President Donald Trump’s re-election bid just got a stamp of approval from Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Except, not really.
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s team intentionally put this false claim in a series of campaign ads on Facebook this week to draw attention to the platform’s controversial ad policy, one which has allowed similarly defamatory ads from President Donald Trump to run unchecked. As of last year, Facebook exempts politicians and political ads from the platform’s usual fact-checking measures, a rule which the presidential candidate has not minced words about her disdain for.
“Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies — explicitly turning the platform into a disinformation-for-profit machine,” Warren tweeted Saturday after the ads began cropping up on Facebook late Thursday. So her campaign ads were intended “to see just how far” the platform’s policy goes. You can check them out here in Facebook’s ad library.
We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved. It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look: pic.twitter.com/7NQyThWHgO
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 12, 2019
Unlike Trump’s campaign ad, though, a disclaimer follows the lie in hers: “You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?’ Well, it’s not. (Sorry).” The ad goes on to argue that while Facebook hasn’t explicitly endorsed Trump, it has taken “gobs of money” from the president’s re-election campaign to let them “push out their lies to the American voters” on the platform.
Warren’s response seems targeted at a recent pro-Trump ad Facebook refused to take down this week despite a request from former Vice President Joe Biden. The ad falsely alleges that Biden, another contender for the Democratic presidential nominee, promised to give Ukraine $US1 billion (nearly $1.5 billion) to halt an investigation on his son’s company. It’s a claim Trump has repeated several times with zero evidence and one of many conspiracy theories spun in a book by Peter Schweizer, an editor at the alt-right blog Breitbart News.
By allowing these kinds of disinformation campaigns on its platform, Facebook is proving it values profits more than preserving the American democratic process, Warren argues.
“Facebook holds incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. They’ve decided to let political figures lie to you — even about Facebook itself — while their executives and their investors get even richer off the ads containing these lies,” she tweeted Monday.
Facebook has incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. Mark Zuckerberg is telling employees that he views a Warren administration as an “existential” threat to Facebook. The public deserves to know how Facebook intends to use their influence in this election.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
While Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, company spokesperson Andy Stone did provide the following statement to CNN: “If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in the position of censoring that speech”
Earlier this week, Facebook public policy director for global politics Katie Harbath argued in a letter sent to the Biden campaign obtained by Gizmodo that the policy doesn’t give politicians complete free rein. Content that attempts to spread “a viral hoax — like a link to an article or a video or photo, that has been previously debunked” can be rejected from political ads. But that only applies to shared content; if a politician spews the bullshit themselves directly, Facebook considers it “direct speech” and it’s hands-off for the platform’s fact-checking program
Twitter and Google also ran these pro-Trump ads — spokespersons at both confirmed to Gizmodo that these ads didn’t violate either company’s policies — but Warren and Facebook have a bit of a history. Last week the Verge published leaked audio from a company meeting wherein Zuckerberg promised to push back if Warren makes good on her promise to break up big tech companies. The senator subsequently blasted the CEO and reiterated her campaign promise is several scathing tweets.
Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign sent requests to Google, Facebook, and Twitter this week asking the companies to remove ads produced by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, arguing that the ads make false allegations. All three companies denied the request, explaining that the ads don’t violate their policies—but Facebook’s response was particularly confounding.Read more