Facebook has recently been the subject of a British parliamentary inquiry. More specifically, Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been looking into the American company. Indeed the inquiry's chairman - Damian Collins (a pro-Remain Conservative MP) - even threatened Mark Zuckerberg with a formal summons to appear in person. Damian Collins MP did admit that Zuckerberg doesn't come under UK jurisdiction. Nonetheless, Collins also said that “he will do so the next time he enters the country”.
In terms of detail, a Canadian firm called Aggregate IQ is said to have spent money targeting the Leave vote in June 2016 – some two years ago.
So Facebook allowed pro-Brexit adverts... And? It's a private company. It isn't breaking any law in doing so.
Despite saying that, what's happened here is that various pro-European Union politicians (who had - and still have - a problem with the politics of these Facebook advertisements) have found another angle on the issue. That angle is the “illegal harvesting of data”. That is, it's not the pro-Brexit advertising on Facebook itself that's meant to be illegal – it's the “harvesting” of personal data. And that data was then said to have been used to advance the Brexit campaign.
All this, of course, discounts the tremendous amount of pro-Remain (actually, pro-European Union) advertising and propaganda on Facebook and elsewhere. In other words, even if pro-Brexit groups have advertised on Facebook, that doesn't automatically mean that Remain groups haven't done exactly the same thing. They have. Not only that: there are many Remain groups and even more Remainers on Facebook doing daily pro-EU propaganda work. Indeed some Remainers seem to be on Facebook all the time; and they are there specifically to put the European Union cause. That is, many of them never seem to post or comment on any other subject.
So has there been any data harvesting which has also helped the Remain campaign?
A History of Data Harvesting
The fact is that many websites and companies harvest data and personal information. This basically means that the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica stories only became news because politicians and activists had a political (not a legal) problem with data harvesting.
Data harvesting isn't new.
The Obama election campaign of 2012 used the data of up to 190 million Facebook users.
For example, one of the apps used by pro-Obama companies and activists could “grab information about  friends: their birth dates, locations, and 'likes'”. In this particular case, up to 190 million people had their Facebook data processed by activists and companies involved in the Obama campaign. And no one had any knowledge of this or gave their consent. Indeed this political technique was classed as a "game-changer" by Democrats.
Facebook facilitated all this. Or as one Obama campaign director (a Carol Davidsen) put it:
"Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn't stop us once they realized that was what we were doing."
So many of the people who're against data harvesting today were in favour of it during the 2012 Obama campaign. Indeed Democrats and Obama supporters said that the methods used at that time were “ground-breaking” and “innovative”. The New York Times, for example, eulogised in the following manner:
“Just like Kennedy brought in the television presidency, I think we’re about to see the first wired, connected, networked presidency.”
Many other political groups have also harvested data.
Take the Scottish National Party (SNP).
In terms of detail, the SNP has been “compiling a database of every voter in Scotland for over seven years”. And here's an interesting Facebook connection. The computer software the SNP used (i.e., NationBuilder) was co-founded by Facebook's own co-founder (along with Mark Zuckerberg): the Democrat and “social activist”, Joe Green.
Facebook is a Private Company
Facebook is a private company. So it can basically do want it wants as long as it doesn't break the law. Then again, that's the question: Has Facebook broken the law when it comes to the harvesting of data?
It's also the case that because Facebook is a private company, then it's free to have - or display - a political bias. In theory, Facebook could simply be a mouthpiece for International/National Socialism and there would still be nothing we could do about it … except, that is, stop using its services.
Indeed it's somewhat ironic that some of the fiercest critics of Facebook are also the people who use it much of the time.
So Facebook (as a company or - as it were - “editorially”) takes political positions. Everyone knows that.
Take just two examples.
Literally thousands – over the years - of Facebook users have been banned, blocked or suspended for criticising – in any shape or form – Islam. These people haven't been banned or suspended for “abuse” or for being “racist”. However, it's of course the case that the very criticism of Islam or Muslims (as Muslims) is indeed regarded as “racist” by many leftwingers.
Countless right-wing groups have also had their pages “removed” from Facebook. I too deemed some of those pages to be objectionable, crude and/or extreme. However, does that mean that they should have been removed?
Perhaps one day people may have such a political problem with Facebook that they simply stop using it. In fact many people have already given up on Facebook because of its “liberal Left” political bias and huge use of censorship (i.e., bannings, blockings, suspensions, “erasing content”, etc.).
On the other hand, many people find Facebook useful. And they do so for many reasons. Indeed even in terms of political debate and, yes, propaganda, Facebook can be useful.
So, in the end, Facebook is a game of pros and cons.
As ever with the Remain campaign, there seems to be an implicit (sometimes explicit) reliance on the Marxist notion of “false consciousness”. Of course I don't mean that Remainers are actual Marxists or even that they've even heard of the Marxist term “false consciousness”. (That's why philosophers make a distinction between concepts and the words which express those concepts.) However, just as Noam Chomsky believes that the real reason why hundreds of millions of people aren't Chomskyites (or Radical Socialists) is because they've all been “brainwashed by the mainstream media”; so Remainers have heavily relied on the theory that over 17 million Brexiteers were totally unaware that they were being lied to during the Brexit campaign. That is, they believe that these 17 million Brexiteers were more susceptible to lies than they were! And again (as with Chomsky), Remainers deem this to be the case largely because of the platonic/Chomskyite Mainstream Media.
…. And now we have yet another “data scandal”. Yes, Remainers have found another conspiracy theory to explain why it was that people dared to disagree with them.
The same false consciousnesses tune was also sung about Cambridge Analytica and its ability to hoodwink literally millions of gullible people (i.e., Brexiteers).
It's strange that Cambridge Analytica has been accused of “influencing the Leave vote” because that just-quoted phrase has been used very many times about the very many different things which have.... influenced the Leave vote. Isn't that pretty damn obvious? It's also a very vague accusation. (The just-linked article has it that “deindustrialisation” influenced the Leave vote.)
Of course all this doesn't mean that the harvesting of data isn't illegal (that's if if it is illegal) or stop it from being morally/politically objectionable to do so. Nonetheless, it's still the case that Remainers and pro-European Union politicians were really against Cambridge Analytica influencing the Leave vote, not against any ostensible illegality.
And this conspiracy theory also depends on the huge assumption that millions of gullible Brexiteers only ever had access to pro-Brexit comments, data and propaganda. That's obviously false when it comes to the vast majority of Brexiteers. Of course, as psychologists tell us, people often do gravitate towards political views which simply back up what they already believe. (It's called “confirmation bias”.) That's true. However, exactly the same is true of Remainers!... Unless, that is, each and every Remainer is morally and intellectually superior to all Brexiteers. Well, that's certainly something which many Remainers believe.
To repeat. This storm in a teacup doesn't mean that Remainers haven't used advertising campaigns. Of course they have. And it doesn't mean that each and every Remainer only relies on pure debate, fact and analysis. Of course it doesn't. In the end, then, most Remainers are only against data harvesting and advertising that's pro-Brexit. They're not against the data harvesting and advertising that's pro-Remain. Now, isn't that a surprise?