October 31, 2019

Facebook’s Political Ad Policy

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

On Monday, The New York Times reported that “Hundreds of Facebook employees recently signed a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and other leaders of the social network, decrying the company’s decision to let politicians post any claims they wanted — even false ones — in ads on the site.” New York Times

On Tuesday, two Facebook executives countered, “In our view, the only thing worse than Facebook not making these calls is for Facebook to make these calls. Our approach is consistent with companies like YouTube and Twitter. And broadcasters are required by federal law not to censor candidate ads. In fact, the ad that touched off this debate ran nearly 1,000 times on local TV stations in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. So if people have a problem with Facebook’s policy, they have a problem with the way political speech is protected in this country.” Katie Harbath and Nell McCarthy, USA Today

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that it would “stop all political advertising on Twitter globally.” Twitter

See past issues

From the Left

The left disagrees with Facebook’s policy, arguing that it should delete false ads, or better yet, follow Twitter’s decision.

“In 2011, political scientist Jennifer Lawless estimated that there are more than 500,000 elected officials in the United States, from Congress to county sheriffs to local water boards. Add in the candidates who run against them in both general elections and primaries, and there could easily be over a million Facebook users now entrusted with a special ability to spread lies.”
Pema Levy, Mother Jones

“The issue is not whether government should tell Facebook what to do. It is, rather, whether Facebook should act reasonably and responsibly on its own to avoid being in the garbage distribution business. The American people, for their part, will surely not want the dominant social media company serving as a megaphone for peddling lies, wacko conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation. To be clear, this debate isn't about whether Facebook needs to check on the accuracy of everything that its millions of users post. Rather, it is whether it should place some minimal standards on the accuracy of paid advertisements…

“It’s easy to see why Facebook would rather not try to police political discourse. Doing so can be controversial. It requires human judgment, not just algorithms. It is costly to be responsible. Rather than shelling out the money, Facebook tries to convince us that there is virtue in its irresponsibility.”
Editorial Board, USA Today

“Some Facebook supporters have argued it is too hard to say what is true and what is false. That Facebook’s advertising rules should allow politicians to promote whatever they want. Setting aside the chilling implications of the death of truth, it must be made clear that Facebook does make such judgments in every other context with every other advertiser. A startup cannot claim the miracle cream it is selling cures Ebola. A nonprofit raising money cannot claim donations will guarantee children will become NBA All-Stars, or that they will be freed of debt for life. MSNBC cannot claim its new host, Sean Hannity, will be appearing nightly in the 10 o’clock hour…

“Very little of this is easy. Every policy decision will have consequences and unpredictable behaviors attached to it. If a company restricts one form of advertising, content will find its way through another channel. But that should never be an excuse to throw out the truth. Advertising and consumer protection bureaus have long held norms against publishing unsubstantiated claims.”
Jeff Berman and Raina Kumra, Slate

“Over the weekend, the company took down an ad that falsely claimed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) supports the Green New Deal. A left-leaning political action committee, the Really Online Lefty League, had posted the ad, and Facebook said it took the action because the ad came from a political action group, not a politician, and therefore different rules applied. So the group found a workaround: One of the PAC members, Adriel Hampton, filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for California governor. Now a politician, as the logic of Facebook’s policies would go, he can run as many political ads as he wants. Except apparently not. Facebook on Tuesday evening said it was nixing Hampton’s workaround…

“Hampton’s fight with the platform is highlighting the real issue here: that the company’s decision-making and policy defenses when it comes to free speech on its platform can often seem arbitrary. Its policy says a politician is exempt from third-party fact-checking, and you’re technically a political candidate if you’re registered as one with the FEC. But in this case, Facebook is making an exemption and a judgment about intentions. Facebook’s hard-and-fast rule on political speech doesn’t seem so hard-and-fast, considering it’s already making exceptions to it.”
Emily Stewart, Vox

Regarding Twitter’s policy change, “In effect, [Jack Dorsey] made a dare to the whole internet power structure, especially to Facebook, which is the platform that matters most when it comes to politics because of the effectiveness of its ad targeting and its size… And now we have the big question: In this game of internet chicken, will Mr. Zuckerberg eventually flinch, as he did with Mr. Jones, whom he allowed on his platform until he didn’t?...

