U.S. Lawmakers urge Facebook to post-inform users who saw Russian-backed ads

- U.S. Lawmakers urge Facebook to post-inform users who saw Russian-backed ads.

- Compares the problem with informing patients in a hospital of possible contamination.

- Facebook is a crime scene says ex Google employee.
After receiving wrong words and verbal reprimands in an inquiry with U.S. Lawmakers on Thursday, Facebook has been compelled to figure out how to systematically notify users who
saw Russian-backed ads in the build up to the U.S. general elections last year that they may have been fed Russian propaganda and mistook it for the truth.

U.S. lawmakers and some tech analysts are pressing the company to identify users who were served about 80,000 posts on Facebook, 120,000 on its Instagram picture-sharing app, and 3,000 ads that the company has traced to alleged Russian operatives, and to inform them.

“When you discover a deceptive foreign government presentation on your platform, my presumption, from what you’ve said today - you’ll stop it and take it down,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed told Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“Do you feel an obligation, in turn, to notify those people who have accessed that? And can you do that? And shouldn’t you do that?” Reed asked.

Stretch responded that he was not sure Facebook could identify the people because its estimates have relied on modeling, rather than actual counts, but he did not rule it out.

“The technical challenges associated with that undertaking are substantial,” Stretch said.

“Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene, and they’re the only ones with access to what happened,” Harris, an ex-Google employee, said in an interview on Thursday.

The intelligence committee’s vice chairman, Senator Mark Warner, drew an analogy to another industry.

“If you were in a medical facility, and you got exposed to a disease, the medical facility would have to tell the folks who were exposed,” Warner said.

U.S. law includes a concept known as “post-sale duty to warn,” which may require notifying previous buyers if a manufacturer discovers a problem with a product.

That legal duty likely does not apply to Facebook, said Christopher Robinette, a law professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania. He said courts would likely rule that social media posts are not a product but a service, which is exempt from the duty. Courts also do not want to interfere in free speech, he said.


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