Podcast Episode 71: Should Internet Companies Sway Elections?

from the and-how? dept

Recently, some Facebook staffers raised an interesting question: should the social media giant employ its significant power to stem the rise of Donald Trump? This week, we discuss that notion and the broader question: should the internet companies that influence so many aspects of our communication and information gathering use their position to pursue political goals?

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Filed Under: elections, influence, podcast, politics
Companies: facebook, google


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  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 26 Apr 2016 @ 2:18pm

    Just to be cynical for a moment

    Why shouldn't big internet companies sway elections?

    It would just be playing by the rules that other big corporations have had changed for them.

    Corporations are people.
    Corporations can give money.

    Big internet companies may not yet have tested their ability to influence public opinion. But big media has figured this out long ago. At first, they were frightened by the awesome power and had a deep sense of responsibility. Over time we got to where we are today.

    Now, seriously: ideally, no. Big internet companies should not try to sway elections. But then neither should ANY corporations. It is SUPPOSED to be a government of the PEOPLE and by the people, and for the people.

    But corporations are now people too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 4:30am

      Re: Just to be cynical for a moment

      ... and those of us who are not in the top income brackets are not considered to be people, never have been, never will be. Indentured servitude provides the elite ruling class its source of ridiculous profits, I doubt they will be eager to let it end.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2016 @ 2:35pm

    But corporations are now people too.


    I would love to see this fixed as it is plain that corporations are not people. They can't be put in jail, they don't age and could conceivably live far longer than any actual person, and I have yet to see one bare a child to term.

    I'm all in favor that we should return to the early days of corporatehood, where the length of the corporate license was limited in time, where it had no political voice, and could not influence politics to the level it does today. Hitler found corporate co-operation to be quite helpful and given the direction of the present day US it's hard not to see similarities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2016 @ 2:41pm

      Re:

      "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."

      I forget who said it first, but I like it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 28 Apr 2016 @ 5:51am

        Re: Re:

        It's one of those Liberal quotes I find myself enthusiastically nodding at whenever I see it. Another one goes, "Don't like $thing? Don't $do it/get one/have one, etc.," but my favourite by far is, "Your rights end where mine begin."

        I don't agree with them all the time but when they're right, they're right.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 6:12am

    Nope, nope, and nope.

    Big media should also be excluded.

    If any company wants to influence the election a cash value must be attached to that influence and it must fall within FEC rules.

    Heck, media news coverage should be balanced between candidates and not in a "we ran 10 (positive) stories about candidate A and 10 (negative) stories about candidate B so that's equal coverage, right?"

    Didn't SNL recently get in trouble for featuring Trump as a guest?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 9:41am

      Re:


      Big media should also be excluded


      How is that possible? Without censoring all coverage of politicians... and that would be a massive First Amendment problem.

      If any company wants to influence the election a cash value must be attached to that influence and it must fall within FEC rules.

      Again, how does that work with the 1st amendment?

      Heck, media news coverage should be balanced between candidates and not in a "we ran 10 (positive) stories about candidate A and 10 (negative) stories about candidate B so that's equal coverage, right?"

      How do you define "balance" here then?

      Didn't SNL recently get in trouble for featuring Trump as a guest?


      Nope.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe Johnson, 28 Apr 2016 @ 5:40am

    Turn out: The elephant in the room

    This podcast completely missed the elephant in the room with regard to influencing elections. Nationally, the USA is a 50-50 country. Who wins is determined, not by changing peoples minds so much as getting YOUR voters to turn out and THEIR voters not to.

    Campaigns have lists where they go through neighborhoods knocking on SPECIFIC doors that are likely to be THEIR voter just before elections. Why? Because they want to increase the likelihood of that person goes to the polls. Workers bypass the majority of doors, walking right past them. Why? Because knocking on those doors will increase the likelihood of a voter for an opponent going to vote.

    Now enter Google, Facebook, and the rest. They know a LOT about how people vote. What if they did things to increase voter turn out for folks they supported while suppressing votes for folks they oppose? What are the ethic involved here?

    Maybe certain users get PSA and stories in their feeds and searches that motivate them to vote while others get offered trips out of town, free movie coupons, etc. cleverly timed to make them too busy to vote.

    This is probably legal. No one would know they were being manipulated. And it could sway elections in many races.

    Scary.

    Joe J

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 28 Apr 2016 @ 5:54am

      Re: Turn out: The elephant in the room

      I would have told you to adjust your tinfoil hat if I didn't already know how sneaky political maneuvering can be. Scary indeed! Mind you, they'd have to use user groups and filter by interest and keywords rather than targeting individuals, but it could totally be done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Joe Johnson, 28 Apr 2016 @ 6:15am

        Re: Re: Turn out: The elephant in the room

        I have been a volunteer door knocker. I am not kidding. You get a list. You are told to knock on these doors. Do not knock on doors that are not on the list.

        Data mining generated these lists. They know voter registrations. They know voting history (whether you voted, not for whom). They combine this with other data they buy and they pull together a profile that allows them to have a model for doors that, if they vote, will vote for the candidate they want.

        Now think of the targeting that can be done if they know your likes, searches, favorites, family members, friends, coworkers, ...

        This is not tin foil hat territory. Elections are high stakes, winner take all affairs.

        I would not be shocked if a Snowden-type person came forward and revealed that there already IS a voter turn out engine churning away in the bowels of one of these giant data companies.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 28 Apr 2016 @ 7:43am

          Re: Re: Re: Turn out: The elephant in the room

          That would not surprise me in the least. And a certain amount of pressure could be brought to bear on those who don't conform...

          ...I used to get that a lot on Google Plus for not being a "proper" conservative. I want an orderly society, not a terrifying police state in which you get fined for swearing, etc. That's where we're headed and the authoritarians among us are cheering it on in the hope of moulding our society to fit their ideals. I'm not having it. Of course, the authoritarians on the other side want the same control structure to shape it to their ideal. This is why I resist authoritarianism on principle. Freedom means having a choice other than Team A or Team B.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2016 @ 5:23am

    Wrong title

    It's not a question of if, it's a question of how and in what capacity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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