Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election — or so some Democrats thought, after the social media company expanded the freedom to advertise on their site.
Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, D‑Mass., is running advertisements on Facebook with this false claim to call out the platform’s new policy of expanding what politicians can run in their political ads. Warren is wrong to mock the policy because it protects free speech and puts power in the hands of voters.
The policy requires an ad creator to complete an authorization process, including uploading a government I.D. The ads aren’t checked for accuracy, and as long as they don’t violate the rules, can stay up — regardless of whether what was said in the ad was true or not.
Zuckerberg received criticism from just about everyone. EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the policy puts “democracy at risk.” Democratic hopefuls are worried about Russia exploiting the social media site to bolster Trump. Even 250 of Facebook’s own employees wrote an open letter, which said: “It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform.”
These sentiments are wrong and dangerous.
It’s easy to say Facebook should ban misinformation, but the implementation of such a policy isn’t so simple. With 7 million advertisers on the platform and 293,000 status updates every minute, information moves faster than any fact-checker could keep up with.
Aside from the sheer amount of content to work through, how could Facebook workers in Silicon Valley determine the accuracy of an ad about a school board candidate in a rural school district in Ohio?
Zuckerberg recently spoke at Georgetown University about his company’s decision and its impact on free speech.
“I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true,” Zuckerberg said.
He’s absolutely right. If a Catholic organization runs an ad saying a state senator supports ‘killing babies,’ but a Facebook employee decides that it’s a clump of cells, will it be taken down?
Even the CEO recognizes this is too much power for his organization. It’s impossible to execute and will inevitably end up favoring left-leaning advertisers.
An analysis by GovPredict showed that from 2004 to 2018, Facebook employees have made “87% of their political contributions to Democrats and progressive causes.”
Conservatives complain constantly about being discriminated against by Big Tech. Letting it verify and proofread ads is asking for the problem to expand exponentially.
Twitter provided an alternative to the complexities of checking for accuracy last month, when the site altogether banned political advertising on its platform.
This may seem like the ideal compromise, but it spells disaster for democracy.
Zuckerberg pointed out that banning political ads discriminates against local candidates and favors those who have name recognition and receive the most media coverage. It’s easy for famous U.S. senators to survive without ads, but that’s not the case for local candidates.
I’ve volunteered on many school board and township board campaigns. Getting the word out is difficult in these elections, and Facebook is vital to reach the community. Simply running a page for a candidate and posting on it doesn’t get a substantial reach. Advertising is crucial in small elections, where most of the voting population doesn’t know who’s running.
Media coverage is abysmal in local elections. On a bigger scale, there’s no question the Democratic Party will receive favorable coverage, while the other side is left with few ways to advertise their views in return.
Additionally, the question of what even constitutes a political ad will inevitably arise. If seemingly controversial ads on abortion or climate change can stay up while politicians’ ads can be taken down, politicians would have less of a voice than everybody else.
The best solution is exactly what Facebook is already doing: allowing uncensored advertising.
This not only helps those running, but it gives power to the populous. If a candidate is willing to blatantly lie to the community, voters ought to know that and make their judgment accordingly. Facebook archives all political advertisements so they can be scrutinized for years to come, which allows voters to know the records and honesty of those running for political office.
Zuckerberg should stand strong in the defense of his company’s policy. Policing ads would be extremely difficult to administer and will further alienate conservatives. Banning ads will cripple local elections and create great confusion about what ideas can be discussed. Allowing all political ads makes voters more informed and gives them the ability to cast an informed decision on election day.
Ben Wilson is a sophomore studying politics and is a reporter for The Collegian.