Carole Cadwalladr on how Facebook broke democracy

Today, in front of an audience at the Time 100 Summit in New York City, Donald Trump advisor Jared Kushner downplayed Russian interference in the 2016 campaign as “a couple of Facebook ads.” The truth, of course, as we just had confirmed by the Mueller report, is that the Russian disinformation campaign was significant, aggressive and effective. And, yet, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, those in Trump’s inner circle, like his son-in-law, continue to understate the threat posed by foreign intelligence services seeking to weaponize social media in order to spread disinformation and sow chaos for their own benefit.

I could go on an extended rant at this point, but I’ve got something more productive in mind. I’d like you to watch the following TED talk, delivered about a week or so ago by UK-based journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has spent the past several years looking into Facebook’s role in disseminating racist and misleading ads on the behalf of Russian operatives with the purpose of influencing the Brexit vote and weakening the European Union. [Remember, Russia didn’t just fuck us. They also fucked the Europeans.]

In the talk, Cadwalladr challenges the men she refers to as the “gods of Silicon Valley” to step up, get on the right side of history, and do something to ensure that free and fair elections don’t become a thing of the past. The entire speech can be seen at the bottom of this post, but here’s a short bit of it, for those of you who don’t have a full 15 minutes to invest in saving democracy as we know it.

And here’s an excerpt from the accompanying writeup on the TED site. [Kudos to TED, by the way, for booking Cadwalladr, in spite of the fact that Facebook is a sponsor of theirs.]

…“This was the biggest electoral fraud in Britain for a hundred years, in a once-in-a-generation vote that hinged on just 1 percent of the electorate,” Cadwalladr says.

Cadwalladr embarked on a complex and painstaking investigation into the ad campaigns used in the referendum. After spending months tracking down an ex-employee, Christopher Wylie, she found that a company called Cambridge Analytica “had profiled people politically in order to understand their individual fears, to better target them with Facebook ads, and it did this by illicitly harvesting the profiles of 87 million people from Facebook.”

Despite legal threats from both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, Cadwalladr and her colleagues went public with their findings, publishing them in the Observer.

“Facebook: you were on the wrong side of history in that,” Cadwalladr says. “And you are on the wrong side of history in this. In refusing to give us the answers that we need. And that is why I am here. To address you directly. The gods of Silicon Valley; Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey, and your employees and your investors, too … We are what happens to a western democracy when a hundred years of electoral laws are disrupted by technology … What the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken, and you broke it.”

Cadwalladr offers a challenge to tech companies: “It is not about left or right, or Leave or Remain, or Trump or not. It’s about whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. As it stands, I don’t think it is. And so my question to you is: Is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you? As the handmaidens to authoritarianism that is on the rise all across the world? You set out to connect people and you are refusing to acknowledge that the same technology is now driving us apart.”

And for everyone else, Cadwalladr has a call to action: “Democracy is not guaranteed, and it is not inevitable. And we have to fight. And we have to win. And we cannot let these tech companies have this unchecked power. It’s up to us: you, me and all of us. We are the ones who have to take back control”…

It’s terrifying as hell, but it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a while. And it’s not just the content of Cadwalladr’s talk that I liked. It was the tone, and the way in which it was delivered. It didn’t fall into the left-right divide we’re all so used to these days. And, while it certainly sought to hold people accountable, the talk didn’t just demonize, but instead sought to engage people at these large social media companies — many of whom were in the room — in a conversation about the role they can and should play in helping us to safeguard our democracies from the manipulation of nefarious sources… Here, with that said, is the full video. Please watch and share with your friends.

Oh, and “just a few Facebook ads,” my ass.

[update: Please disregard the above post. Word has just came out that Jack Dorsey and Donald Trump recently held a closed-door meeting to discuss “the health of the public conversation on Twitter.” I suspect everything will get better soon.]

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  1. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t have facebook but I did look up the supposed misinformation ads. I thought the ads that told people to vote from their phones through text were bad but I did not see anything else of concern. Can you guys who are exposed to these ads give examples of the ads of concern? I also wonder about the pervasiveness of these ads. I forget the numbers but it seemed like a drop in the bucket compared with the trillions of shared posts. Not sure…

    Her tone was absolutely horrible unless you like listening to someone who expresses hyper-anxiety well.

