On December 30, Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth published a memo on the company’s internal feed in which he argues that the tech giant is in part responsible for getting President Donald Trump elected in 2016... and that the company should not limit its extensive reach in any way that would block his reelection in 2020, the New York Times first reported.
The memo — originally obtained by the New York Times and titled “Thoughts for 2020” — covers a lot of ground, from Russian election interference to disgraced data modeling company Cambridge Analytica. While Bosworth does qualify that he is “not a fan of Trump," he also expressed a belief that the current president “didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”
Those ad campaigns have since come under fire: In October 2019, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about the way his company handles political misinformation. In one blockbuster moment, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg if she would be able to theoretically run political ads featuring lies; he evasively replied, "I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie that would be bad." Soon after that face-off, Twitter took a stance by promising to ban political ads, with some key exceptions.
In 2016, Donald Trump's then-digital director Brad Parscale credited Facebook specifically as being the "biggest incubator that allowed us to generate" over $250 million in campaign funding. Beyond that, however, there has been plenty of proof that Russian operatives infiltrated social media with fake accounts and groups, as well as deepfake videos and other misleading posts that may have further influenced people who already existed in insular bubbles.
“So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?” Bosworth writes in his memo. “I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks.”
Bosworth, who oversaw Facebook’s advertising efforts during the 2016 election, then somehow compared the whole thing to a fantasy book and movie series? Yes, really.
“I find myself thinking of The Lord of the Rings at this moment,” Bosworth wrote, as you do. “Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadriel and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”
This begs a key question: Did Bosworth watch the movie or read the book? Wasn’t the whole point to destroy the ring, or in this case, Facebook?
After the Times reported on the memo, Bosworth publicly posted some notes about the memo. “It wasn’t written for public consumption and I am worried about context collapse so I wanted to share some important context for those who are curious,” he wrote, adding that it is a part of the culture at Facebook to share and discuss ideas internally.
“Overall I hoped this post would encourage my coworkers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform,” he added. “I end with a call to discussion for what other areas we feel we are falling short that should be a focus in 2020.”