Facebook’s hundreds of pages of follow-ups to Senators make for decidedly uninteresting reading. Give lawyers a couple of months and they will always find a way to respond non-substantively to the most penetrating questions. One section may at least help put a few rumors to rest about Facebook’s role in the 2016 presidential campaigns, though, of course, much is still left to the imagination.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), whose dogged questioning managed to put Mark Zuckerberg on his back foot during the questioning, had several pages of questions sent over afterwards. Among the many topics was that of the 2016 campaign and reports that Facebook employees were “embedded” in the Trump campaign specifically, as claimed by the person who ran the digital side of that campaign.
This has raised questions as to whether Facebook was offering some kind of premium service to one candidate or another, or whether one candidate got tips on how to juice the algorithm, how to target better and so on.
Here are the takeaways from the answers, which you can find in full on page 167 of the document at the bottom of this post.
- The advice to the campaigns is described as similar to that given to “other, non-political” accounts.
- No one was “assigned full-time” on either the Trump or Clinton campaign.
- Campaigns did not get to hand-pick who from Facebook came to advise them.
- Facebook provided “identical support” and tools to both campaigns.
- Sales reps are trained to comply with federal election law, and to report “improper activity.”
- No such “improper activity” was reported by Facebook employees on either campaign.
- Facebook employees did work directly with Cambridge Analytica employees.
- No one identified any issues with Cambridge Analytica, its data, or its intended use of that data.
- Facebook did not work with Cambridge Analytica or related companies on other campaigns (e.g. Brexit).
It’s not exactly fire, but we don’t really need more fire these days. This at least is on the record and relatively straightforward; whatever Facebook’s sins during the election cycle may have been, it does not appear that preferential treatment of the two major campaigns was among them.
Incidentally, if you’re curious whether Facebook finally answered Sen. Harris’s questions about who made the decision not to inform users of the Cambridge Analytica issue back in 2015, or how that decision was made — no, it didn’t. In fact the silence here is so deafening it almost certainly indicates a direct hit.
Harris asked how and when it came to the decision not to inform users that their data had been misappropriated, who made that decision and why and, lastly, when Zuckerberg entered the loop. Facebook’s response does not even come close to answering any of these questions:
When Facebook learned about Kogan’s breach of Facebook’s data use policies in December 2015, it took immediate action. The company retained an outside firm to assist in investigating Kogan’s actions, to demand that Kogan and each party he had shared data with delete the data and any derivatives of the data, and to obtain certifications that they had done so. Because Kogan’s app could no longer collect most categories of data due to changes in Facebook’s platform, the company’s highest priority at that time was ensuring deletion of the data that Kogan may have accessed before these changes took place. With the benefit of hindsight, we wish we had notified people whose information may have been impacted. Facebook has since notified all people potentially impacted with a detailed notice at the top of their newsfeed.
This answer has literally nothing to do with the questions.
It seems likely from the company’s careful and repeated refusal to answer this question that the story is an ugly one — top executives making a decision to keep users in the dark for as long as possible, if I had to guess.
At least with the campaign issues Facebook was more forthcoming, and as a result will put down several lines of speculation. Not so with this evasive maneuver.
Embedded below are Facebook’s answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the other set is here: