Merrill: Facebook offered ‘no support’ at time of 2017 special election ‘secret experiment’
Earlier this week, a New York Times report detailed a so-called “secret experiment” conducted by “Democratic tech experts” that was carried out on social media to interfere with the 2017 U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.
In an interview with WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” on Friday, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill discussed the report and how this “experiment” and others like it fell under the purview of his office.
Merrill indicated his office was aware of this long before The New York Times story and said early on Twitter was responsive to his concerns during the 2017 contest. However, he said dealing with Facebook was a different matter.
“One of the things that we did is we made sure that it was part of our responsibility because it is influencing elections,” Merrill said. “And we wanted to make sure we were investigating it as thoroughly as we possibly could to ensure that anybody that was participating was following the law and that they were also doing so as far as promotion of their candidate in a way that would not be breaking the law or attempting to influence it in a negative way.”
“We have to remember this took place well more than a year ago,” he added. “And well more than a year ago is when we brought it to the attention of people at Facebook and Twitter when it was going on. And we told them then we needed some help, and we needed some assistance. We wanted to resolve the issue then. Twitter was very receptive, and they helped us. Facebook, not so much. As a matter of fact, Facebook was of little or no value to us in that process.”
The secretary of state went on to explain how he confronted Facebook representatives at a conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this year about the alleged interference.
“I went to a meeting in Washington in February of last year, and they were making a presentation to the conference I was attending talking about how they had been helpful to us specifically in the 2017 general election for the U.S. Senate,” he added. “And I listened to it for a little bit.”
He continued, “Then I got up, and I said, ‘Friends, look I don’t mean to be disingenuous, and I certainly don’t mean to be calling you out here in front of all these folks. But you tell me what you did to help, and we’ll both know. We can’t find any evidence of any support you gave us. And yet, we have issued in repeated attempts to Facebook to encourage you to look into this and to give us some support, which you have declined to do. And the bigger problem with this is on December 12, 2017, we were the only game in town. There was not another national election going on and the entire national media had a presence here for the last five weeks of the campaign. The fact that you had all the resources available to you, you had no other distractions to keep you from helping us, and yet you offered no support. It was not a benefit to us, the people of the state of Alabama or the nation as a whole.’”
Merrill said following that interaction, he flew to Washington, D.C. and met with members of Facebook’s government affairs arm and talked with them about how they could have helped.