Writer: Yerin K.
Visual: Andi L.
Editor: Kay S.
Last week, Google announced its change in the political advertisements policy. They decided to extend the ban of political ad campaigns that contain fake news, to make sure that no politicians can weaponize their large platform to spread hoaxes that either attack an opposing party or give advantage to their own. (For example, Google would remove ads that falsely claim that a candidate had died or that gave the wrong date for an election.) Twitter was quick to follow with its own policy with similar reasons for preventing political parties from manipulating the public through media platforms. Surprisingly, after two of the biggest social media platforms consecutively introduced their new regulations, the third major public network, Facebook, presented their stance on this controversy and refused to fact check the political ads and instead declared that they will not involve themselves in any political conflicts.
Facebook’s concerns about changing the current policy center around two main issues: free speech and censorship. “We don’t fact-check political ads,” (Gilbert, Ben. “Facebook Refuses to Fact-Check Political Ads, and It’s Infuriating Employees and Lawmakers. Here’s Why the Issue Has Become Facebook’s Latest Major Controversy.”) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a wide-ranging speech at Georgetown University in mid-October. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if the content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards.” He summed up that limiting and censoring political speeches and ads would leave people less informed about what their elected officials are saying and it could cause the politicians to be less accountable for their words. He related this to free speech, as he stated, “ads can be an important part of voice — especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates.” Ultimately, Facebook claims that any political party should have a right to broadcast their advertisement in order to effectively get their message clear to the public, and to allow the public, in return, to get as much insight into the politicians and their declarations, whether they are honest and factual or not.
The critics were quick to retort by accusing the company of getting paid for certain advertisements. A group of Facebook employees personally sent Zuckerberg a letter to argue that “free speech and paid speech are not the same thing” and that “misinformation affects us all.”(Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “The Real Reason Facebook Won’t Fact-Check Political Ads.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2019) They took Zuckerberg’s reasoning for allowing politicians to publically spread their political messages around the world and countered that it actually allows them “to weaponize [the] platform” Kifleswing. (“Top Facebook Exec Who Left This Year Says Political Ads Should Be Fact-Checked.” CNBC, CNBC, 11 Nov. 2019) by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.
This series of events created a media war dividing two opposing sides. One viewpoint saying Facebook should take responsibility as an influential social media provider and fact check the false information on political ads, and the other that Facebook is nothing more than a public platform that gives people free permission to share anything they wish and that they don’t necessarily have a right to decide what is alignable or fraudulent, especially in vital topics like politics. I believe that since Facebook makes a substantial amount of money and earns as much usage, they should also be cautious of the content they decide to allow onto their platform. Just like Google and Twitter, Facebook as well should filter and fact check the political advertisements.
Both sides show reasonable cases, of either giving rights to the public to view what they wish, or to prevent politicians from manipulating the large platform of social media to bring advantage to their parties. Politics is a crucial part of this world and one false advertisement being shared could change someone’s viewpoint completely. Every advertisement that is being placed on a public space like Facebook should be thoroughly fact-checked.