tv The Communicators Angwin Mc Cabe CSPAN October 23, 2017 1:03pm-1:33pm EDT
can take place in a bilateral format. the figures that are reflected in the current agreement will reach, though reach more than the arsenals of u.s. and russia. >> thank you. >> thank you and good luck. [applause] >> julia and gwen, with longtime wall street journal reporter and a senior reporter with the investigative journalism newsroom is our guest this morning on the committee caters to talk about facebook, political ads, and russia. what have we learned in the past couple of months from the investigation into facebook?
>> thanks for having me on. we have learned a lot in the last month or two about facebook and russia, especially facebook has said a bunch of ads placed during the election were placed by russian outfits under anonymous accounts and they were politically divisive ads, not necessarily aimed at one candidate or another, but just aimed at sowing divisiveness on some really charged topic. >> why did facebook not seem to know who was placing these ads. >> it's not totally clear why facebook didn't do more due diligence on these accounts, the ads were bought in ruble, there are laws that say foreigners can't buy election ads, but apparently they
slipped through and because they were under some sort of fake identities, maybe they didn't find them until recently. >> now what i learned in your reporting is that these are basically self-service ad placements, correct? does not necessarily a human involved. >> in the course of my reporting, i've buy ads on facebook several times and it's just kind of an online menu. you go in, you put down what you want, you go to drop-down menus and you click by. it's very easy. then you get an automated response, usually within ten or 15 minutes saying your ad was approved or if it wasn't approved. facebook hasn't been very clear about how many humans are engaged in the system. they say there's a lot of algorithms and there are some humans, but apparently maybe not enough humans.
>> these ads could have been placed without facebook even knowing it? >> most likely they were. facebook is a huge volume business. one thing about their business is you can buy five dollars worth of ads are ten dollars worth of ads to target people in your small town. they do have a huge volume of ads that are going through and i think that this ad by that they disclosed was not particularly a huge amount of money. was a hundred dollars or so so they may not have noticed it. it sounds like they didn't notice it until much later when i was brought to their attention somehow. >> so right now, we are looking at $100,000 worth of ads, but i read in politico that 10 million people saw these ads. what have you found? >> there's a lot of debate on
how someone could purchase $100,000 worth of ads. when you go on and say you want to reach men and women age 18 to 25 who live in ohio, it will give you an estimate of how many people they think the ad would reach. people have gone into facebook and sort of made a guess at what kind of reach this amount of money would have had, i think we just don't really know the answer, but it probably was pretty wide. i can get several thousand people for ten-dollar ad buys. >> julia, have you seen the ads that were placed by the russians? >> i've only seen a few that were published by some news outlets. a few of the ads have leaked out from the congressional committees that are looking at them. facebook has promised to release all of them, or
actually they said they're going to release all of them to the congressional investigators and those investigators said they will make them all public. we should see them all fairly soon if those promises are real. >> and of the ones that you've seen, what do they say? what are their targets? >> the way they been described is that they are really divisive. they have some racially charged language, they talk about politically divisive topics like guns, race, abortion, and they seem to be inflammatory. just trying to make it seem like some extreme thing is happening. i think the one that's most famous is the one that claims that to be from black activist but wasn't and seemed to be strident language about black activism. >> political ads of that type are supposed to have
disclaimer disclaimers, and be somewhat regulated, disclosures about who's placing them. >> most political advertising does require disclosure according to the rules from the federal election commission, but there has been this exception made for online advertising. basically for years they have been deadlocked about whether those rules should apply to online advertising and that has essentially meant that they haven't applied those rules. basically, right now, online advertising doesn't have to have that same disclosure you would see with the tv or radio ad paid for by this committee or that committee. perhaps those rules would start to apply. facebook was the leading group arguing against online advertising saying the ads were so small that that kind of disclosure would be really hard to fit into the ad, but they've dropped their objections to it now. >> facebook is also saying
