File - In this April 4, 2013 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook is having one of its worst weeks as a publicly traded company with a share sell-off continuing for a second day. Britain's Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the BBC that she was investigating Facebook and has asked the company not to pursue its own audit of Cambridge Analytica's data use. Denham is also pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's servers. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Facebook’s under intense scrutiny over how Cambridge Analytica used its customer information — meanwhile, that company's leader, Alexander Nix, is suspended after an undercover investigation. Should the social network to be regulated? Can you even opt out of the dominant social media company on Earth?
Ben Tarnoff, columnist at The Guardian who writes about technology and politics, founding editor of Logic, a magazine about technology. (@bentarnoff)
Emily Dreyfuss, former senior staff writer at Wired, covering technology and national affairs. She’s now doing the Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard. (@EmilyDreyfuss)
Rep. Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. (@RepAdamSchiff)
Frank Pasquale, professor of law at University of Maryland Francis King Care School of Law. (@FrankPasquale)
Is this convenient or creepy? It depends. One minute, you’re grateful for the personalized precision of Netflix’s recommendations. The next, you’re nauseated by the personalized precision of a Facebook ad."
Facebook is under fire after data mining company Cambridge Analytica sold information from 50 million Facebook users and sold it to the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica’s CEO was suspended and Facebook cut ties with the company. Still, FTC and Congress are scrutinizing the social media giant. Should Facebook and other social media platforms be regulated? Is your data safe?
According to Joshua Green in Devil’s Bargain Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, And The Storming Of The Presidency (2017), one of the Robert Mercer-funded outfits was a business after Robert Mercer's own heart, the U.S. offshoot of a British data analytics company, Strategic communication Laboratories that advised foreign governments and militaries on influencing elections and public opinion using the tools of psychological warfare. The American affiliate of SCL, of which Robert Mercer became principal owner, was christened Cambridge Analytica. (Bannon, too, took an ownership stake and a seat on the company's board.) The purpose of acquiring a major stake in a data company was to equip the Mercer network with the kind of state-of-the-art technology that had been glaringly absent from Mitt Romney's campaign. It also allowed the Mercers to build out an infrastructure for sophisticated messaging and strategy that would be independent of the institutional Republican Party (an impulse shared by their fellow billionaires, David and Charles Koch, who also spent tens of millions of dollars building an alternative party structure, so disillusioned were they by the ineptitude of the GOP). Rebekah Mercer, who gained a fast reputation for aggressively involving herself in the campaigns of politicians she backed, made clear that as a condition of her financial support, she expected that campaigns would hire Cambridge Analytica to do their data work. Whenever necessary, Bannon played the role of heavy.
WHO WAS IN CONTROL
G.O.P. Civil War
The Brewing Billionaire Feud at the Heart of the G.O.P.
Two rival families are funding a Republican civil war that threatens to tear the party apart.
Left, by Sylvain Gaboury/PatrickMcmullan.com; Right, by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images.
While traditional Republican donors have mostly spurned Donald Trump, one billionaire family has stepped into the void to quietly become one of the most powerful players in conservative politics. In the topsy-turvy world of Trump’s G.O.P., Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer and heir to his billion-dollar fortune, has emerged as the new center of the conservative universe, Politico reports, pouring millions into a sustained effort to bolster the Republican nominee’s campaign and remake the party in his image. “They see the establishment as a very real threat to freedom in America, and they see the need to defeat it,” Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Center, told Politico. “They want to blow things up and start from scratch,” another Republican operator remarked.
Yes, some people just want to watch the world burn. But the Mercers’ efforts still face fierce resistance from an old-money mainstay of the G.O.P. world: billionaire brothers Charles Koch and David Koch, who have reportedly redirected their time, resources, and considerable donor network toward building a grassroots army to defend the free-market values and classic conservatism that Trump has cast aside in favor of fervent anti-trade, anti-immigration rhetoric. According to The New York Times, the Kochs’ master plan involves a $3 million investment in their Grassroots Leadership Academy, which launched in early 2015 with backing from the brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Offering classes such as “Messaging to the Middle,” the training program is designed to educate the next generation of Republicans, and hopefully save the G.O.P. from extinction in the wake of Trump, the Times reports. “We want a cultural shift of people being able to know what they want and how to talk to the people in their communities, so that in the future, when there are political leaders that want to demagogue free-market issues, they do hit resistance,” Levi Russell, the director of public affairs for Americans for Prosperity, told the Times.
That vision has put the Kochs in direct opposition to the Mercers, who over the past decade have built their own, rival political organization and donor network. Since the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the Mercers have donated $73.5 million in disclosed political donations through super-PACs and conservative non-profits, Politico reports. And while the father-daughter team’s contributions pale in comparison to those of the Koch brothers, they are arguably the most influential donors of the 2016 election cycle. After weeks of bad press surrounding Paul Manafort’s questionable business ties in Russia and Ukraine, and following reports that the campaign manager’s efforts to rein to run a tighter ship had rankled Trump, it was reportedly Rebekah who convinced the New York billionaire to replace Manafort with G.O.P. pollster Kellyanne Conway and to appoint Stephen Bannon as campaign C.E.O.
The Mercers—who are also investors in the data firm Cambridge Analytica, which the Trump campaign uses—have abiding ties to both Bannon and Conway. In 2011, the family invested $10 million in Breitbart News, where Bannon was a chief executive prior to joining the Trump campaign, and worked with the media firebrand to turn the book Clinton Cash into a documentary. Before the Mercers began funneling their funds to the Trump campaign, they were staunch supporters of his rival in the Republican primary, Ted Cruz. The billionaire duo donated $13.5 million to the Cruz campaign, during which time they worked with Conway. Now, with Conway in Trump’s corner (and under Rebekah’s thumb), the Mercers sit at the nexus of the Trump campaign current power structure.
The Mercers have not always been at odds with the Koch brothers and other Republican mega-donors. Around 2011, the Mercers began donating at least $1 million a year to the Koch network, Politico reports, before Rebekah took a more prominent role in the family’s political dealings during the 2014 election. Since then, however, the billionaire family, has been thinking bigger. “I don’t think it is about Trump. Trump is just a vehicle,” an anonymous political operative who worked with the Mercers told Politico, suggesting that the Mercers’ shift in allegiance from Cruz to Trump evinces grand ambitions beyond the current election. “It’s about wanting to be a player and wanting to beat Hillary, in that order.” https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/robert-rebekah-mercer-charl...