Little-known Facebook team helps regimes that punish

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Subject of strong critics by the paper of Facebook like platform of political propaganda, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of the company, has responded saying that its mission is over the partisanship.

“We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas,” Zuckerberg wrote in September after President Donald Trump accused Facebook of bias.

Zuckerberg’s social network is a politically agnostic tool for its more than 2 billion users, the tycoon said. But it turns out that Facebook has an active role in world politics. What Zuckerberg has not said is that his company actively works with parties and political leaders, including those who use the platform to silence the opposition, sometimes with the help of “armies of trolls” that spread disinformation and extremist ideologies.

The initiative is run by a little known global Facebook team specializing in governments and politics, which is neutral in the sense that it works with anyone trying to gain power. The unit in question is in Washington and is headed by Katie Harbath, a former Republican strategist specializing in digital platforms who worked on the presidential campaign of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008. Since Facebook hired Harbath three years later, his team has traveled all over the world helping political clients to use the powerful digital tools of the company.

In some of the largest democracies in the world, such as India, Brazil, Germany and the United Kingdom, the unit’s employees have become campaign workers. And once the candidates are elected, the company in some cases trains government employees or offers technical assistance for live broadcasts of official events.

Even before Facebook was forced to explain its role in the intervention in the US presidential campaign -presented by its executives as a participation in the fundamental passive that included advertising financed by Russia- the direct and growing role of the company in the Providing services to political campaigns sparked concerns within the social media giant.

“In my opinion, the role of Facebook is not to be so close to any election campaign,” said Elizabeth Linder, who created and directed Facebook’s political unit in Europe, the Middle East and Africa until 2016. Linder had been very excited about Facebook’s potential to become something “extraordinarily useful not only for world leaders, but also for citizens around the world.” Linder said he decided to leave the company in part because he felt uncomfortable with what he saw as a greater emphasis on electoral issues and political campaigns.

In the United States, the unit highlighted employees in the Trump campaign. (The Hillary Clinton campaign declined a similar offer). In India, the company helped develop the Internet presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who now has more followers on Facebook than any other world leader. In the Philippines, he trained employees of the Rodrigo Duterte campaign, known for encouraging extrajudicial killings, to effectively use the platform. And in Germany he helped the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany win their first seats in the Bundestag, according to campaign staff.

The general perception is that Facebook has been an indispensable tool of public participation in which candidates and elected officials, from mayors to prime ministers, use the platform to communicate directly with their constituencies, and grassroots groups such as Black Lives Matter depend on it to organize themselves. .

The company says it offers the same tools and services to all candidates and governments, regardless of their political affiliation, even to civil society groups that may have a lower voice. Facebook says it offers advice on how to better use its tools, not strategic advice on what to say.

Power and social media converge on Facebook for all intents and purposes. The company has long worked to crush its smaller rival, Twitter, to become the preferred platform for so-called influencers, be they politicians, sports stars or the Kardashians. The messages of these people, in theory, attract followers to Facebook more frequently, which in turn leads to more traffic for advertisers and better information about what attracts users.

Political candidates can buy advertising. And for those who spend enough, Facebook offers personalized services that help them create effective campaigns, in the same way that Unilever and Coca-Cola would do before the launch of a product.


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