they're not a journalism organization, they are a tech company. is that correct? >> i think samberg spoke about this, whether they're a tech company or media company. she made this fine distinction which is that they are a tech company, their employee engineers, they don't write news articles but they understand they have some of the responsibility of a media company in terms of making sure the content is safe so it sounds like they are kind of softening that distinction a little bit. >> some of these platforms are becoming editors and arbiters of what can be published. is that a fair assessment? >> absolutely. facebook and google are probably the biggest gatekeepers to what people see in news, what kind of news is delivered to them via twitter
as well. people are getting their news online and they're getting it curated. you going to google news and they tell you what the top news is your facebook newsfeed is sorted to determine what kind of news you see. these tech companies are absolutely the gateway to what news we see. the top editors at every paper i ever worked at, they have a meeting to discuss what story should go on the front page everyday, and that was a big decision. now that kind of decision is being made at a bigger scale by technological algorithm. >> when you talk about algorithm, what exactly is that. >> an algorithm is like, it sounds like a mysterious thing. honestly, it's just instructions you give to a computer. some people try to say that it could actually be instructions you give to a person on a piece of paper to complete a task, but generally we use it to talk about computer algorithms and computers are
just instructions. they can be operating instructions that we give them , but how to sort things, and these days, the algorithm are often not, they don't have a rule to put this type of news first or that avenues for spreader often based on what do people like, our people clicking on this thing more of that thing more and so it adds reaction to the user's behavior. >> i'm sure you saw mark penn who worked for hillary clinton in 2008. his op-ed in the wall street journal this week, you can't buy the presidency for $100,000 is the title. he writes i have 40 years of experience in politics and this russian ad buy, mostly after the election anyway, simply does not add up to a carefully targeted campaign to move voters. it takes tens of millions of
dollars to deliver meaningful messages to the can contested portion of the electorate. is this making a mountain out of a mole hill? >> there is a point to what mark says which is true, but i don't think anyone is claiming that these russian ads tipped the balance in any way. maybe they are, but i wouldn't claim that. i would say it's more that what we are learning is that the way we've built these platforms makes them very vulnerable. some of them are going to be for an operators, but plenty of them are happening domestically. it's like pizza gate where a conspiracy theory grew up and got a lot of attention on social media and a guy showed up at a weapon at this pizza parlor believing they were
children he wanted to save. i think this russian story is sort of a way that were all waking up to the fact that these platforms, we've given them a huge amount of power to decide what kind of things we see as news, but they don't have the moral judgment and the fact checking that the newspaper editors had when they made the decision about the front page, and sometimes these systems can have conspiracies and hoaxes that seem really real. i think we are collectively realizing that trying to decide what to do about it. the tech companies are trying to say look, it's not our responsibility to vet every piece of news out there, but at the same time, everybody kind of leaves they have to do more. i think the question is what is that more. >> in a sense, the wall street journal or pro- public a would be a much better option than facebook, for example. >> absolutely. for instance, you know the
fact checking i on my articles is insane. i'm very concerned about everything i write being absolutely true and we are held to legal liability for what we publish and so we have lawyers who read everything and we take our response ability really seriously. most news organizations do and the problem is, now we have this sort of decentralization of news so anyone can write something anywhere. this is great for freedom of speech but at the same time when you have these algorithms that sort and don't take into account that some news outlets are really fact checking and some people are writing whatever conspiracy theory they think will get some clicks. sometimes those other things can get more traction, the algorithm put some higher up or gives them some sort of left in the making it currency. they would've never gotten that in the old world. nothing the old world was perfect, there were a lot of stories that didn't make sense that should've, but we do need
to figure out a way to re- balance. >> julie, in a recent article, you write about facebook's new political ad transparency initiative, what is that. >> in the wake of the russian ad by in terms of increasing pressure and their systems, facebook has said they will make political ads transparent. they've been a little bag about how that will happen but essentially what they've said is political advertisers will have to disclose the ads they are buying so we can all, right now the way it works is the wa if i buy a political ad targeted to people in a small town, no one else would ever see it. you could really sped spread lies and information and you wouldn't be fact checked the way a tv ad is fact checked. to build more transparency,
