The lax oversight in Facebook ads during the 2016 US presidential elections has been explained by a researcher at University of Arkansas and his colleague at San Jose State University.
According to the two scientists, there was actually a systematic bias toward ad buyers, specifically a Russian internet troll farm that sought to sow discord within the U.S. political system. The study published in Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, by Adam Pope and Sara West, despite the fact that Facebook has developed advertising algorithms that are capable of targeting specific audiences in minute detail, they simply chose not to use that power to screen ads that violated federal and state laws.
According to the duo, the social networking giant displayed systematic bias towards the ad purchases and in the process failed to identify and prevent abuse of political advertising on the platform. The authors said the behavior demonstrated a corporate culture designed to leverage user data to serve paying customers in message placement rather than users.
The researchers found that rights of users connecting and communicating on Facebook were deemed less valuable than the so-called corporate-Kairos’ paid targeting. In other words, the marketing-first culture at Facebook — created primarily by an automated system — enabled bad actors with virtually no checks on their posting powers, even in extreme circumstances.
The extreme circumstance in this case was the 2016 presidential campaign, during which Facebook accepted rubles from a Russian troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency, to place political advertisements on the platform. A troll farm is a group of individuals who try to influence political opinions and decisions on the internet. The use of foreign currency by a foreign nation to influence a U.S. election is prohibited by the Federal Election Commission.
The advertisements were focused on divisive political topics: LGBTQ+ rights, guns, the legal status of undocumented immigrants and others. The goal of these ads was to sow seeds of discord within the American political system, stoke racial and cultural tensions and even infiltrate political movements, such as Black Lives Matter.