“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” That was a question Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) posed to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing in which the latter responded with an awkward “no.” It is likely that Mr. Zuckerberg found this question too intrusive, yet when 87 million users lost their privacy under Facebook’s neglectful watch; its CEO doesn’t bat an eye, offering only an insubstantial, “I’m sorry.”
The Cambridge Analytica hack is just one of many transgressions by Facebook, in which an apology will simply not suffice. Facebook’s laissez-faire attitude toward privacy protection is not just a betrayal and insult to its user base, but it is compounded by its lack of vigilance to protect one of the platform’s most vulnerable user demographics—African Americans.
For example, late last year, Facebook hosted Russian sponsored ads that portrayed African Americans in a less than flattering light. The ads had political motives and aimed to sway viewers to vote for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Another example arose just this month when the news broke that the largest Black Lives Matter group on the social media platform was in fact a fraudulent page, created by a White man in Australia designed to discredit the youth-based civil rights group.
Either of the above examples is enough to seriously question the general disposition and integrity of the social media juggernaut. However, Facebook’s lack of transparency, reliability, and accountability in these two situations also substantiates the increasing doubt regarding the fairness of the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign, and among the data it misused were pictures, profiles, and even direct messages between users. This data mining—which used the personal information of 87 million people without their consent—was used to develop techniques for the firm’s work on the Trump campaign. This combined with the racially charged Russian ads, some of which explicitly purporting that Black Lives Matter activists were murderers, is not only wholly unscrupulous, it also carries the stench of voter manipulation. Swaying voters toward one candidate based on racially exploitative lies smacks of a type voter suppression that, while more insidious, is not unlike the voter ID laws that currently attempt to suppress the Black vote.