they've said the advertisers will have to lace those ads on their own facebook page for inspection. the question i have is will people go to, are they gonna go look at those ads. we will see how this transparency plays out. i hope that it will be transparent, but i'm not waiting for that. i've built my own transparency tool for facebook that i'm trying to get people to use in case that thing doesn't work out. >> what is that tool? >> we are calling this the facebook political ad collector. people can put a little bit of software, takes one click to install and add to your browser, either firefox or chrome and basically when you are on facebook, our little piece will pull out any ads that it things are political. it will show these to you and say are these political ads, are they right and we confirm
yes or no and it sends us to our public repository so people can see all the political ads that are out there. not all 2 billion out here. it will be more political ads than anyone has ever seen on facebook before. our idea is simply that people should be able to see political ads. politicians should be held accountable. >> is this exclusive to facebook or will you be doing it on other platforms. it's the leading place for political ads, talking to
people in politics, it has the best micro- targeting, it has the biggest reach worldwide and there is this ability to find exactly the kind of person you want to find on their. facebook hasn't determine determined how they will deal with political ads. we've built and logarithm to guess what type of ads are political. we still use humans to verify it. was our machine guess right? i don't know how facebook will do it. we find it's helpful to have humans in the loop checking and then we, as editors can go in and make sure they really are political.
>> they were here in washington making the rounds on capitol hill. is facebook stealing pressure because of this? >> absolutely. they are feeling pressure. she was pretty clear about that. she was pretty explicit. she said we know we need to do better when trying to do better. i think the implicit message was, don't regulate us, we will take care of it ourselves. that's what companies do when they feel the pressure. it's a huge lift. this is a gigantic company and it's just not clear what kind of oversight mechanisms they have right now. they aren't catching these things that they say they need to catch.
they are investing in technology and hiring tons of more people. we will see if that is enough to keep washington at bay. >> is there a role for the federal election commission in all of this? >> it has a couple roles to play. one is, they could demand disclosure of these ads on online advertising. they could require the same amount of disclosure that's required on other types of ads about who paid for it. there is also this weird thing , when you buy an ad, you have to disclose your spending and file these reports about what you spent on your campaign. you can very easily obscure those buys by just placing them through a consultant and it says you spend money with this digital consultant and those people don't always say whether they placed on facebook or what was campaigns. there isn't a lot of information about how much money is being spent on
facebook, twitter and all the social media platforms. they could increase their transparency. there's always also a role that require enhanced disclosure for television ad and perhaps those roles could be transferred over toward the fec. >> julie, when it comes to television and radio, and noun new or media, the tech media platforms, are the regulations all different at this point? >> there is kind of a patchwork, tv is held to the highest standard because they have to report at the local television level and report detailed spending reports and report to the fcc and the fec. print and radio is a little bit less and online is the
least amount. the other thing to remember is it's not just the regulators. they're almost always picked up by groups that monitor tv ad and same thing for print and radio. they might do a counter add or fact checks of new ads. they get subject to a lot of public scrutiny. that is even more holding people accountable. public scrutiny is what holds these accountable in the end. >> again we are focused on
facebook but they had visited capitol hill as well. >> twitter and google have both found some russian ads on the platform and have talked to capitol hill about it. there are ads, political ads on twitter, they are often more public because almost everything is publicly available there. same thing with google. more of those ads are public in the sense that if you go on youtube and watch the ads that are playing before each video, you can get a better sense of our facebook page. if all you ever see is on your own feed, that's why it's
probably under the most scrutiny. >> another recent report you participated in is about hate groups. this is becoming such a hot topic. i never thought, as the tech reporter, i would be dealing with this but basically hate groups have found internet to be a great place. we did a survey of all the different payment systems that were enabling these, palpating the leading one.
