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    Facebook, Twitter and Google Deserve Scrutiny, but Not the Way Congress Wants

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    Ekaterina Blinova
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    While Donald Trump's political opponents are blowing up the story of allegedly Russian-sponsored advertisements on US social media platforms, they remain surprisingly mute about the long-standing cooperation between Silicon Valley's giants and Democratic policymakers, Wall Street analyst and investigative journalist Charles Ortel told Sputnik.

    It is unlikely that any social media advertising spending ultimately could have had much of a direct impact upon those who voted for Donald Trump in November 2016, Wall Street analyst Charles Ortel told Sputnik, emphasizing that "Trump voters, in the main, voted to 'Make America Great Again' by throwing off the corrupt cronies of both established political parties."

    Meanwhile, the executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on November 1 to testify on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election. For its part, the House panel has already started investigating the issue.

    In early September, Facebook said that Russia-linked entities bought $100,000 worth of political advertisements in a two-year period up to May of this year. On October 12, Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the panel plans to make public the Facebook ads that allegedly were purchased by the Russian-backed accounts.

    Moscow refuted the allegations that it waged a pro-Trump advertisement campaign as groundless: "We have never done this, and the Russian side has never been involved in it," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

    "It is important to remember that the Clinton camp far outspent the Trump camp, especially in advertising and that social media ad spending so far identified on the platforms mentioned above is a tiny number," Ortel said throwing into doubt the assumption that any pro-Trump ads could have dramatically tipped the balance of power in his favor.

    As the Guardian reported in December 2016, in the final weeks of the presidential race Hillary Clinton "spent $72 million on TV ads and about $16 million on internet ads."

    So, could the three Silicon Valley giants' testimonies undermine Trump's positions?

    "I doubt the testimony will harm Trump but fully expect that Congress and the American public will rightly start to question the business models, influence, and regulation of Google, Facebook, and Twitter," the Wall Street analyst highlighted.

    Why Google, Facebook, Twitter Deserve Scrutiny

    Ortel, who exposed financial fraud at General Electric back in 2007 and is proceeding with his private investigation into the alleged fraud of the Clinton Foundation, believes that the social media corporations deserve scrutiny.

    He explained that while Facebook, Twitter and Google (and other platforms) "offer users services for free… users, for their part, provide information to these companies that is enormously valuable." This data — concerning interests, buying preferences, locations, patterns of activity and contacts — is subsequently "monetized" by the owners and financial backers of these companies.

    The question arises whether the media platforms' users are "fairly told how valuable their data is and how much it enriches the shareholders of these companies," the analyst noted.

    "Moreover, top executives and their key employees now hold considerable power to game search results and to filter 'news' and blog postings in ways that can push an agenda or a political candidate," the investigative journalist pointed out.

    Indeed, while promoters of the "Trump-Russia" narrative are overhyping the story of the "Kremlin-linked" advertisements, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange turned the spotlight on the Hillary Clinton campaign's embarrassing collusion with Facebook in his September tweet.

    ​On the other hand, in September 2016 distinguished research psychologist Robert Epstein explained in his op-ed for Sputnik that Google's search suggestions were biased in favor of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

    "It would not surprise me in the slightest that Google suppresses negative stories (and videos on YouTube), while it may favor the same sorts of offerings concerning 'friends'," Ortel said, adding that "the American public (and the public in other countries where social media giants flourish) certainly deserve more knowledge concerning how these companies may manipulate search results to favor advertisers as well as political allies."

    But that is not all: the Clinton-Google collaboration goes even deeper. Back in 2012 Jared Cohen, the president of Google Ideas, offered former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team a new digital tool to bolster defections from the Syrian government, thus creating conditions for Bashar al-Assad's planned ouster.

    "Please keep close hold, but my team is planning to launch a tool… that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from," Cohen wrote in a letter released by WikiLeaks.

    "Given how hard it is to get information into Syria right now, we are partnering with Al-Jazeera, who will take primary ownership over the tool we have built, track the data, verify it, and broadcast it back into Syria," the Google Ideas head elaborated.

    U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the media on South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S., October 7, 2017
    © REUTERS/ Yuri Gripas
    U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the media on South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S., October 7, 2017

    How Trump's Opponents Use Social Media Platforms

    The Silicon Valley corporations' cooperation with mainstream news outlets is nothing new, according to Ortel.

    Last week the founder of the investigative Project Veritas James O'Keefe exposed how New York Times Editor Nicholas Dudich is manipulating popular social media platforms to get an advantage for the newspaper's content.

    "As a guess, the Democratic party, and associated political action committees are most involved pushing the anti-Trump and anti-conservative agenda using social media," Ortel told Sputnik. "One hateful approach they employ is using alias social media accounts to attack perceived enemies online in chat forums and comment sections, as well as on Facebook and Twitter."

    According to the investigative journalist, "another approach they employ is to use 'charities' such as Media Matters that actually seem to be 'political action organizations' as Andrew Kerr recently has charged in a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission."

    The complaint obtained by The Daily Caller said that Media Matters chief David Brock had benefited from a scheme to hide donor identities which let the Left "t funnel untraceable millions to initiatives against conservative and GOP causes around the nation."

    The Wall Street analyst emphasized that "this approach, allowing donors to the 'charity' to take tax deductions for supporting partisan political activity, is strictly illegal."

    Mueller's Probe Fruitless, But Influences Heavily Trump's Policies

    Meanwhile, the Trump-Russia investigation supervised by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has yet to bring any fruit: "So far, Mueller has released nothing I have seen in the public domain that makes an effective case against President Trump," Ortel said.

    Still, according to the investigative journalist, the inquiry has had an impact on Trump's domestic and foreign policy.

    "Given the ongoing Mueller investigation, Trump and his team must take extra care to ensure they do not in any way obstruct which, I imagine, complicates the normal processes of governance in the Executive branch and of dealing with other branches of government," he surmised.

    The analyst believes that "Mueller has fielded a large team or prosecutors who seem to have left-leaning, and even Clinton-supporting, inclinations."

    Besides this "the Senate is not co-operating in allowing Donald Trump to seat or replace political appointees in key departments including Justice, the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], and Judgeships as quickly as past incoming Presidents have filled out their teams, following inauguration," he highlighted.

    Naturally, the ongoing probe is also influencing Russo-American relations, according to Ortel.

    "Any sign that the Trump Administration is accommodating Russia likely will be seen by the left-leaning 'mainstream' [press] and social media allies as proof that Trump is rewarding Russia for their alleged support during the election process," the Wall Street analyst explained.

    "With these accomplishments acknowledged, I hope President Trump may be able to improve relations with President Putin after so many disappointing attempts by previous US administrations," Ortel concluded.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    election meddling, social media platform, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Google Inc, Adam Schiff, Dmitry Peskov, Bashar al-Assad, Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Julian Assange, United States, Russia
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