On Wednesday, The New York Times reported some of the darker secrets lurking within the inner workings of the social media company Facebook (NYT). While the article was wide-ranging, including issues such as executive tolerance of election meddling, fake news, and privacy violation (The Hill), the biggest point of contention was Facebook’s use of the opposition research (FiveThirtyEight, recode) firm, Definers Public Affairs (techcrunch). According to the company’s website, Definers will “distill and strategically deploy public information to build and influence media narratives, move public opinion and provide powerful ammunition for your public relations and government affairs efforts.” In other words, they provide propaganda.
One of Definers’ projects is the NTK Network, an entity that a former Definers employee described as their “in-house fake news shop” (The Verge). The role of NTK was to invent news items that made Facebook look good and its competitors look bad. These “news” items would often then propagate to news outlets like Breitbart (The New Yorker). NTK, as one might imagine, denies all of this (NTK). Facebook, it seems, also felt the need to offer a rebuttal (facebook), and announced that it had fired Definers (NYT).
While some may not find any of this particularly shocking, the recent exposure seems to have caused enough of a stir to make Facebook executives uncomfortable. Still, my guess is the whole thing will blow over quickly and quietly. The kind of people who would feel betrayed by Facebook are likely not keeping up with these developments. They’re probably on Facebook. Has Facebook somehow devolved from a benevolent company into something darker? Or, has it always been “just another normal sleazy American company run by normal sleazy executives, engaged in normal sleazy lobbying and corporate propaganda” (Slate)? Somehow, horribly, that idea is perversely comforting.
So, is it time to #DeleteFacebook?