tv The Communicators Angwin Mc Cabe CSPAN October 23, 2017 8:00pm-8:31pm EDT
julie ainge win, longtime "wall street journal" reporter is our guest this week on "the communicators" to talk about facebook, political ads and russia. what have we learned in the past couple of months from the investigation into facebook and the russian ads? >> thank you for having me on. we learn a lot in the last month or two about facebook and russia facebook has said they learn 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 aim at sowing divisiveness on charged topics. >> host: why did facebook not
seem to know who was placing these ads? >> guest: it's not totally clear why facebook didn't do more due diligence on these accounts. the ads were brought in rubles. there are laws that say foreigners cap by ooh lex ads about apparently -- election ads and apparently these slipped through and because that are were under fake identities maybe the didn't find them until recently. >> host: what i learned in your reporting is that these are basically self-service ad placements. correct? there's not necessary lay human involved. >> guest: yeah. i mean, in the course modify reporting i've bought ads on facebook several times, and it's really just kind of an online menu. you go in, put down what you want, bunch of dropdown menus happen and you click, buy, it's very easy, and then you get an
automated response. usually within 10 or 15 minutes, saying your ad was approved or not approved. and so facebook has not been very clear about how many humans are engaged in this system. they say there's a lot algorithms and there are some humans, but apparently maybe not enough humans. >> host: these ad could have been placed without facebook even knowing it? >> guest: most likely they were. facebook is a huge volume business, and one thing about their advertising platform is that there are lot of small ad buys. you can buy five dollars, ten dollars worth of ads to tarring people in your small town so they do have other huge volume of ads going through, and this add buy they disclosed wasn't a particularly huge amount of money, $100 or something. so they may not have noticed it. sounds like they didn't knoy
notice it until later when it was brought to their attention jo right now we're look at $100,000 worth of ads but i read on -- in o'hit co that 10 mel people saw the ad. what have you found? >> guest: there's a lot of debate how many people could have seen $100,000 worth of ads. the way facebook's platform operates, when you go on to the self-service platform and choose -- like i want to reach men and women age 18 to 25, who live in ohio, it will give you an estimate how many people they thing that ad would reach. people have meat a guess o what kind of reach this amount of money would have had. i think we don't really know the answer, but it probably was president approximate wide. managed to get dish can get several thousand people, 10,000, 15,000, for 10 decide ad buys.
>> host: have you soon the ad that were place. by the russians? >> guest: i have only see a few that're wered by some news outlets. few of the add leak out from the congressam committees looking at them. facebook promised to release all of them, and or hill i said they'll release all of them to the congressional investigator asks those investigators said they will make them public. so we should see them all i think fairly soon, if those promises are real. >> host: and what -- of the ones you have seen, what do they say, what are temperature -- their targets? >> guest: they're really divisive. they have some racially charged language. they talk about politically divisive topics, like guns, race, abortion, and seem to be kind of just inflammatory, just trying to make it seem like some
extreme thing is happening. think one that is most famous is this one that claimed that the -- to be from black activist but wasn't and seemed to be kind of strident language about black activism. >> host: political ads of that type are supposed to have disclaimers and be somewhat regulated, aren't they, disclosures about who is placing them. >> guest: most political advertising does require disclosure according to the rules of the federal election commission, but there has been this exception made for online advertising. basically for years the fec has been dead whether the rule should apply to online advertising and that deadlock meant they have not applied the rules. so right now online advertising does not have to have the same disclosure you see in a tv or radio ad, paid for by this committee or that committee.
the fec has re-opened the debate and perhaps the rules would start to apply. facebook was the leading group arguing against those rules being applied to online advertising, saying that the ads were so small that kind of disclose sure would be really hard to fit into the ad, but they've dropped their objections to it now. >> host: now, facebook is also saying they're not a journalism organization, they're a tech company. correct? >> guest: yeah, i think that they -- cheryl sandberg spoke whether they're a tech company or media company. she made this fine distinction which is they're a tech company, they employ engineers and don't write news articles but they understand they have some responsibility of the media company to make sure the content, the way she described it, safe. sounds like they're softening that distinction right now. >> guest: some of these platforms are becoming editors s
and arbitors of what can be published. is that fair assessment? >> guest: absolutely. facebook and google are the biggestgatekeepers to what people see in news, what kind of news is delivered to them. twitter as well. because people are getting their news online and they're getting it curated. you go into google news and they tell you what the top news is, or your facebook news feed iris sorted to determine what kind of news you see. so these tech companies are absolutely the gateway to what news we see, and the same way in old days the top editors at every paper i work at they had a meeting to discuss what stories should go on the front page and that was a big decision. now that decision is being made at a bigger scale by technological algorithms. >> host: what is an algorithm.