“[This] is yet another example — like last year’s widespread deplatforming of the conspiracy troll Alex Jones — of social media not only starting to clean itself up but also beginning to understand the major responsibility it has to the well-being of society at large, well beyond just making money… The social media platforms have become hostage to all forms of abuse and manipulation, not just via political ads, and they’ve dragged us all with them into the cesspool. The growth-at-all-costs mentality of Silicon Valley, as it turns out, has costs.”
Kara Swisher, New York Times

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Some suggest that Congress “remove Trump from office, so that he cannot abuse incumbency to subvert the electoral process, but let the American people make the judgment on whether or not he gets a second term… Removing Trump from office for the remainder of his term would disable him from abusing presidential power again and protect the integrity of the electoral process from inappropriate interference. At the same time, letting him run for a second term would permit the American electorate to decide whether Trump, despite his attempt to subvert the system, should have another chance… Decoupling removal from disqualification lowers the stakes and changes the constitutional calculus. As long as Trump can run again, Republicans cannot hide behind a claim that they are [the] ones protecting voter choice by opposing impeachment.”
Edward B. Foley, Politico

From the Right

The right supports Facebook’s policy, arguing that it is consistent with how political speech has been treated throughout US history.

From the Right

The right supports Facebook’s policy, arguing that it is consistent with how political speech has been treated throughout US history.

“Facebook is a medium for advertising, not a generator of it. If this was a case of Facebookcreating and then running its own misleading advertising or news articles, then the criticisms might have merit, but in this case Facebook is acting pretty much as most media outlets do in handling advertising. They let voters assess credibility rather than attempt to regulate and censor political messaging.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“Journalists are offering sophisticated-sounding arguments for why political speech should be controlled by tech companies. One popular argument is that Facebook’s algorithm rewards appeals to emotion so legitimate debate can’t take place. Yet political advocacy in the U.S. has always included emotional appeals… Politicians have been lying about one another for hundreds of years, and dragging Facebook into the election circus will damage the company’s credibility in the eyes of millions and undermine faith in the electoral process… Others resent the way the platform has upended news delivery in a way that takes power from the press… It’s an unfortunate conceit of some in the media that they ought to have a monopoly on free expression to the exclusion of ordinary people and their elected representatives.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“In the campaign of 1800, John Adams’s supporters attacked Thomas Jefferson as ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.’ The Jefferson campaign referred to John Adams as ‘a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.’ This nation has a robust history of nasty political campaigns. A private corporation should not be the hall monitor or the teacher on the playground breaking up the fights. Users on Facebook have appropriate tools to block their precious eyes from seeing content they don’t want to see. Politicians should not demand Facebook protect us all from those very politicians’ campaigns.”
Erick Erickson, The Resurgent

“Some of the people complaining about Facebook’s treatment of political ads work for networks such as ABC, NBC, and CBS, which often run political ads that can be considered false or misleading. Of course, they don’t really have a choice: The FCC has interpreted the Federal Communications Act to mean that stations cannot generally reject political ads because they believe them to be false… So why the outrage over Facebook’s applying the same standards that those television networks do?…

“It is worth noting that those attempting to cajole Facebook to censor political speech do not want these same standards applied to themselves. After all, Ocasio-Cortez is the same congresswoman who, when confronted with several examples of her false statements, famously asserted that being ‘morally right’ was more important than being ‘factually accurate.’ Mainstream-media fact-checkers have noted her falsehoods on numerous occasions. Yet, when it comes to these claims, there’s been silence among the members of the media outraged over Facebook’s current approach… One could be forgiven for thinking that all they really want to do is silence their political opponents.”
A.G. Hamilton, National Review

“The demand that content-hosting companies be required to remove ‘untruths’ from their platforms is superficially appealing… The problem is that we know what the definition of ‘truth’ is for the Facebook critics. It’s the same increasingly narrow view that prevails on university campuses and in much of the media—and inside many Silicon Valley and other companies. There support for the truth means full-throated subscription to the prevailing liberal orthodoxy on everything from immigration to gender, sexuality, abortion, race and the full canon of modern social, political and cultural verities. The right to be wrong is a crucial element of free speech—even the right to be willfully wrong… History has shown us repeatedly that the best way to counter noxious error is to drown it with truths, not to strangle it with censorship.”
Gerard Baker, Wall Street Journal

“The risk that power will be misused is also why Warren and Biden are wrong to ask Facebook to adjudicate politicians’ claims. The truth or falsity of those claims is very often disputed. Consider the track record of fact-checkers. The Post’s recently slammed Senator Bernie Sanders for exaggerating the number of bankruptcies that are caused by medical bills. (I also think Sanders is wrong.) Would our political debate really be improved, though, if Facebook refused to broadcast Sanders’ argument or slapped a ‘false’ rating on it? I doubt it: A Facebook that took such action would be likely to squelch too much true and valuable speech.”
Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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