Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed atonement Saturday night during the closing hours of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur for other people using the social media platform “to divide people.”
“Tonight concludes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews when we reflect on the past year and ask forgiveness for our mistakes. For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook profile. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better. May we all be better in the year ahead, and may you all be inscribed in the book of life.”
The entrepreneurial wunderkind is likely referring to his company’s recent admission to congressional investigators that it sold political ads to a suspicious Russian firm. Facebook also confirmed that certain Russian operatives deceitfully organized and promulgated political protests in America, according to The Daily Beast, including some related to curbing immigration as well as promoting Black Lives Matter. Facebook turned over all information to special counsel Robert Mueller, which included copies of the ads, as well as the ostensible identity of the purchasers. Mueller is currently investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Most of the advertisements did not focus on President Donald Trump or then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the ad sales merely amounted to $100,000. As Axios reporter Sara Fischer notes, that is a very small amount, especially in a two-year time span. The negligible number of ads relative to the larger, massive political advertisement ecosystem means that the final impact on the election was likely limited.
“For all its the emotional appeal, the idea that Russia was able to change the outcome of the presidential election with a $100,000 Facebook ad buy is absurd. If it were true, then every political consultant in the U.S. would be out of a job,” Richard Bennett, one of the original creators of the Wi-Fi system, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Hillary and her supporters spent lots of money on social media campaigns, just not as wisely as the Trump campaign. The election turned out the way it did because Hillary not only failed to win the white working class vote, she didn’t even bother to ask for it. Voters don’t like being disrespected.”
The prospect of Russian companies — which possibly have connections to the Kremlin — trying to cultivate an even further schismatic political landscape in America is an aspect that worries many, including lawmakers who long feared Russia’s influence on the U.S. presidential election. (RELATED: Russia Exploited Identity Politics In America)
Senate Intel Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner has raised concerns for months that Facebook’s ad targeting services may have boosted the prevalence of “fake news” on the platform. The top Democrat on the committee said in early August that he needed more time to talk with officials at Facebook to discuss how Russians could purposefully spread such misleading or fraudulent news. Many credited or blamed Trump winning the presidency to the apparent rise of “fake news,” even though economists at Stanford and New York University conducted a study that showed otherwise.
Warner was also worried that certain Russian actors may have been loosely corresponding with Trump’s campaign, although no evidence has yet been identified. (RELATED: Twitter Expected To Brief Congress On Potential Russian Interference)
Zuckerberg’s recent act of pious contrition is just another sign of his remorse. He apologized Wednesday for once calling the idea that fake news on the social media platform impacted the results of the 2016 presidential election “pretty crazy.”
Zuckerberg also made a pledge during a live broadcast on his profile in September to protect “election integrity.”
Nevertheless, while he purportedly now believes that false news on Facebook did have an effect to some extent, he still chose to defend his company on several occasions on his Facebook post apologizing for the “pretty crazy” comment, even partially alluding to the key point made by Bennett (above).
“Campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online to get their messages out even further. That’s 1000x more than any problematic ads we’ve found,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The data we have has always shown that our broader impact — from giving people a voice to enabling candidates to communicate directly to helping millions of people vote — played a far bigger role in this election.”
In fact, he actually seems somewhat frustrated with the two-pronged criticism from the head of state and many Democrats.
“Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”
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