>> guest: sounds like mysterious thing. honestly it's just instructions you give to a computer, some people try to say that -- it can actually be instructions you give to a person on a piece of paper, too, to complete a task. generally we use it to talk about computer algorithms, and it is -- computers are just instructions, they operate with instruction wes give them and algorisms maybe complex instructions we give them, how to sort things. these days, the algorisms are often not -- they don't have a rule like put this type of news first or that continue of news first. they're based on what people like, are they clicking on this thing or that thing more and automatically resorts as people -- in reaction to the users' behavior. >> host: i'm sure you saw mark penn, who worked for hillary clinton in 2008, his op-ed in your old newspaper, "the wall
street journal" this week. you can't buy the presidency for $100,000 is the title and 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 contested portions of the electorate. is this a making a mountain out of a molehill? >> guest: i mean, there's a point to what mark says, which is true. i don't think anyone is claiming that these russian ads tipped the balance in any way. or maybe they are but i wouldn't claim that if would say it's more that what we're learning is that this -- the way we built these technological platforms and -- makes them very vulnerable to what you can call
information or disinformation campaigns and some will be foreign operators but plenty of them are happening domestically. pizzagate, where a domestic conspiracy their rye blood pressure, got currency on social media and a guy showed up with a weapon at this pizza parlor, believing that there were children he warranted to save there. and we're just real -- i think this russian story is a way that we're all waking up to the fact that this platform -- we have given them a huge amount of power to decide what kind of things we see as news but don't have the moral judgment and the fact checking that the newspaper ed tore have when they made the decisions about the front page. so sometimes these systems can get gamed and bad stuff can rise to the top, conspiracy and hoaxes can seal really real. and so i think we're all kind of collectively realizing that and trying to decide that would 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 believed they have to do more, and the question is what is that more? >> host: in a sense "the wall street journal" or propublicca would be a much sterner vetter than facebook, for example. >> absolutely. for instance, you know the fact checking do on my articles is insane. i'm concerned about everything i write being absolutely true and that we're held to -- we have legal liability for what we publish and so we have lawyers that read everything before we publish and we take our responsibility really seriously. most news organizations do. the problem is that now we have this decentralization of news so anyone can write anything anywhere and this is a great flowering of peach but when you have algorithm that sort and don't bike the account the fact that some news outlets are really fact checking some people are writing whatever conspiracy theory they think will get
clicks and the other things can getmer traction, the algorithm puts them higher up or gives them a list and they can get current si they never got in the old world. the old world wasn't perfect. but we have to figure out a way to rebalance this equation, i think. >> host: julie, in a recent article you write about facebook's new political ad transparency initiative. what is that? >> guest: in the wake of the russian ad buy and increasing pressure about their systems, facebook has said they will make political ads traps parent. they've been a little vague about how that's going to happen but essentially what they've said is that political advertisers will have to disclose the ad they're buying. so, we can all in the public
see. the. right now if i buy a political ad just targeted to people in one small town, only these people will ever see it. no one would see it. so-so you can spread lies and misinformation and wouldn't be fact checked the way a tv ad is fact checked. so the idea is to build more transparency in and they said the advertisers will have to police the ads on their own facebook page for inspection. the question i have are people going to every possible political advertiser and good to their page and look at those ads and they only have to be up there while the campaign is running. we'll see how this transparency plays out. i hope that it will be transparent but i'm not waiting for that. i built my own transparency tool for facebook tom i'm trying to get people to use in case that thing done work out. >> host: what is that tool. >> guest: we at propublicca built something we're called the facebook political ad collect you're, and basically people can put a little bit of software,
takes one click to install and ad to your web browser, either fire fox or chrome, and basically when you're on facebook, our little piece of software will look at your news feed and pull out ads it isth it thicks are political you confirm yes or no and sends it into our public repository so that people can see all the political ads. they won't -- not every facebook user, not all two billion will use our tool but more political ad than anybody has ever seen. we also show the user if they want -- there's a little tab where they can say, see ads that were not tarringed to them. so be interesting to see the ones were terrifyinged to you other ones that user ares seeing that are different than your ads. the is that people should be able to city political ads and politicians should be held kennellable for their advertisement and we hand to have a repositoriy of the ads.
