Facebook Under Fire

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)

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)

With Kimberly Atkins

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)

From The Reading List:

The Guardian: Big Data For The People: It's Time To Take It Back From Our Tech Ov... — "Google knows you’re pregnant. Spotify knows your favorite throwback jams.

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?

This hour, On Point: Facebook faces the heat.

--Kimberly Atkins

This program aired on March 21, 2018. Audio will be available soon.

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.


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/; 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.”

Republican Lawmakers Say Mueller Needs No Protection


House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday: "The special counsel should be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely."

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Updated at 7:38 p.m. ET

Top Republican lawmakers do not support legislation aimed at protecting Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation from White House interference, insisting that it is unnecessary.

"The special counsel should be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday. "I am confident that he'll be able to do that. I have received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration."

The speaker did not say who has offered him such assurances, but his view is widely held among congressional Republicans that President Trump will not attempt to fire Mueller. Fears of White House meddling were stoked over the weekend after the late Friday firing of outgoing FBI official Andrew McCabe and a series of presidential tweets, some attacking Mueller by name.

Republicans largely downplayed those concerns but, at the same time, offered support for Mueller's investigation.

"I agree with the president's lawyers that Bob Mueller should be allowed to finish his job. I believe it was an excellent appointment, and he should be allowed to go where the facts lead him, " Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Tuesday, before adding, "I don't think Bob Mueller is going anywhere."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that the president knows that any effort to end Mueller's investigation could be considered an impeachable offense.

"I can't think of a more upsetting moment in the rule of law to have an investigator looking at a president's campaign as to whether or not they colluded with a foreign government, what kind of crimes may have been committed," Graham said, "I've seen no evidence of collusion, but to stop the investigation without cause, I think, would be a constitutional crisis."

Other top Republicans, including House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have all publicly warned the White House since the weekend to cool it on Mueller. Hatch went so far to say that firing Mueller would be "the stupidest thing" Trump could do.

Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a frequent Trump critic, said it was incumbent upon all Republicans to make it clear that firing Mueller is a red line that can't be crossed. Republicans have generally avoided direct criticism of the president. "If you're going to pick a fight, this is a fight to pick. You've got to pick this fight. If you don't pick this fight, we might as well not be here. This is a serious one," Flake said.

He was less confident than most of his Republican colleagues that Trump can be trusted to leave the special counsel alone. "Just a week ago he said he wasn't firing Tillerson, too. I think pre-emptively it would behoove our leadership to be forceful and say, 'This is a line you cannot cross,' " Flake said.

Later Tuesday, Flake appeared to turn up the volume on his concerns. In an evening tweet, referenced impeachment: "We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Don't create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment. ..." The tweet echoed and crystallized remarks Flake made to the Washington Post.

Congressional leaders are putting the final touches on a $1.3 trillion spending bill that will pass Congress in the coming days. Some Democrats would like to see language included in the must-pass bill to protect Mueller, but GOP leaders have said that is off the table.

Not all Democrats believe legislation is necessary at this time. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters she also believes the president understands how severe the consequences would be if he were to interfere with an independent investigation. "[Mueller] is protected now. He's working independently now," she said, "I don't believe that there is any cause to terminate him and without cause, it becomes political, and that, I think, would rip apart this administration."

"... we think in terms of crisis rather than temporal ends; and make much of subtle disconfirmation and elaborate peripeteia. And we concern ourselves with the conflict between the deterministic pattern any plot suggests, and the freedom of persons within that plot to choose and so to alter the structure, the relations of beginnings, middle, and end."

--Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending

Views: 132

Comment by mary gravitt on March 21, 2018 at 12:37pm

Is Donald Trump Putin's bitch.  It seems so.  When the FBI, Secret Service, and CIA before Pompeo, have told Trump about the interference of Russian hackers in the 2016 election, he like a besotted lover, still does not believe them.  Don't blame Facebook.  If you go on Facebook and spill your guts in the digital age and all your business is put in the street, whose fault is it?  Young people have never caught onto the idea of privacy being sacred, and they are our children, whose fault is that?

