Facebook enabled Russian interference in the United States election in 2016, but refuses to provide a full account to the public. In fact, it has recently removed data that allowed independent researchers to understand the nature and scale of the problem.
American citizens that use Facebook deserve to know how they were exposed to Russian disinformation and propaganda. Facebook should provide this data to users in an application that makes it easy to understand.
Users should be able to see how content and advertising messages from identified Russian sources appeared in their timeline, whether they interacted with such media, and basic metrics that quantify their exposure.
It is clear that Facebook failed to fully comprehend the scale of the Russian disinformation attack before the 2016 election. Given your company’s half a trillion dollars in market capitalization and monolithic role in shaping the consumption of news, information and opinion, now is the time for you to answer to the American people.
Facebook users have the right to know exactly how they individually interacted with Russian propaganda in Moscow’s effort to alter their beliefs and motivate their actions. If Facebook cares about its users it should realize the moral responsibility to act without waiting for threats of boycotts, litigation, or legislation.
We recognize that regulating speech on Facebook is fraught and policing bad actors on a platform of more than 2 billion users will never be perfect, but the company can prove its commitment to transparency by creating a mechanism to inform users that interacted with propaganda. One way to think about how to enshrine such a requirement is to look to “Right to Know” laws developed to inform citizens of exposure to otherwise hidden phenomena such as chemicals, pathogens and various forms of pollution. These principles are incorporated into laws at the federal, state and local levels. There are many examples in other sectors of our economy and life:
• A medical facility, even when it is not to blame, may be obliged to notify you if you were exposed to a communicable disease while passing through.
• Consumers have a right to know when false advertising has misled them, and the proper remedy is often to notify them directly after the fact.
• If your car has a defective part, the manufacturer is obliged to notify you directly and issue a recall.
• Companies have obligations to directly notify individuals in the event of data security breaches compromising their private information.
Facebook owes its users a similar standard of care, especially since it is the only responsible party with the needed information.
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