Saturday, April 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Facebook's public responsibility

Early this month, Facebook announced the first hard evidence of Russian efforts to spread disinformation over social media during the election: 470 fake accounts and pages, which paid $100,000 to run thousands of advertisements apparently designed to heighten political tensions. Now, after weeks of uncertainty, the company has made the correct decision to share the ads with congressional investigators probing election interference. Next it should do the same for the public.

The company first argued that federal privacy law prevented it from sharing the ads and fake accounts. While it handed over the material to special counsel Robert Mueller III, likely after he acquired a warrant, it balked at providing copies to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Now, Facebook says its legal obligations don't prohibit disclosure after all. It's giving Congress not only the advertisements, but also user information belonging to the fake accounts, along with the terms the advertisers used to target particular Facebook users. The latter may be particularly important as investigators examine whether the ads aimed to influence particular groups of voters by location, demographic and interest in certain topics. For example, did the Kremlin seek to push voters in certain areas of the country to support President Donald Trump by showing them anti-refugee propaganda?

Facebook's decision to provide Congress with ad information is an important step. But while reporting has revealed some samples of the fake accounts, Facebook has declined to make public any information about what the advertisements looked like or what messages they distributed.

Facebook argues that handing the advertising information to Congress is the best way to provide a public accounting of Russian election interference, reasoning that congressional investigators are best positioned to interpret Facebook's data in the context of sensitive intelligence. It's true that members of the public don't have the same insight into election interference as the intelligence committees do. But it will take time for the committees to complete the thorough investigation that is needed and to release their findings. While the investigators work, the public should be able to begin an informed discussion about how a hostile foreign power sought to undermine American democracy by warping its citizens' behavior.

Though Facebook is right to be careful about distributing material that might raise privacy concerns, an advertisement is public by nature. Facebook might choose not to make public potentially sensitive account information or targeting data, but it's hard to see what's keeping it from releasing ads that have already been displayed to thousands — if not millions — of users.

Alongside its announcement about sharing information with Congress, Facebook released a promise to continue its internal investigation into misuse of its platform and a commitment to greater transparency in the ads it runs. This is an encouraging sign of its willingness to think of itself as a partial custodian of democratic debate, as more and more Americans receive their news from social media. That willingness also requires swifter accountability to the public.

Comments
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18