Comment by Ron Powell on March 21, 2018 at 1:01pm

People should know that they gush and blush at their own risk....

Comment by Maui Surfer on March 21, 2018 at 4:43pm

Americans are, intentionally in many areas, taught nothing about Math, Science and Computer Science/Data Analysis. Most of this is partially to keep them ignorant, and also in part because Fractal Geometry is hard to learn. You have to study and work, hard. You can't smoke weed and dick around, and you have to keep up with constant improvements and new methods. The mere idea that the facebook users of hicksville Pennysylvania, Ohio and Northern Michigan would have any clue about any of this is beyond laughable. Initially, most were simply getting caught cheating with old flames, or using drugs or whatever it was they didn't want significant others to know. Now, they are being completely manipulated by classic Active Measures schemes which way too easily pick their feeble brains apart. All because they long for an assembly line job, which they can't get even when there are openings because they fail the opiod drug tests, so, the jobs are given to immigrants who excel so highly the CEOs want more H1Bs. I don't feel sorry for many of them, mainly because too much of their problem is based not just on believing whitewashed revisionism but buying into it as true actual racists. Toooo bad, soooo sad. Next Census and the Gerrymander fix is on the way, as the Confederate Yankee may have to take up residence in exile in Russia, a la the inferior leaders of Rome and Greece before him were often sent to live their lives out in remote crapholes.

Comment by koshersalaami on March 21, 2018 at 10:05pm

I don’t think I’d call Facebook innocent, but I wouldn’t call Facebook users innocent either. I don’t have an account for two reasons: my wife says with my ADHD I’d never come out and I just don’t want to reveal that much of myself in that kind of public. I think it’s dangerous. I don’t want my business associates in my personal business. 

Comment by Maui Surfer on March 21, 2018 at 10:15pm

Kosh, keep in mind Zuckerberg is a criminal who STOLE Facebook from the Winklevoss Twins. This is simple fact. Then, knowing full well they had been providing data collected from stooges for a decade for free to developers to try and get them to build apps, thus increasing ad revenue as they compete with TV and the other traditional media, they SOLD out the supposedly greatest country in the world for a very few pieces of silver. It was simply too simple for the brain-washers and bots, a cakewalk and all set up that way purposely with a HEAVY dose of naivety from the so called Silicon Valley geniuses who, for the most part, with the exception of those FACEBOOK EMBEDDED into the campaign, all for the most part hate the Confederate Yankee and all he stands for, if Mafia tactics are something you stand for.

Comment by mary gravitt on March 22, 2018 at 12:51pm

Take notice that even NPR is afraid to mention that Mercer and Bannon own Cambridge Analytica.  I listened to Morning Edition and when the politician tried to bring up the subject of ownership, he was cut off.  The Kochtopus has its tennicles everywhere in the media.  This is why American voters must get rid of Citizens United.  More later.

Comment by Maui Surfer on March 22, 2018 at 4:59pm

Actually he stole it. As far as programming, he is no genius, FB uses the amateur hour programming method, started with PHP, which would never really scale, then just throw more and more and more doofus new coders at it, fixing problems constantly instead of using Agile to release new features regularly. Funny thing is, with enough money you can do this, and while occasionally your entire audience screams you just keep on hiring, at below market rates for many, and then pay YUGE salaries to the actual gurus who can direct the sheeple progs on what to do so the whole thing doesn't implode. It is a running joke inside Silicon Valley ... ask anyone who's been around. Thing is, the "users", read credulous fools who sign up, know much less about software frameworks than the tiny bit they do about politics or herstory ... the Wal-Mart of the Internet.

Comment by J.P. Hart on March 23, 2018 at 12:18pm

Human shelter ought outweigh tax shelter.


Comment by mary gravitt on March 27, 2018 at 10:25am

Facebook is being persecuted because it is the most effective organizing entity the public has.  But look into the fact that the Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon own the controlling interest in Cambridge Analytica.  Don't be fooled by the noise surrounding Facebook.


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