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Facebook’s decision to let politicians run ads that contain disinformation isn’t going well, and there are multiple developments to keep track of.
Here’s what happened this week:
- Hundreds of Facebook employees have signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg decrying the ads policy, insisting that “free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.” and offering a proposal for improvement that’s both comprehensive and reasonable. There are rumors that a compromise, as a response to the letter and shareholder concerns, will be announced soon but as of publication time, nothing is confirmed.
- Activist Adriel Hampton filed to run for Governor of California so that he could run ads with disinformation as an act of protest. Facebook, which has continually refused to define who is and isn’t a politician under their policy, determined that Hampton isn’t one.
- Meanwhile at least three supporters of QAnon are running for Congress in 2020. At this point, I doubt any of them have the budget to buy Facebook ads but eventually one of them will and Facebook will have to determine if candidates who follow QAnon are allowed to run ads that spread the conspiracy theory and the disinformation that goes along with it.
- Twitter will no longer run political ads from candidates or issue groups. CEO Jack Dorsey announced this in a surprisingly nuanced Twitter thread this week that I highly recommend reading. Dorsey takes a potshot at Facebook, but he also points out (as did the Facebook employees who signed the open letter) that free expression and paid reach aren’t the same thing.
- Some of the Democratic campaigns are unhappy and alarmed that Facebook announced it had taken down disinformation operations targeting Democratic candidates but didn’t bother reaching out to alert the targeted candidates or the Democratic National Committee.
I continue to be stunned that this is the hill Mark Zuckerberg wants to die on. Fact-checking advertisements is pretty basic stuff, and there’s a ton of precedent with every pre-digital form of media. I think part of the reason this continues to make news for Facebook is that most Americans assume that politicians and corporations aren’t allowed to run ads that aren’t true and that there are laws in place to prevent this from happening. I get that we need new election laws and regulations for digital media, but truth in advertising as a concept shouldn’t even be up for debate. And yet here we are!
As for my own thoughts, I wrote an op-ed for Buzzfeed outlining why I think Twitter’s political ad strategy is the right move this election cycle, given the lack of any government oversight and why Facebook should do the same.