Russians Should Prepare to Live Without Facebook

Russia will inevitably interfere with the upcoming US presidential election. Or at least one of the most influential people in the global high-tech industry, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, believes this. Why is he making such radical statements – and what consequences can ordinary Facebook users in Russia expect?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and permanent head of Facebook’s social network, announced imminent interference by Russia, China, and Iran in the 2020 US presidential election.

“We do see today Russia and Iran and China increasingly with more sophisticated tactics are trying to interfere in elections,” Zuckerberg said. “But part of why I’m confident going into 2020 is that we’ve played a role in defending against interference in every major election around the world since 2016, in France, in Germany, in the E.U. overall, in India, in Mexico, in Brazil,” said the billionaire.

Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen gave an example of Facebook fighting the three-headed Russian-Iranian-Chinese hydra: “Over the last three years, we’ve worked to identify new and emerging threats and remove coordinated inauthentic behavior across our apps. In the past year alone, we’ve taken down over 50 networks worldwide, many ahead of major democratic elections. As part of our effort to counter foreign influence campaigns, this morning we removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. Three of them originated in Iran and one in Russia,” he wrote Monday night.

Rosen did not specify which group of Russian accounts he meant. But coincidentally, last week the group “Russia Beyond”, which posted about traditional Russian food, was removed, and just on Monday there was a ban on the distribution on Facebook of the news feed of the English-language version of the site Orthodo.Ru – How Russian cooking and an Orthodox website threaten American elections is difficult to imagine.

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“We took down these networks based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” explained the representative of the company.

Mariya Zakharova and Margarita Simonyan harmoniously criticised these unsubstantiated accusations made by Facebook as a whole and Zuckerberg personally, but it is necessary to honestly and objectively recognise one simple thing. Neither the Russian Foreign Ministry nor, much less, RT and MIA “Rossiya Segodnya” have any effective tools to influence Facebook or Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg, and in principle any Facebook employee responsible for combating “Russian interference”, can block the accounts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, RT, as well as Zakharova and Simonyan at any moment without explanation.

It is difficult to have a discussion on the territory of the opponent in conditions when the opponent can press a button at any moment and permanently shut your mouth. But that is what is being done to those who are trying to convey Russia’s position to Americans.

However, it is not worth blaming Zuckerberg too much for what is happening either. He’s the head of the corporation he invented and founded, but he doesn’t even have a controlling stake – he owns 24%. The Cambridge Analytica scandal cost Zuckerberg personally $8 billion because of the sharp decline in the company’s value. This means the rest of the shareholders have lost more than three times as much. Shareholders may not forgive another such fall, and Zuckerberg is too young to retire, but also not as young as Pavel Durov, who after his expulsion from “VKontakte” invented the no less successful Telegram.

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At the same time, accusations that Russia is interfering in elections through Facebook are as inevitable as the elections themselves. Zuckerberg, Rosen, and other top managers of the company are trying their best to insure themselves as much as possible: “Look, look, we find Russian (as well as Chinese and Iranian) trolls and preventatively destroy them!”

The problem is, it won’t help. The situation that Facebook’s leadership found itself in is best described by an old international anecdote. A young man who has received an inheritance comes to a rabbi and asks which bank he should put the money in. A bride also comes and asks how it is more correct to lie on the marriage bed.

“No matter how you lie down, you will still be f*cked,” answers the rabbi to the girl, and says to the young man: “This applied to you, young man, too”.

Whatever the Facebook administration does, they will still be accused of insufficiently combatting Russia. Perhaps Zuckerberg has only one option in which he will be able to state “I did everything I could”.

As you know, in both China and Iran Facebook is banned by the authorities. Foreigners and particularly curious Chinese and Iranians use social media through VPNs and anonymisers. So if Facebook puts locks on these countries for its part, nothing will change fundamentally for their citizens and the world.

In Russia, political freaks regularly demand to ban Facebook, but, of course, no one is serious about this hypothetical clowning. It turns out that Russia is the only country accused of interfering in US elections where Facebook is not blocked from the inside. And the only way for Zuckerberg to come to Congress and declare that he has done everything possible to prevent Russian influence in the election is to disable Facebook access for users from Russia.

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Technically, it is easy. It’s not much more difficult than blocking several Russian and Iranian groups.

American public opinion will take this, if not with delight, at least with understanding – well, intervene, they were warned, they don’t understand correctly, what can you do. And the fact that Russian citizens will continue to use social media through VPNs and anonymisers – well, Zuckerberg is not responsible for it.

Of course, in this case there will be some financial losses – in Russia Facebook earns money from advertising. But they will be an order of magnitude less than if any particularly fierce American Democrat offers to nationalise Facebook and is supported by a particularly fierce Republican. Or a multi-billion dollar fine. Or a criminal case personally against Zuckerberg – there are many options.

Proactive Facebook users regularly download their accounts to avoid losing information. It seems that the time has come to do this to all Russian fans of the American social network and prepare spare bridgeheads in “VKontakt”, Telegram, or even the old good “LiveJournal”.

It is likely that it will come in handy soon.

Anton Krylov

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