  2. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 6:45 am | Permalink

  3. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Medium has a repository for a lot of the fake Russian accounts. The “fake posts” seem to me to be appealing to different types of people: Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, Bernie supporters, Black lives matter, veterans, gun advocates.

    It seems to me that the fake Russian accounts were just putting out general statements of support, of one political movement or another, in an attempt to gather info about the facebook user.

    I don’t have much time to look at this. I simply don’t understand what the Ted talk lady is crying about. There might be something there but I don’t get it at all…

  4. Sad
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Luckily Mayor Pete is young enough to know how to utilize the internet in his quest to dispose Trump. He has the internet and God on his side.

    I’ve been relieved to discover that many women have said they will vote for the best candidate to beat Trump regardless of what’s between their legs. Now we just have to see who that will be.

  5. Meta
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    This is a good starting place for anyone really interested in this subject.

    New York Times: “Five Takeaways From New Reports on Russia’s Social Media Operations”

  6. Meta
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Here is a link to another source.

    The Rand Corporation: “Countering Russian Social Media Influence”

  7. Anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    There are plenty of examples of memes and posts by Russian bots available to everyone via a simple Google search. Just try it. It is pretty easy and doesn’t take much time.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 8:09 am | Permalink


    Just try it? If you read what I wrote you would know I have been flipping through the fake posts from Russian accounts in attempt to see the extent of the misinformation. If you, like Cadwalldr, believe that democracy has been broken by Russian misinformation, then give examples of the most egregious pieces of misinformation and give evidence for the extent of the reach of those particular pieces of misinformation.

    IMO people signed up for garbage when they signed up for social media. For that reason I did not sign up. I am somewhat reliant on people like you who apparently signed up for garbage, without giving it a second thought. I am asking because even though I have flipped through hundreds of supposed examples I just don’t see the problem outside of the posts that encouraged people to text in their vote.

  9. site admin
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Follow @changeterms on Twitter.

    “We believe that tech companies need to do more to combat hateful conduct on their platforms.”


  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Just google it. You will see I am right. There are also organizations that think I am right. Join those organizations. You will see I am right.

    Hopefully we can all agree that lying to people about the voting process is wrong and should be illegal. That is a start.

    What are the other most egregious pieces of Russian misinformation? Let’s make a list. Providing evidence is fun!

  11. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I can’t believe people think our political system is so fragile that some social media posts by another country had an effect on an election. It’s shocking to think the people who are crying about every little baby thing right now cannot admit the skullduggery of the CIA in trying to undo the will of the people by taking out our President.

  12. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    It was not a facebook meme but in the debates Hillary called Trump “Putin’s puppet”.

    It was not a facebook meme but in July 2016 asked “to what extent is Trump a surrogate of Putin?”

    I think there might be a few websites out there that wrote hundreds of posts that provided incorrect predictions about Russian collusion.

    Google it.

  13. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    The tone of her presentation–the seemingly natural tone of panic in her voice specifically raised a red flag for me.

    The lack of examples given as evidence raised a red flag.

    The dramatic presentation of Christopher Wylie’s image was a red flag. Have you guys ever heard this guy speak before? Something felt amiss.

    What does “illicit harvesting profiles” mean? As far as I can tell it involves gathering info and targeting the same individual with ads. Calling it “harvesting” was a red flag.

    “Facebook broke democracy” feels insanely hyperbolic and was a red flag.

    This Ted talk has made it to the top of my suggested Youtube viewings for weeks now. Red Flag.

    I almost feel like I am caught in some kind of disinformation campaign. How is the list coming guys?

  14. Anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    In July 2016 asked “to what extent is Trump a surrogate of Putin?”

    Watch this and ask again.

  15. Donald Trump Jr. speaks
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Twitter is so liberal that its conservative employees ‘don’t feel safe to express their opinions,’ says CEO Jack Dorsey .

  16. Hyborian Pudlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Hyborian gets a little chubberly
    Whenever he gets to use the word “skullduggery”
    He’s Qing up a plot by the CIA
    To make his heartthrob Trump go away
    The thought makes his lil’ mushroom rubbery

  17. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Neato: a lil chirp from a twerpy derp.

