October 11, 2017

Sunday night, CBS news ran an interview with Donald Trump's digital director, Brad Parscale. As part of the interview, Parscale admitted that Facebook sent employees to embed inside Trump's campaign after they were approved as Trump supporters by Parscale himself.

A month ago, we ran the video of a Trump campaign employee making the same claim, at which time I expressed horror at the unethical conduct of a public corporation offering undocumented, undisclosed assistance to a presidential campaign. My concerns were more or less dismissed.

Now Parscale confirms it, and once again, it sparks a discussion which is dismissed by the denizens of Silicon Valley, as you'll see in this interview.

Recode Executive Editor Kara Swisher thinks this is no big deal at all. In fact, she went so far as to criticize Hillary Clinton's campaign for turning down the same opportunity for Facebook embeds in her campaign. Seriously.

SWISHER: What happens is a lot of these companies do allow -- bring people in to help you. when i was at "Wall Street Journal" we had a training with Twitter and Facebook and at Recode. it is not uncommon to teach people how to use the platforms. Obviously, this guy's looking for more business and something going on forever.

These were not "trainings." These were embeds, as Parscale clearly described. A "training" is a one-day thing, maybe two at the most. Not a four to five day per week attendance by multiple employees to campaign headquarters, as Parscale described.

Lesley Stahl: They were embedded in your campaign?

Brad Parscale: I mean, like, they were there multiple days a week, three, four days a week, two days week, five days a week—

Lesley Stahl: What were they doing inside? I mean—

Brad Parscale: Helping teach us how to use their platform. I wanna get—

Lesley Stahl: Helping him get elected?

Brad Parscale: I asked each one of them by email, I wanna know every, single secret button, click, technology you have. "I wanna know everything you would tell Hillary's campaign plus some. And I want your people here to teach me how to use it."

Lesley Stahl: Inside?

Brad Parscale: Yeah, I want 'em sittin' right next to us—

Lesley Stahl: How do you know they weren't Trojan Horses?

Brad Parscale: 'Cause I'd ask 'em to be Republicans, and I'd-- we'd talk to 'em.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, you only wanted Republicans?

Brad Parscale: I wanted people who support Donald Trump from their companies.

Lesley Stahl: And that's what you got?

Brad Parscale: Yeah. They already have divisions set up that way.

But here's what Kara Swisher said when Chris Jansing asked her why the Clinton campaign turned down the same offer by Facebook.

JANSING: But then why would Hillary Clinton's campaign say no?

SWISHER: Well, they didn't want -- they were bad at what they did, I guess. You know what I mean? Think they can do it themselves. I don't know why you decline help from the jcompanies on how to use the platforms.

This is something they provide lots and lots of companies.

WHOA. Let's just stop right there. A presidential campaign is NOT a company and it should never, ever be considered one.

If Facebook's targeting and algorithms are proprietary, embedding employees inside the campaign to help them effectively spend their millions is an in-kind contribution at the very least. I do not care whether Clinton could have had embeds. The fact is that the Clinton campaign chose NOT to have them for whatever their reasons were, while Trump had the benefit of that insider trading information for as often as they wanted it.

Ask yourself this, Kara Swisher: Do cable networks embed employees inside campaigns to help them develop and target their audiences more effectively? Do national newspapers?

She doesn't take this seriously, and this is why we have a problem, Silicon Valley.

SWISHER: I'm not one to defend Facebook in this situation. They were sloppy and didn't do anything about the Russia ads the way they should. Slow rolling the problem around ads and spam having to do with infecting elections. But the fact of the matter is they don't vet people by the political persuasion and put them in campaigns and embed them as soldiers. It is a little bit laughable.

Actually, no, it's not laughable at all. It's very, very real. There's a reason these things we endure every couple of years are called "campaigns." In a very real sense, they ARE warfare. Wars of words, wars of money, wars of personalities, wars of information, wars of access. You bet it's warfare.

Campaigns are absolutely warfare, just not conducted with guns. At least, not yet.

The balance of the interview addressed the role of Russians and hostile foreign actors using Facebook and other social media to influence voters. That is certainly a serious issue, but I see the most dire threat the one where Silicon Valley, the inventors and controllers of these massive platforms, chooses to "embed" themselves inside political campaigns without disclosure, accountability, or even the appearance of social responsibility.

Facebook is redefining reality for people, through how they curate news feeds and information streams. They are actively developing and integrating virtual reality into their business model. What happens when virtual reality negatively impacts our actual reality? Will anyone be accountable?

As a society, we need to decide where the boundaries of the commons are. What is corporate and what is not? What is properly used in a campaign and what isn't? Are "embeds" an in-kind contribution? Should they be disclosed? Should we simply accept them as the cost of signing onto Facebook without paying a fee?

It is time for us to wrestle seriously with these questions, Kara Swisher. Laughing them off is no longer an option.

Can you help us out?

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