The Truth Is No Longer Required
Last week criticism began mounting against Facebook over their decision to continue running political ads which are known to have inaccuracies and even outright lies in them. At issue is a :30 video ad the Trump campaign is running which accuses former Vice President Biden of promising Ukraine $1B in return for firing a prosecutor investigating a company with ties to his son, Hunter Biden. The ad has been widely panned as fiction, and several TV networks have refused to run it. However FB, along with YouTube and Twitter, continue to let the ad run.
Facebook is defending their decision on the principle of free expression. In a public statement Katie Harbarth, FB’s head of global election policy, stated “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.”
Granted it’s almost impossible for media outlets to accurately assess the validity of claims in all the ads they run, and it’s especially hard to do in the political arena. But to make an absolute decision to run any ad, regardless of how ridiculous the claim, seems a little misguided. For an extreme example consider the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory from 2016, in which Hillary Clinton was accused of running a pedophilia ring out of a DC pizza restaurant. Digital ads ran promoting the theory, which resulted in the owner and staff of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant receiving real death threats.
My point . . . while freedom of expression is a noble cause, there have to be some common sense limits to what campaigns can claim in their ads.
*** Update *** Over the weekend Elizabeth Warren’s campaign decided to put Facebook’s freedom of expression policy to the ultimate test by running blatantly false ads with the following headline, “Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election.” Obviously Facebook isn’t officially endorsing Trump or any other candidate, which is exactly Warren’s point. It’ll be interesting to see if FB continues to enable political lies when it directly involves them.