  18. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it embarrassing to be the little derp who likes to think about my junk all the time? Don’t you people feel debased by your own behavior? So creepy and ill all these CIA-loving goons around here.

  19. John Brown
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    And still there are Italians who revere Mussolini. These trumptards will cling to their lies for a long time, but it wont change a thing. Just like Benitos boot lickers didn’t save him.

  20. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Are you making a point Anonymous? If so, I fail to see your point.

    To be honest, I have been assuming that I was talking to IL as “Anonymous” for quite some time now so the timing of the posts from Pudlord are a piece of evidence supporting that theory. It just seems improbable that two people could exist in similarly idiotic ways. It is funny because the first time I posted here it was because PL was trying to strategically prevent EOS from posting. It took a couple of years but now, it seems, he just tries to fling his own shit, from anonymous handles, at the people who showed him how stupid and cowardly he actually is/was. A more rational person might instead trying being less stupid and less cowardly. I guess that is not his destiny.

  21. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    You are driving your own resistance into the dirt with moronic shit like that. That’s supposed to mean something? Oh, yeah yr equal to a Mussolini bootlicker. That’s going to win a lot of people over.

  22. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    There is another idiot who posts on here as anonymous. It’s the disaffected dishwasher Nark Maynard interviewed. They seem about equally ill. That was a good post though. I wonder how many of the different ones Dirty Pete does. Could there be that many internet psychos on this lil site?

  23. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Fake John Brown should actually be called Inverted John Brown.

    Inverted John Brown has his niche. Inverted John Brown loves the profit he receives from his little niche more than he cares about any sort of progress for the people.

    The Real John Brown was not a nihilistic narcissist.

  24. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Anyway, I am genuinely curious about the list of the most egregious misinformation facebook post/ memes. How is the list coming guys?

  25. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I remember expressing that I liked some of what the dishwasher had to say. Maybe he was deeply offended that somebody like me agreed with something he said and this is his way to “distance” himself and his good name from my ideas. Haha.

    WTF people. Provide some evidence and then we can talk.

  26. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Democratic fake Russian bots in Alabama don’t look good.

  27. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have time to get into it but didn’t Meta offer me an “educational” article that uses “New Knowledge” as a source and wasn’t “New Knowledge” a firm that was actually proven to have been sending out Russian bots too in an attempt to affect the election? Genuine question. I can’t remember if that was the name of the firm and I can’t remember if they were actually proven to be guilty of the same thing they are accusing others of doing.

  28. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I love how it works out like that over and over and over and over.

  29. Sad
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s pronounced Boot Edge-Edge.

  30. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I just glanced at some stuff about the firm “New Knowledge”, which was the firm whose research was the supposed “basis” of the offered educational material by Meta above. It looks like HW was correct when he hinted that this firm was behind the release of fake Russian bots in Alabama– if we are to believe the likes of NYT and Washington Post.

    What do you people have to say for yourselves? Are we pushing a no evidence conspiracy theory?

    How is that list coming?

    (I hope some of you are at least getting paid to spread this bullshit around.)

  31. Hyborian Pudlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Warlord is at half mast at all his derp talk
    But he’ll be flaccid when Donald does the perp walk
    Whether it’s the dishwasher or Dirty Pete
    Warlord has the micro meat
    He loves to cock burp like Mark loves Peter Fall

    (I’m gonna go ahead and admit I really painted myself into an impossible corner with that opening double rhyme)

  32. Hyborian Pudlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Also my spell check overrode that Peter Falk line. Fuck.

  33. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    The more retarded you get the stronger you are.

  34. Hillary Clinton by proxy
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Hillary Clinton: “Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.”

  35. Anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I like how no one is even engaging these guys and they just keep going amongst themselves.

  36. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    How is it you are that fuckin’ dumb? That doesn’t even make sense. You guys are done. You have nothing left but some of these painful final croaks.

  37. Sad
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Boot Edge – Edge

  38. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 24, 2019 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure you have anything but a bunch vague non-sense to add, Anonymous, so yeah, you not engaging is not a bad thing.

    The thing is when some of you do try to honestly engage it ends up making you look idiotic.

