly locked out of her account for tweeting a phone number.

    I got whiplash from the first sentence to the second. "We will not violate the privacy of our users, which is why we are not commenting. Oh, well, if you keep asking, in that case we'll totally violate our privacy policy." As soon as it comes to protecting themselves and throwing a user under the bus, they decide that a policy intended to protect users means nothing.

    My increasing impression is that Twitter does not know what "policy" means. They heard the word once, and they know some of the incantations that routinely go with it ("for privacy reasons"). "Policy" means "magic spell that we hope will make people stop complaining." If one magic spell doesn't work, try saying another one and hope that it works.

    • John Bigboote says:

      Do we really expect Twitter -- who wouldn't know the HTTP spec if it ate their wife and replaced her in their marriage bed -- to understand policy or standards?

      I mean, maybe to them, that IS a policy. Like how 200 was a perfectly reasonable response for a 4xx authorization error.

      Yes, I'm still angry about Net::Twitter.

      • jwz says:

        They also totally understand what 301 and 302 redirects are for! When you load a URL it returns status 200 and does the redirect with Javascript!

  2. Derpatron9000 says:

    The social media shitepipe spews on.....

  3. AnotherDave says:

    What they mean when they say they want to be transparent is complete transparency. Normally you'd expect the boundaries of the organization to be transparent, so you can see the inner workings. They make their inner workings also transparent, i.e. invisible. Maximum transparency!

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