Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads
SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.
The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.
Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.
Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.
The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.
By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.
In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.
“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”
Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.
Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.
The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.
“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”
Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.
“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.
Ms. Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.
The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Trump’s campaign that attacked Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s record on Ukraine.
“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Mr. Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”
But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.
On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit microtargeting, but still thought the policy fell short.
“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.
Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.
“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fund-raising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a nonprofit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.
Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Mr. Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.
Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.
“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 to the Biden campaign.
In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Ms. Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the re-election of Mr. Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.
Criticism seemed to stiffen Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.
In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.
“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.
Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.
Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Mr. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.
Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.
There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Mr. Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.
On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.
For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.
“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Mr. Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”
Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Cecilia Kang from Washington. Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from New York.
Indictment of Donald Trump unsealed – CNN
‘Jaw-dropping’: Reporter reacts to detail from unsealed indictment of Trump
The federal indictment of former President Donald Trump and an associate, Walt Nauta, in the classified documents probe has been unsealed. Trump faces the charges in the special counsel’s classified documents probe, marking the first time a former president has faced federal charges. CNN’s Paula Reid and Laura Coates break down some of the details.
John King delivers heartfelt signoff from 'Inside Politics' – CNN
John King delivers heartfelt signoff from ‘Inside Politics’
CNN’s Chief National Correspondent John King delivers a heartfelt signoff as anchor of “Inside Politics” and will take on a new role at CNN. Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash will take over as anchor of the esteemed program.
British politics is littered with fake taboos
“We’re in one hell of a mess,” declared Chris Patten, a former Conservative minister and establishment grandee, ruing the state of the nation. Inflation, slow economic growth and cack-handed monetary policy had condemned the country, he declared on “Question Time”, a current-affairs show. “It’s also, and this is a word one isn’t supposed to use any more, it’s also because of Brexit.” The Leicester audience nodded. Finally, someone had said it. The great Brexit taboo had been broken!
If discussing the downsides of Brexit is taboo, people have been falling foul of it for years. Leaving the eu has dominated political discourse for approaching a decade. Economists and analysts have pored over its economic effects, filling newspapers, television and social media. Commentators wail about it daily. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, boasted of fixing the myriad problems Brexit caused for Northern Ireland. Labour has promised to darn the obvious holes in Britain’s relationship with the eu. For a word that folk are no longer supposed to use, it is used a lot.
British politics is littered with fake taboos: topics that are supposedly unmentionable, yet discussed incessantly. From reforming the National Health Service (nhs) to cutting immigration and Brexit, politicians and voters engage in the fiction that some topics are verboten. It is a useful tool. Ideas that are unpopular can be laundered as forbidden. Impractical schemes can be painted as merely transgressive rather than foolish. Pretend taboos cover a host of failings. If there is a taboo in British politics, it is admitting that most political taboos do not exist.
Pretending that they do has lots of upsides. A fake taboo can mask hard questions. An immaculate return to the eu, as offered by a polling question, would indeed be popular. About half of voters would support it, while a third would oppose it. But it is also impossible. The same problems that encouraged people to leave, such as free movement and the fundamental question of sovereignty, would emerge on re-entry. Would British voters still support rejoining if it meant Schengen or the euro? Crying taboo is far easier than grappling with reality.
Leaving the eu is only the latest fake taboo. Ever since Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968 predicting racial strife, immigration has been supposedly off limits. Yet Britain has, somehow, managed to argue about it for 50-odd years. When statisticians revealed record net inward migration of 606,000 in 2022, those on the right insisted cutting immigration was beyond the political pale. This is backward. Cutting immigration is the stuff of political consensus: both main parties say it is too high, as do most voters. If governments are supposed to do what they say they will do, then immigration policy has been a failure. Conjuring a taboo is preferable to facing that.