    New Knowledge.

    Google it, genius.

  39. John Brown
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    “Cesar Sayoc describes Trump rallies as ‘new found drug'”

    Put down the orange crack pipe. This guy knows that it’ll get you in trouble.

  40. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    A) Cesar Sayoc wrote those words (probably under advisement) to a Judge to gain sympathy.

    B) Cesar Sayoc also communicated (probably under advisement) his heavy steroid use to gain sympathy.

    C) Cesar Sayoc is a mentally ill person so I don’t put much stock in his words. I see you do.

    D) I don’t think rallies are positive environments at all and therefore I would never attend any rally of any sort.

    E) Although I would gladly take advice from a Real John Brown I would never take advice from a Fake John Brown, and my reasons ought to be obvious.

    Please explain why I ought to take the advice from a Fake John Brown, who is trying to pass off second-hand advice, from one of his mentally-ill counterparts. You make no sense.

  41. Homework Mom
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Please provide 10 concrete examples of John Brown’s existence and for each, write 500 words explaining each. Only then can we move forward with this important discussion.

  42. John Brown
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink


    Your observation that zealous trump supporters are mentally ill and therefore not worth listening too is solid gold. Take your own advice.

  43. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Sayoc is merely over zealous according to Fake John Brown. It is not surprising to me that a person who can’t even categorize himself correctly also fails to categorize other things too. Although I do not think we should “listen to” Sayoc’s advice I do think we should look at Sayoc as a psychological case study into the factors that combine which form the basis of Sayoc’s attempted violent acts. Similarly I listen to what the Fake John Browns of the world have to say, not as advice, but as a way to glean insight into their psychological disorders and the underlying conditions which give those disorders expression.

    Fake John Brown’s comment boils down to a worthless statement like : “You guys are on Trump/Crack”; or “You guys really drank the orange Kool aid”. Fake John Brown might think these kinds of statements are cute but as stand alone statements they mean nothing. If the Fake John Browns of the world want to do their communities a favor then they ought to give reasons for their positions.

    Above I tried to entertain the idea that “Facebook destroyed democracy”. I wanted to gather information that supported the claim. I still do. Fake John Brown’s don’t like evaluating evidence?

    It also might seem nutty, or like something a conspiracy theorist would say, when I am pointing out a potential flaw in the “educational” material offered by Meta but I don’t know what to say… The NYT and Washington Post wrote an article about the firm NEW KNOWLEDGE saying they were found guilty of using Russian bots in an Alabama election. New Knowledge seems to be the firm that also provided the supposed basis for the educational materials Meta provided. If a Fake John Brown doesn’t find that interesting, ok. If a Fake John Brown wants to dispute the articles about New Knowledge, written by the NYT and Wash Post that would be ok too.

    I don’t see any reason to listen to non sense though….

  44. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Homework Mom
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 11:04 am | Permalink
    Please provide 10 concrete examples of John Brown’s existence and for each, write 500 words explaining each. Only then can we move forward with this important discussion.

    Silly nihilism from a silly nihilist.

  45. Dogmatic Dolt
    Posted April 25, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Aloha, a bit of good news.

  46. Ian War Hybor Lord
    Posted April 26, 2019 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Nark of over dumb? stronger works the to like but people here over that ill on equally mean The as Could Dirty it you driving some another doesn’t have does lot over posts about many the supposed are these are guys to You get yr is different your the there That’s I You I it Maynard resistance That how anonymous psychos done out even good nothing There something? How lil that They own over Mussolini a left many how seem make disaffected retarded into Pete to You That moronic you interviewed are a shit with bootlicker post over and sense is dishwasher site? yeah wonder of the are like that It’s equal croaks idiot fuckin’ was a ones that internet and who of painful on That’s final and more though be Oh love you this win dirt going

  47. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 26, 2019 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Mark’s ass: “The Russian’s infiltrated every voting system in Florida.”

    Define “infiltrated”.

    Define “voting system”.

    Like Callwalladr’s use of the term “harvesting profiles”, it seems to me people are intentionally using vague/ misleading labels to try to manipulate the general public.

  48. Sad
    Posted April 26, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Nobody cares FF.

    The only thing worth talking about is Mayor Pete.

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