Craigslist Founder Invests $5M In Former Facebook Exec’s Security Project

A $5 million gift from Craiglist’s Craig Newmark Philanthropies will support a new program, led by former Facebook security expert Alex Stamos.

The project will battle online abuses and misuses on the platform such as disinformation and election interference, Reuters reported on Friday (July 26).

“The ability to do academic research on what’s happening online has never been worse,” Stamos told the Guardian. 

Stamos led Facebook’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and now runs Stanford University’s “Observatory,” a new internet research arm.

The funds from Newmark will help fund new training and central resources for researchers, including machine learning and analysis tools.

“What we’re doing is rebuilding the arsenal of democracy,” Newmark, who founded classifieds site Craigslist, told Reuters.

Part of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, the Observatory is a cross-disciplinary initiative comprised of research, teaching and policy engagement addressing the abuse of today’s information technologies, with a particular focus on social media. This includes the spread of disinformation, cybersecurity breaches and terrorist propaganda.

Stamos, who left Facebook last August, called the power given to social media companies to police election issues “insane.”

“You’ve got the Facebooks and the Googles deciding what is effectively election law globally,” he said to Reuters. “But it’s because governments aren’t stepping up.”

The Observatory is currently negotiating with companies such as Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter for access to user data, a statement from the Observatory said.

The cybersecurity expert stepped down from Facebook last year following an internal dispute over Facebook’s role in spreading disinformation. That led to Stamos’s joining Stanford University as an adjunct professor. He wants a better system to share key intelligence with law enforcement, as well as a law that sets standards for political ads. 

An internal dispute over Facebook’s role in spreading disinformation led to Stamos’s departure. According to sources, Stamos wanted to be more upfront with the public about Russian interference but was met with resistance by colleagues. Facebook’s policy team thought the company should be more cautious with what it disclosed, setting up a battle between the two arms of the company.