It’s Facebook wot wins votes

The Facebook fake news fuss is a distraction compared with the company’s bigger impact on politics: its ability to micro-target advertising based on its detailed knowledge of its users. As I wrote earlier this month for The Register, Facebook has helped the Conservatives to win the 2015 general election, pro-Brexit campaigners to win the referendum and Donald Trump the US presidency.

Facebook uses the Tory victory in its marketing to other political campaigners. As far as I can see it isn’t yet boasting about its role in Brexit, which included Leave.EU using Facebook to target racists until it got caught out by the Remain campaign.

The company is running into increasing opposition in Germany butjpk4. Angela Merkel has spoken out against secret algorithms influencing what people see, and ministers are talking about EUR500,000 fines for the likes of fake news and criminal liability for failure to delete racist material.

Politicians around the world seem unlikely to sit back and let Facebook take increasing amounts of control over whether they get elected. And for those of them who use micro-targeting to tell different groups different things, there will be the problem of letting some of them down when actually in office. Some of the cynicism generated could stick to Facebook, too.

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