NYT: $100,000 Russian Facebook Political Ads Prove Censorship Need

Eric Zuesse

A front-page news-story in the New York Times on Friday, October 13th, says that Silicon Valley has been so very discredited by around $100,000 of Facebook ads that were allegedly placed by entities in Russia, so that companies such as Facebook must censor to prevent this from occurring in the future.

The article is headlined “Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats”, and it says that, “Tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them. At the top of the list is Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. Social media might have originally promised liberation, but it proved an even more useful tool for stoking anger. … News is dripping out of Facebook, Twitter and now Google about how their ad and publishing systems were harnessed by the Russians. On Nov. 1, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the matter. It is unlikely to enhance the companies’ reputations.”

The article quotes several Silicon Valley Web tycoons who present themselves as displaying their patriotism by criticizing what allegedly had happened, and joining in the media’s call for voluntary censorship:

What is different today are the warnings from the technologists themselves. “The monetization and manipulation of information is swiftly tearing us apart,” Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, wrote this week.

Justin Rosenstein, a former Facebook engineer, was portrayed in a recent Guardian story as an apostate: Noting that sometimes inventors have regrets, he said he had programmed his new phone to not let him use the social network.

Mr. Rosenstein, a co-founder of Asana, an office productivity start-up, said in an email that he had banned not just Facebook but also the Safari and Chrome browsers, Gmail and other applications. …

Some social media entrepreneurs acknowledge that they are confronting issues they never imagined as employees of start-ups struggling to survive.

“There wasn’t time to think through the repercussions of everything we did,” Biz Stone, a Twitter co-founder, said in an interview shortly before he rejoined the service last spring.

The problem here had first hit the press on September 6th. Reuters headlined then, “Facebook says likely Russian-based operation funded U.S. ads with political message”, and reported that:

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday [September 6th] it had found that an operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on thousands of U.S. ads promoting divisive social and political messages in a two-year-period through May.

Facebook, the dominant social media network, said 3,000 ads and 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages spread polarizing views on topics including immigration, race and gay rights. Another $50,000 was spent on 2,200 “potentially politically related” ads, likely by Russians, Facebook said.

The next day, CNN bannered “Warner: Facebook’s Russia disclosure ‘tip of the iceberg’” and opened:

Sen. Mark Warner said Facebook’s disclosure that it sold political ads to a Russian troll farm was just the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to election interference on social media.

Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that it sold about $100,000 in political advertising — roughly 3,000 ads — to Russian troll farms from June 2015 to May 2017.

A subhead was “Schiff: Russian Facebook ad buy confirms disinformation finding.” Later in the article is made clear that the reporter had obtained his information from a press conference that Congressional Democrats had held on September 7th about the matter. Basically, this ‘news’-report was an edited version of a stenographic record of a Democratic Party press conference about how Vladimir Putin might have caused Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee, to lose the 2016 U.S. Presidential contest and thus to cause the Republican nominee, Mr. Trump, to become President, because the Russian Government wanted that result.

The Times headlined “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election” and reported, at length, about one “fake American”: “Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website.” This lengthy article mentions “Russia” 36 times (such as, “The Russian information attack on the election”), and it’s sprinkled also with numerous Russia-related persons, such as “Putin” (i.e, “Mr. Putin’s denials of Russian meddling”) and “Guccifer 2.0,” and it says “On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages.” Then, at the very end of the article, is this revelation:

The Redick profile lists Central High School in Philadelphia and Indiana University of Pennsylvania as his alma maters; neither has any record of his attendance. In one of his photos, this purported Pennsylvania lifer is sitting in a restaurant in Brazil — and in another, his daughter’s bedroom appears to have a Brazilian-style electrical outlet. His posts were never personal, just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian worldview.

The article’s only item of supposed evidence of its alleged “Russian meddling,” and of “The Russian information attack on the election,” turns out actually to have been a “pro-Russian” Brazilian, who had pretended, on Facebook, to be an American, and who hated Hillary Clinton.

Among the many debunkings of the mainstream ‘news’-media’s reporting about this and related matters, the opening portion of a Glenn Greenwald report from “The Intercept,” as introduced by the “New Cold War” blog summarizing Robert Parry’s independent commentary upon the evidence to-date, summarizes well the critiques of America’s ‘news’-reporting abut this and related matters:



By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Sept 28, 2017

Introduction by New Cold War . org:

The following article by Glenn Greenwald (weblink to the full article is above) should be read in conjunction with the September 26 article by Robert Parry appearing in Consortium News: The rise of the new McCarthyism, and Parry’s newest article appearing on September 28: The slimy business of Russia-gate.

Parry, unlike Greenwald, describes the broad ideological embracing of a new McCarthyism by the near entirety of the ‘liberal’/Democratic Party wing of the U.S. ruling class. To be clear, while Democratic Party ideologues are calling for stepped up threats and action against Russia, Donald Trump and the Republican Party are acting on such calls by increasing sanctions against Russia and Crimea, increasing support to the right-wing government in Ukraine, stepping up intervention in Syria and, of course, making unprecedented threats of genocide against the Korean people.

The accusations by Democrats of collusion between Russia and Trump are a monstrous charade. Conveniently for Democratic Party warmongers, such accusations mask the very real dangers of the anti-Russia actions of the Trump administration. The phrase ‘two peas in a pod’ has never been more true in describing a two-party electoral setup in the United States. The setup has become more vacuous and more dangerous than ever. [Now comes Greenwald’s article:]

Yet another major Russia story falls apart. Is skepticism permissible yet?

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Sept 28, 2017

Last Friday, most major media outlets touted a major story about Russian attempts to hack into U.S. voting systems, based exclusively on claims made by the Department of Homeland Security. “Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, officials said Friday,” began the USA Today story, similar to how most other outlets presented this extraordinary claim.

This official story was explosive for obvious reasons, and predictably triggered instant decrees – that of course went viral – declaring that the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is now in doubt. Virginia’s Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, referring to the 21 targeted states, announced on Twitter that this shows “Russia tried to hack their elections”: “The same day @realDonaldTrump refers to ‘Russia Hoax’, Homeland Security Dept. tells 21 states that Russia tried to hack their elections.”

MSNBC’s Paul Revere for all matters relating to the Kremlin take-over, Rachel Maddow, was indignant that this wasn’t told to us earlier and that we still aren’t getting all the details. “What we have now figured out,” Maddow gravely intoned as she showed the multi-colored maps she made, is that “Homeland Security knew at least by June that 21 states had been targeted by Russian hackers during the election. . .targeting their election infrastructure.”

They were one small step away from demanding that the election results be nullified, indulging the sentiment expressed by #Resistance icon Carl Reiner the other day: “Is there anything more exciting that [sic] the possibility of Trump’s election being invalidated & Hillary rightfully installed as our President?”

So what was wrong with this story? Just one small thing: it was false. The story began to fall apart yesterday when Associated Press reported that Wisconsin – one of the states included in the original report that, for obvious reasons, caused the most excitement – did not, in fact, have its election systems targeted by Russian hackers: ‘Feds now say that Russians did NOT hack Wisconsin’s voter registrations system’ (Associated Press).

The spokesman for Homeland Security then tried to walk back that reversal, insisting that there was still evidence that some computer networks had been targeted, but could not say that they had anything to do with elections or voting. 


It was outstanding news-reporting by both Greenwald and Parry.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.