Facebook is running a false ad about Joe Biden paid for by President Trump’s reelection campaign. The platform says it meets with its policies, and other media/tech companies are following suit.
- What are the implications for democracy if public opinion is manipulated at scale with false ads?
- CNN and other stations refuse to run false political ads. Why can’t Facebook and other social media platforms do the same?
- As a CEO of a social media company, what policy changes would you implement for advertising – political or otherwise? What is your business responsibility to a fair and honest democracy?
- A Facebook spokesperson explained that under the company’s policies, politicians are ineligible from its fact-checking program, a practice that’s not unique to Facebook.
- In July 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher that he didn’t believe the platform should take down content that denies the Holocaust happened, even though he finds it “deeply offensive.”
- Facebook noted that during the 2018 midterms, it rejected one of Trump’s ads for violating its “sensational content” policies.
- To dramatize the problems with Facebook’s policies, Elizabeth Warren placed an ad that falsely claimed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump. Facebook approved the ad but criticized Warren.
The Trump campaign released a 30-second video ad accusing the former vice president of promising Ukraine money for firing a prosecutor investigating a company with ties to Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — essentially, the false conspiracy at the center of the impeachment inquiry now faced by President Trump.
CNN declined to air the ad because there is no evidence for the claims made. But not Facebook. Facebook says, despite the ad’s false claims, it doesn’t violate any of their policies.
The Biden campaign asked Facebook to take the ad down and was refused. The New York Times obtained a letter from Facebook to Biden’s campaign responding to their request with the decision to keep the ad.
“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter.
The Trump campaign is also running a video ad on YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, which claims that Trump released a transcript of his call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The entire premise of the video is that since Trump has released the transcript, the impeachment inquiry is baseless. The ad also is false. Trump has not released a transcript of his call with the Ukranian president, but rather “notes and recollections” of National Security Council staff.
In political advertising, fake news is still news and money. As Recode’s Teddy Schleifer outlined, “Although platforms say they will enforce their rules against politicians if they must, they will continue to be far more permissive places for candidates than they are for regular posters — who they also continue to struggle to effectively moderate.”