Can we consider this the greatest “friending” ever attempted? According to an e-mail obtained by Buzzfeed, Steve Bannon planned to infiltrate Facebook by flooding its application process with like-minded applicants that would have loyalty to Breitbart. Seeing an opening on LinkedIn, a friendly congressional staffer first pitched the idea to Bannon just before he left Breitbart for the Trump campaign:
The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights.
“There is one for a DC-based ‘Public Policy Manager’ at Facebook’s What’s APP [sic] division,” Gacek, the Senior Fellow for Regulatory Affairs at the group, wrote on August 1, 2016. “LinkedIn sent me a notice about some job openings.”
“This seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo with INTEL about the job application process over at FB,” he continued.
“Milo” is former Breitbart News Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, to whom Bannon forwarded Gacek’s email the same day. “Can u get on this,” Bannon instructed his staffer.
It’s tough to imagine what Bannon thought he’d get out of this exercise. Applying for a single job in a subsidiary division would hardly generate any response that would tend to prove institutional bias; you’d need a much broader effort than that. How much “intel about the job application process” would this project have generated, anyway? Presumably it would result in a handful of candidates actually getting to an interview with decisionmakers, but they’d all be the same decisionmakers in this smaller unit of the FB umbrella.
BuzzFeed notes that there isn’t any indication that Bannon or Yiannopoulos put this idea into action. (That seems obvious given the lack of any report.) The interaction appears more like a brief consideration of the proposal rather than anything more serious. Besides, both Bannon and Breitbart had much bigger fish to fry in August 2016, with the start of the general election campaign and the need to provide the voice for populists on the Right. Alleged Facebook bias was on everyone’s radar screens by that time, but as more of a long-term issue — and it had nothing to do with hiring at a subsidiary. All this BuzzFeed e-mail proves is that people like to “spitball” about lots of ideas.
Facebook has more headaches than a barely considered undercover operation by a New Media outlet. The Washington Post reports that founder Mark Zuckerberg got upbraided by Barack Obama over its “fake news” propagation, and that Zuck has fallen into a space where he’s angering everyone on all sides:
Nine days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as “crazy” the idea that fake news on his company’s social network played a key role in the U.S. election, President Barack Obama pulled the youthful tech billionaire aside and delivered what he hoped would be a wake-up call.
For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign without making matters worse. Weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, some of Obama’s aides looked back with regret and wished they had done more.
Now huddled in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race.
Zuckerberg acknowledged the problem posed by fake news. But he told Obama that those messages weren’t widespread on Facebook and that there was no easy remedy, according to people briefed on the exchange, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of a private conversation.
Remember that Obama himself didn’t take warnings about Russia seriously, either. He rejected a proposal to fund a counter-propaganda program by Tom Cotton in 2015, and then kept quiet about the failure to properly combat it, believing that Hillary Clinton would win anyway. Obama only took an activist role after Hillary’s loss, and Zuck makes a handy scapegoat for his own failure to address an issue about which Obama had been duly warned. It’s the height of chutzpah to then buttonhole Zuckerberg and lecture him on his responsibilities in dealing with foreign propaganda.
Also, let’s recall the scale of this Facebook effort. The Russians spent about $100,000 on Facebook ads. Hillary Clinton raised more than $563 million for her campaign committee alone, and spent $226.9 million of that on campaign advertising. Trump raised $333 million for his campaign committee and spent $194 million on advertising. The Russian contribution amounts to less than a drop in the bucket, which few seem to notice in all of the hysteria over Facebook on all sides these days.