Saturday, April 7, 2018

Facebook and the Internet Research Agency (2016)


Facebook Vice President of Ads, Rob Goldman.
Facebook is the largest social media platform today with more than one billion people being active on the website. Being the largest social media platform and having the amount of people Facebook does, there is a lot of information presented out there especially during major events such as the Presidential election in the United States. A Russian organization, called the Internet Research Agency, created fake American personas and other propaganda before and during the Presidential election in 2016. Some of this propaganda dates back to 2013, long before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump declared for office.

Although most of the propaganda created by this agency was in favor of Trump during the election, Facebook’s VP of ads, Rob Goldman, stated that their main goal seemed to be to divide Americans and use free speech and social medias against us. Rob also stated how the outcome of all their propaganda benefiting Trump worked in their favor because they saw Trump as a gateway to easily being able to create division among the nation. More than 3000 ads were purchased on Facebook on accounts that were linked to the Internet Research Agency. In total, Facebook estimated that around 10 million Americans and Facebook users were exposed to the propaganda and information released by the Internet Research Agency. Well after the election Facebook developed a tool for users to check if they’ve liked any content or followed any accounts created by the Internet Research Agency, but at this point it is too late for any voters and people who were influenced by this during the election.


Stakeholders in not just this case, but any case are any groups or individuals who are directly impacted by the scandal or wrongdoing of the company. Some of the stakeholders in this case would be Facebook and the Internet Research Agency. Facebook allowed for these posts to be public and were not monitoring them properly. The Internet Research Agency  were the ones creating these fake accounts and other propaganda. Aside from the main two companies that were involved in the case, other stakeholders are the millions of people who were exposed to the content put out by the Internet Research Agency, the Trump campaign, and the Clinton campaign. The millions of people who viewed such content could have been persuaded to vote differently or form a different opinion on certain issues. The Trump campaign was affected in a relatively positive way considering most of the propaganda concerning the election favored Trump. The Clinton campaign was just the opposite having a negative effect on them.


Propaganda posted on Facebook by Russian agency in favor of Trump. 
Individualism is an ethical theory aimed at the idea that businesses should only attempt to maximize their profits and the success of the company. A business is also required to operate within the laws and rules, so these actions aimed to maximize profits should not be performed unlawfully. As for the case between Facebook and the Internet Research Agency, Facebook generated more traffic through the content posted by the Internet Research Agency and revenue rose 47 percent in the quarter around the time of the election. With that being said, not monitoring and actively trying to take down the content put out by this company benefitted Facebook resulting in higher profits. From an individualistic point of view, one would say that Facebook did the right thing. With this platform of social media, the fake accounts and propaganda posted  are not illegal as they fall under free speech, and the action of not monitoring these posts is not considered illegal. So Facebook, under the law, did not do anything wrong in the case.


Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that is all about maximizing overall good and achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people. No act is deemed unethical and wrong just on the act itself, it is only deemed ethical or unethical based on the outcome of the act. With the increased revenue during the time of the election, Facebook benefited greatly from not taking down any of the content that the agency posted. As for the millions of viewers of this content, it could go either way. People in support of Trump may have enjoyed any negative propaganda posted about Hillary, and people in support of her may not have enjoyed the content. With such propaganda being posted, this may have drawn people to other sources of news to get credible information. This content not only created more traffic for Facebook, but very well could have created more traffic for other various news sites. While revenue was increasing for Facebook during this time, it most certainly was creating happiness for their stockholders as well. All in all, a Utilitarian would deem this act of not taking down and monitoring the content as ethical.


Kantianism, originated by Immanuel Kant, is an ethical theory that looks to treat people as ends and never only as means. This theory focuses on treating people people with honor and respect and never to lie, cheat, manipulate, or harm others to get what you want. As for the case of Facebook, although they were not intentionally trying to victimize any certain people who were negatively affected from the dilemma, by them being aware of the content posted, their increased profits, and them not monitoring and taking down the posts would be considered unethical to a Kantian. Kantianism also states how people have good reasoning and good intentions to come to the conclusions that they have. For Facebook their reasoning and intentions were profit driven rather than providing for truthful and actually informative content posted instead of propaganda posted to affect some people in a negative way.

Virtue Theory

Facebook internal investigation of Russian ads purchased post election.
Virtue theory takes a slightly different take on analyzing if an action is ethical or not than the previous ethical theories stated above. Rather than the actions themselves, this theory analyzes a person’s character. The four main virtues of character are courage, honesty, temperance/self-control, and justice/fairness. As for courage, Facebook did not have the courage to tell their users about the content posted by the Internet Research Agency until well after the election. Facebook was not being completely honest to their users about where the propaganda and content was coming from and what was true and what wasn’t true. They did not show temperance and self-control until after the election when they started to take action on the issue. Also they did not treat their users with justice and fairness until after this time to let users know if they viewed such content and propaganda.


O'Sullivan, Donie. “Facebook Finds Hundreds More Accounts Run by Kremlin-Linked Troll Group.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 3 Apr. 2018,
Isaac, Mike. “Facebook, Under Fire in Russia Inquiry, Posts 79% Rise in Profit.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Nov. 2017, 

H. Leemis, Roger. "Russia Has Always Take a Long View on False Data." The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 11 March 2018, long-view-on-false-data-1520787751?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=19&mg=prod%2Faccounts-wsj.

Larson, Selena. "Facebook lets you check to see if you followed Russian Propaganda." CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 22 Dec. 2017,

Aiello, Chloe. "Trump backs Facebook VP who says Russian meddling was designed to divide America." CNBC,  CNBC, 17 Feb. 2018, 

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