one of them launch the hate report against one of my reporter and the least our e-mail with spam to take our computer system down. >> what's it like reporting on these issues for pro- public are opposed to the wall street journal where you spent 13 years. >> what's great is the ability to do collaborations and do a little more open-ended stuff, so for instance the facebook tool that we built, it's really a tool for crowdsourcing and we wanted to test it and we went to germany where they were having elections in september and worked with three different newspapers there.
one thing that's nice is expanding the idea of reporting from just being the person to write an article, but in some place what we are doing is providing a tool that reporters can use around the world to monitor political ads in their own election. i think that gives me great joy to be able to do that kind of expanded role in helping other reporters. >> will you be down in washington november 1 for the big hearings with facebook? the congressional hearing? >> i'm probably not going to be there. i have this great luxury as an investigative reporter as not having to do as much of the daily news coverage. i mostly focus on projects and investigations of things that would otherwise not come out. my definition of news that i like to focus on is something that would never come out if i wasn't doing it. i feel like it's best for me
to stick to things that would be done otherwise. >> for work at pro- public isabel available online. thank you for your time joining us on the committee caters. >> thank you. >> now joining us on the communicators is david mccabe. he covers technology for their organization. mr. mccabe, you had cheryl samberg over to your office the other day. what did you hear from her? >> we did. we hosted an event with cheryl samberg last week. my colleague interviewed her for about a half hour. a lot of it focused on russian ads and one of the things that really stuck out was the obvious point from her that facebook isn't going to change but she was asked about targeting and talked about the value of targeting. of course there ad business isn't going to change even if their message does. the other thing we took note of is that she was asked multiple times whether or not there was overlap between the
targeting data used by the trump campaign and that used by these russian operatives and she wouldn't answer. >> why wouldn't she answer. >> she dodged the question multiple times. she didn't give a particular reason for why she wasn't offering a clear answer on what the company has seen, obviously this is an ongoing investigation and certainly not a question that will go away. >> what is the response so far from congress on this issue? >> congress remains a very -- very preoccupied on this issue. two committees have been briefed on these facebook ads and now have them in their possession. so from congress, they now have some follow-up questions about that. they want to know where the internal investigation is going and they want to know what facebook is going to do to prevent this sort of election battling in the future, perhaps even as early as next month's election in virginia. >> this is almost more of a tech question that the
journalistic ethics question, isn't it? >> you know, it's a question of how these systems work, certainly. they receive briefings from facebook staff. that's we've seen facebook offer some other technical experts to respond to this. the chief security officer at facebook has been a huge face of this. as you know, this is a really technical topic and accommodated one. >> david mccabe, november 1 is coming. what will happen on that day? >> that's when there will be a senate hearing on this featuring at least facebook and twitter, google has been ainvited. there's also expected be house hearing that day. details are abstract. you will see these companies respond directly to lawmaker questions about this and particularly for facebook which has had this real ascendance over the past five
or ten years. this is a seminal moment for them. they don't testify on capitol hill often so it's a big deal that they are. >> mr. mccabe, we have talked a lot about facebook, and we talk about julia about facebook, but this is not just facebook's issue, is it, with the add button? >> it is not. it is obviously partially google's issue. google is the other big player in the online ad market. they found some ads associated wish with this effort. they have less problems because things can't go viral as easily on google like they can on facebook and twitter. just today we saw story that said out brain, which is a big advertising content referral company is also looking into these questions. certainly, it is one that is starting to consume the entire industry. >> will we see the fcc and the fec at this hearing or perhaps some hearings at those commissions as well?
>> the fec is doing some work around looking at whether or not there should be different disclosure requirements for digital ads. one of the things that make the so complicated is there's not really a clear single regulator for companies like google and facebook and twitter. the fec doesn't have jurisdiction over them so i wouldn't expect them to be particularly involved in this right now. >> david mccabe has been our guest on the communicators. >> my pleasure as always. >> a live picture of the white house rose garden where president trump and the singapore prime minister will make a joint statement shortly.