Governance of the Facebook Privacy Crisis

Lawrence J. Trautman


In November 2018, The New York Times ran a front-page story describing how Facebook concealed knowledge and disclosure of Russian-linked activity and exploitation resulting in Kremlin led disruption of the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections, through the use of global hate campaigns and propaganda warfare. By mid-December 2018, it became clear that the Russian efforts leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections were much more extensive than previously thought. Two studies conducted for the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), by: (1) Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika; and (2) New Knowledge, provide considerable new information and analysis about the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) influence operations targeting American citizens.

By early 2019 it became apparent that a number of influential and successful high growth social media platforms had been used by nation states for propaganda purposes. Over two years earlier, Russia was called out by the U.S. intelligence community for their meddling with the 2016 American presidential elections. The extent to which prominent social media platforms have been used, either willingly or without their knowledge, by foreign powers continues to be investigated as this Article goes to press. Reporting by The New York Times suggests that it wasn’t until the Facebook board meeting held September 6, 2017 that board audit committee chairman, Erskin Bowles, became aware of Facebook’s internal awareness of the extent to which Russian operatives had utilized the Facebook and Instagram platforms for influence campaigns in the United States. As this Article goes to press, the degree to which the allure of advertising revenues blinded Facebook to their complicit role in offering the highest bidder access to Facebook users is not yet fully known. This Article can not be a complete chapter in the corporate governance challenge of managing, monitoring, and oversight of individual privacy issues and content integrity on prominent social media platforms. The full extent of Facebook’s experience is just now becoming known, with new revelations yet to come. All interested parties: Facebook users; shareholders; the board of directors at Facebook; government regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); and Congress must now figure out what has transpired and what to do about it. These and other revelations have resulted in a crisis for Facebook. American democracy has been and continues to be under attack. This article contributes to the literature by providing background and an account of what is known to date and posits recommendations for corrective action.

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