Andrew Bosworth Urges Facebook Co-Workers to Avoid Temptations of Influencing Election

A leaked memo shares his thoughts on Donald Trump, Russian interference and Cambridge Analytica

Facebook vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth found himself in the familiar position of defending something he wrote for internal consumption at the company that ended up being publicly leaked.

Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac of The New York Times obtained a copy of a memo Bosworth shared on his internal Facebook profile Dec. 30, in which he stated that while he does not want to see President Donald Trump win a second term, he also did not want to see Facebook do anything that could potentially manipulate the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Bosworth responded by publicly sharing his memo, Thoughts for 2020, and saying in his post introducing the memo: “It wasn’t written for public consumption, and I am worried about context collapse, so I wanted to share some important context for those who are curious.”

He added, “We have a culture at Facebook of sharing ideas and inviting discussion internally … Overall, I hoped this post would encourage my coworkers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform.”

Facebook had no further comment beyond Bosworth’s response. The Trump campaign had not responded to a request for comment at the time of this post.

Bosworth found himself in a similar situation in March 2018, when BuzzFeed News obtained and shared a memo he penned in June 2016, in which he stressed connecting people at all costs, writing in part, ““So we connect more people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

He led Facebook’s ads and business platform for five years, including the period during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, before shifting in August 2017 from vp of ads and business platform to vp of consumer hardware.

Bosworth referenced Lord of the Rings in the part of his memo drawing the most attention, writing, “As a committed liberal, I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So, what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment—specifically, when Frodo offers the ring to Galadriel and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

Other noteworthy parts of Thoughts for 2020 follow:

Russian interference

“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool, but it can’t buy you an American election.”

Bosworth stressed that while Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was real, advertising was not the weapon of choice.

He pointed to tactics such as “hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day.”

Bosworth said that while he does not expect foreign interference to play a major role in the upcoming election, “It is certainly true that we should have been more mindful of the role both paid and organic content played in democracy and been more protective of it.”

Cambridge Analytica

Bosworth dismissed Cambridge Analytica as “a total non-event,” and he even praised Brad Parscale, digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign and campaign manager for his re-election effort, for debunking Cambridge Analytica’s claims that it helped influence the 2016 results.

“They were snake oil salespeople,” he wrote. “The tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful. Every claim they have made about themselves is garbage.”

The 2016 Trump campaign

Bosworth said Facebook was responsible for Trump’s victory, but not for the reasons everyone believes.

He called the campaign’s efforts on the social network, “the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser, period,” adding, “Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce and fresh creative remains the high-water mark of digital ad campaigns, in my opinion.”

Bosworth concluded his memo with: “To bring this uncharacteristically long and winding essay full circle, I wanted to start a discussion about what lessons people are taking away from the press coverage. My takeaway is that we were late on data security, misinformation and foreign interference. We need to get ahead of polarization and algorithmic transparency. What are the other big topics people are seeing, and where are we on those?” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.