>> are you doing this on other platforms such as twitter, snap, et cetera. >> guest: we're not doing it all on the plat formed because the technological hurdles are really high. also, facebook is the leading playing for political ads, from my understanding and talking to people in politics. it has the best microtargetting. it has the biggest reap. has two billion users worldwide, and there's this able to find exactly the kind of person you want to find on there. so we just had to start there it's not perfect but it's something. >> host: how will facebook determine what is political and what isn't? >> guest: that's a very good question. facebook has not said how hair going to determine political ads. we built an algorithm ourselves to try to do it. built machine learning to guess what type of ads are political based on political speech that we fed into the system. but we still use humans to verify it so we have all our
users sort of say, yes, no, with our machine guess right? now, don't know how facebook will do it. they tend to automate these things also. we fine it's really helpful to have the humans in the loop, checking, and then also we as editors can good in and look through that and make sure they really are political. >> host: julie, as you know, cheryl sandberg was near washington recently making the round offered capitol hill and immediate you organizations. is facebook feeling pressure because of this? >> guest: oh, absolutely. facebook is feeling pressure. cheryl was pretty clear about that when she came to washington. she was pretty explicit, saying we need to do better, we are trying to do better, and the implicit message there was dope regulate us. we'll take care of it ourselves. right? and that's what companies do when they feel the pressure. they step up their self-regulation promises. and we'll see if they pull it
off. i think it's a huge lift, really. this is a gigantic company, and it is not clear what kind of oversaying mechanisms they have right now but they aren't capturing these things they say they need to catch. and so she mentioned they're investing in technology, investing in hiring tons of people so we'll see if that's enough to keep was at bay. >> host: there is a role for the federal election commission in this? >> guest: the federal election commission has i think a couple of roles to play here. one is they could demand disclosure of the ads of -- online advertising so could require the same amount of disclosure required on other types of ads about who paid for it. there's also this weird thing so when you buy an ad on facebook, you have -- as a politician you have the disclose your spending to the federal election
commission, you file these reports about what you spend on your campaign. but you can very easily obscure the buys by placing them through a consultant and then just says you sent money with this digital consulted tenant and those people don't say whether they placed it on facebook 0 the campaign there isn't a lot of information how much money is being spent by campaigns on facebook, twitter, different social media platforms so they could increase that amount of transparency. and there's also 0 role for the federal communications commission, maybe, because they actually require an enhance it amount of disclosure for television ads and perhaps those rule could be transferred to online ads also through the fec or some other mechanism. >> host: so, when it comes to television and radio and now newer media, the tech company platforms, are the regulations all different at this point? >> guest: there is kind of a
patchwork of regulations. tv is held to the highest standard because hey have to report those at their local television level a, affiliate level, detailed spending reports, report to the fec, the fcc, print and radio -- print is a little less. and then online is the least amount, and the other thing tomorrow is that it's not just the regulators that police these ads. the fact that a tv ad almost always is picked up by groups that monitor tv ads and same thing with print and radio. then those get circulated, and the opponents might do a counter-ad or news organizations often do fact check new ads all the time. so they get subject to a lot of public scrutiny in addition to the regulation. i think one of the thing that is so challenging about online ads is because of the able to target microamount to a small audience, they don't get picked up, fact
checked and seep by the public. that is actually even more holing people conditionable in some ways than the regulations themselves but public scrutiny is really what holds these politicians accountable in the end. >> host: again, we're focused on facebook, but this is also an issue with twitter, and twitter visited capitol hill as well. >> guest: oh, absolutely. twitter and google, i think, have both found some russian ads on the platforms and have talked to capitol hill about it. i'm not sure that i've seen the same amount of promises from them how they'll clean things up, but also not clear what the scope of the problem was there there are ads, political ads on twitter. there are -- but they often are more public in the sense it's easier to get a sense of what is happening on twitter because almost everything is publicly available there.
same thing with google. more of the ads are public in the sense that if you go on youtube and watch the ad that are playing before each video, you can get a better sense of it. still targeted but there is a little bit more transparency. facebook is such a closed system, all you ever see it what you have on your own feed. that is the least transparent of them. that's why it's probably under the most scrutiny. >> host: another recent report you participated in is about hate groups and how they're being monetized by the tech companies. >> guest: yaw. this is backing -- yeah, this is becoming a hot topic, never thought as a tech reporter i would be dealing with nazis. just never thought about that. but basically hate, hate groups fond the internet to be a great place to promote and recruit new people to their causes.
