Facebook Still Screwing Up This Whole Politics Thing Pretty Bad

Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP

Facebook has continued to fumble efforts to extract itself from its self-imposed political nightmare, with the company seeing increasing backlash to both its political advertising policies and continuing to stonewall criticism of its choice to partner with far-right outlet Breitbart on its news platform.

The company hasn’t backed down from its bold—some would say dystopian—stance of allowing politicians to openly lie in ads on its platform.

That’s a policy particularly friendly to the current U.S. president, who has already done his best to make Facebook a lightning rod for cynical conservative outrage and would surely leap at the chance to do so again. But according to BuzzFeed News’ Alex Kantrowitz, it is considering limiting certain forms of political ad targeting or imposing “better labelling” on those ads, with “nothing off the table.”

Facebook has previously floated restricting political ads from engaging in certain types of “microtargeting,” which U.S. Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub recently referred to as making it “easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad.”

According to CNBC, some experts have said that microtargeting encourages extreme content by making it easier to inflame the passions of highly select groups.

Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson told the Code Media conference on Monday that such a rollback would not be forthcoming, but the social media firm quickly walked back those remarks. So it seems like something is indeed coming, though exactly what is coming remains a matter of speculation.

Elsewhere, Facebook is taking heat for its decision to enlist as a launch partner for its forthcoming Facebook News section Breitbart, a far-right news site with extensive and well-documented ties to the white nationalist movement (the slightly more PR-focused branch of the white supremacist ideology).

Emails leaked over the past few days by the Southern Poverty Law Centre have shown that White House aide Stephen Miller coordinated with former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh to boost white supremacist-friendly content on the site before the 2016 elections.

That effort reportedly includes directing McHugh to coordinate attacks on Trump opponents, parroting his preferred anti-immigration language, shuffling home page coverage, and even publishing op-eds written by him under generic Breitbart staff bylines.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri recently admitted he doesn’t want Facebook to partner with Breitbart, while Everson’s defence basically amounted to equating Breitbart with unspecified “far left” sites that Facebook was also partnering with. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have struggled to defend Breitbart’s inclusion in the face of criticism from virtually the entire media over this.

Gizmodo failed to identify any “far left” sites that Facebook thinks it is working with. Given the lack of any notable “far left” sites that traffic in outright hate speech or operate as de facto personal PR firms for ghoulish racists, it, in fact, seems that Facebook simply went with the right-wing trope of calling anything not right-wing “far left.”

Right Wing Watch, which noted that on Tuesday Breitbart published obvious misinformation about testimony at Trump impeachment proceedings, reached out to Facebook about the inclusion of Breitbart and didn’t get a response. Gizmodo has also reached out to Facebook about both possible adjustments to the political advertising targeting model and Breitbart, and we’ll update if we hear back.

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