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Another former Facebook employee speaks out

Today's top story: Another former Facebook employee distances herself from the company — this time, o
December 21 · Issue #52 · View online
The Interface
Today’s top story: Another former Facebook employee distances herself from the company — this time, over concerns the company was working to benefit corrupt regimes:
“It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign,” said Elizabeth Linder, who started and ran the Facebook politics unit’s Europe, Middle East and Africa efforts until 2016. Linder had originally been excited about the company’s potential to be “extraordinarily useful for the world’s leaders—but also the global citizenry.” She said she decided to leave the company in part because she grew uncomfortable with what she saw as increased emphasis on electioneering and campaigns.
Yesterday, I wrote about how former employees criticizing the company they helped to build had given shape, and a new credibility, to concerns about Facebook. Now another avenue of criticism emerges from a high-ranking ex-Facebooker, this time around concerns the company has grown too close to power. Lauren Etter, Vernon Silver, and Sarah Frier report:
At meetings with political campaigns, members of Harbath’s team sit alongside Facebook advertising sales staff who help monetize the often viral attention stirred up by elections and politics. They train politicians and leaders how to set up a campaign page and get it authenticated with a blue verification check mark, how to best use video to engage viewers and how to target ads to critical voting blocs.
Once those candidates are elected, their relationship with Facebook can help extend the company’s reach into government in meaningful ways, such as being well positioned to push against regulations.
At the very least, the optics of directly aiding campaigns or those in power may create the impression among users that Facebook is taking sides. Its effort effectively helping the Scottish National Party to victory in 2015 is recounted as a “success story” on Facebook’s corporate website that lists business case studies, even though those who favor staying in the U.K. might see it otherwise. In April, Vietnamese officials bragged that Facebook would build a dedicated channel to prioritize takedown requests for content that offended authorities.
In Facebook’s public messaging, it stands resolutely with users — its much-discussed-by-executives “community.” Bloomberg points out areas in which the company is standing first with politicians, not all of them elected through democratic means. Through this the company can reap outsized rewards, starting with direct advertising revenue, continuing with increased engagement among its user base, and ending with added leverage against regulation. 
That all of this is perfectly rational and legal does not make it less unsettling. Add it to the list of topics we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2018.

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