so we did a survey of all the different payment systems and -- that were enabling these groups to receive donations. pay pal was the leading one. and after our report paypal shut down a bunch of these -- the donation links for these sites. we used a list of sites designated as hate by sovereign poverty law center or anti-definition league -- defamation league and the hate signed launched a hate campaign against a report and. the delodged or e-mail with spam to the point or computer system shut done. that was fun to be under attack. >> host: what is it like recording on the issues for propubliccas a opposed to the warren warmer wear, the "wall street journal" where you spent 13 years what? what it great is the able to do collaboration and more
open-ended stuff. for instance, the facebook tool that we built, it's really a tool for crowd sourcing, and so we wanted to test it, and we went to germany, where they were having an election and september and worked with three different newspapers there to have them promote the tool to readers, collected a whole bunch of german ads and then doing that in austria right now during their election, bunch of different countries. we don't have to do all the reporting ourselves. one thing that is nice is expanding the idea of reporting from just being the person to write an article but in some ways we're just providing a tool that reports can use around the world to monitor political ads in their own elections. i think that gives me great joy to do that kind of expanded role in helping other reporter. >> host: will you be down in washington november 1st for the big hearings with facebook, the congressional hearing? >> guest: i am probably not going to be. this have this great luxury as
an investigative reporter not having to do as much of the daily news coverage. i mostly focus on projects and investigation's things that would otherwise not come out. so my definition of news i like to focus on is something that would never come out if i wasn't doing it. the hearings will be cover report whether or not i'm there so. >> host: julie's work at pro publicca is available online, thank you for your too and joanie us on "the communicators." now joining is is david mccabe actionee wyoming. you had cheryl sanburg to your office. what did you hear from here. >> guest: we did. we hosted an event with cheryl sandberg last week mitch colleague interviewed her for a half hour, a lot focused on the russian ads. one that that stuck out was the
obvious point from her that facebook's core business is not going to change. she a was asked about targeting and affection's ad business isn't going to change the other thing is that she was asked multipile times therely as overlap between the targeting used by the trump campaign and the tarring used by the russian operatives and wouldn't answer. >> host: whoa wouldn't she answer. >> guest: she dodged the question multiple times. she didn't gave particular reason for why the wasn't eaverring a clear answer on what the company had seen. obviously an young investigation and not a question that it is going to go away. >> host: what is the response so far from congress on this issue? >> guest: congress remains very preoccupied by the question, particular through the democrats on the house and senate intelligence committee two of the committee briefed on these facebook ads and now have them in their possession.
so from congress they now have some followup questions about that. want to know where the internal investigation is going what facebook is going to do to prevent this sort of election meddling in the future, perhaps even as early as next month's eplex in virginia. >> host: this is almost more of a tech question than a journalistic ethics question, isn't it? >> guest: you know, it's a question of how these systems work, certainly. that's why fav received briefings from facebook staff. that's why you have seen facebook offer some of their technical experts to respond to this. alex stamos, the chief security officer at facebook is huge -- this is a really technical topic and complicate one. >> host: november 1 inch is coming. heat going to happen on that day? >> guest: that's when there is going to be a senate hearing on this, featuring at least facebook and twitter, google has
been invited. also expected to be a house hearing that day. details are a little more abstract about that. you'll see those companies respond directly to lawmakers' questions, particularly facebook. this is a seminal moment for them. they don't testify on capitol hill often so it's a big deal. >> host: we have talk a lot about facebook but this is not just facebook's issue, is it, with the ad buys. >> guest: it's not. it is obviously partially google issue. google is the other big player in the online ad mark that they found some added soaked with the effort. they have less exposure because facebook this the possible for something to go viral. that's e that's not how google works. twitter has some problems with bots and with the potential russian operation thorns
platform. today we saw story that said that outbrain, big advertising content referral company, is also looking into the questions. so certainly one that is starting to consume the entire industry. >> host: will we see the fcc and ec at the hearing or perhaps some hearings another those commissions as well? >> guest: the fec, the federal election commission, is doing some work around looking at whether or not there should be different disclosure requirements for digital ads. one things that makes this so complicate they're not really a clear single regulator governor companies like facebook and twitter and google. i wouldn't expect them to be particularly involved in this right now. >> host: david mccabe with axios and has been our guest on the "the communicators." >> guest: the pleasure as always, peter.
>> tonight on c-span2, british prime minister teresa may gives an update on brexit negotiations and then an update on the schedule in congress and then a senate advisory committee meeting on sexual assault in the military. >> washington journal is live every day with news and policy issues that impact you and coming up tuesday morning, look at the future of the affordable care act with california democratic congressman raul ruiz and then the federal budget tax reform effort and the ongoing nafta negotiations. joining us will with jody arrington. and issue