This is a common tactic. Consider the poor performance of white working-class boys in schools. “Why has it become such a taboo subject to speak out on behalf of the under-privileged?” wondered Ben Bradley, a backbench Conservative mp, on the topic. But sharpening up white working-class boys has been a goal of every government for a quarter of a century. In 1996 Chris Woodhead, the chief school inspector, labelled it the “most disturbing” problem in education. In the David Cameron years, mps discussed extending the school day to boost their performance. Throughout it all, white working-class boys have stayed near the bottom of the class. Every government has targeted them. Every one has failed.
Sometimes a pseudo-taboo is an excuse for inertia. Any criticism of the nhs is a no-no, say some politicians. If it is a religion, as the cliché goes, then blasphemy is on the rise. The nhs has become the butt of jokes. TikTok is filled with spoof videos about grumpy receptionists telling the unwell to get lost. More Britons are dissatisfied with the nhs than at any point on record.
Reforming the nhs, which is free at the point of use, is, apparently, another taboo. Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent years fighting over what now seem to be arcane debates about nhs structures; Mr Cameron pledged no top-down restructuring of the nhs, then noticed that his health secretary had, in fact, done a top-down restructuring of the nhs. A wholesale shift to a European-style insurance model is not taboo. It would merely be expensive, difficult and unpopular. Better to pretend something is forbidden rather than tricky or hated.
Breaking supposed taboos is cheaper than fixing the problems they shroud. Politicians speak regularly about the need to “reduce the stigma” surrounding mental health. In an interview Mr Sunak revealed that his mental disposition was improved by the family dog. At the same time, Sir Mark Rowley, head of the Metropolitan Police, said the force would no longer respond to mental-health call-outs, in a change that is part husbanding of resources and part accelerationism. Ensuring that the police and hospitals are able to cope with psychosis is expensive. Reducing the stigma is free.
So controversial, so brave
Building an imaginary taboo and then smashing it has long been a tactic of the populist fringe. “But you can’t say that!” is a line from the How To Speak Populist phrasebook. But now it is used by all wings of politics. Once influential populist parties such as the uk Independence Party may have all but died. Those politicians who played up to it, most notably Boris Johnson, have been booted out. Yet the style of politics they espoused—of enlightened voters speaking truth against the wishes of a complacent elite—lives on.
And no wonder. Transgression is enjoyable for a life-long insider, such as Lord Patten. Establishment figures can paint themselves as revolutionaries, daring to speak truth to power. Even the tamest of events, such as attending a pro-eu rally, enjoy an added frisson if an idea is, supposedly, forbidden. Middle-of-the-road ideas —“Brexit is not going well, is it?”—can be laundered as thrillingly transgressive. Why let populists have all the fun? ■
Read more from Bagehot, our columnist on British politics:
Britain’s new political sorcerer: the Reform Fairy (May 31st)
British voters want more immigrants but less immigration (May 25th)
Truss Tour: 2023 (May 17th)
Also: How the Bagehot column got its name
Canada lost 17,000 jobs in May — mostly among young people – CBC News
How to Grow Your Business With Social Media – Entrepreneur
Mark Zuckerberg has thoughts on Apple’s new mixed reality headset – CNN
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
Search for life on Mars accelerates as new bodies of water found below planet’s surface
Business22 hours ago
Canadian Pacific guilty of contempt of court for excessively long work shifts – CBC.ca
News22 hours ago
Government partners with Rainbow Railroad agency to seek out LGBTQ refugees
News22 hours ago
Wildfire triggers evacuation order for Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
News22 hours ago
Budget bill passes House, despite Poilievre pushback – CTV News
News23 hours ago
Thunder Bay homeowner 'terrified' in close call with dynamite buried in backyard – CBC.ca
Business13 hours ago
Crypto is ‘radioactive waste’ for institutional investors until things get resolved, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary says
News20 hours ago
'He was a character,' Canada's Bret 'Hitman' Hart remembers the late Iron Sheik – CTV News
Sports14 hours ago
Messi's Miami move part of trend of elite soccer greats coming to America – CBC.ca