U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his electoral retinue remain steamed as heck at Facebook, which they accuse of complicity in Donald Trump’s efforts to brazenly steal the 2020 election by encouraging chaos at the polls and distrust of the final results.
In a letter to Facebook, per Axios, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote that rather than “seeing progress, we have seen regression.” O’Malley Dillon accurately noted that Facebook has claimed to be cracking down on voting misinformation and then just kind of did nothing when the GOP spread lies about nonexistent mass voter fraud.
The Biden campaign highlighted one video in particular by the president’s insipid son, Donald Trump Jr., in which the hatchling promoted bullshit claims that Democrats are conspiring to steal the election. Naturally, Donny urged his father’s supporters to join an “army” for “election security.” As the Biden staff wrote:
Last week, Donald J. Trump, Jr. posted a video claiming that those who oppose his father have a “plan to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.” He then implores viewers not to let that happen: “We need every able bodied man and woman to join an army for Trump’s election security.”
… Dozens of responsible media voices and political campaigns throughout the country, including ours, brought this content to your immediate attention, as it violates both your policies and your commitment that no one will be permitted to use Facebook’s tools to “undermine democracy.” Your response was that the video yielded “extensive discussions,” which reached the conclusion that it was consistent with your policies. We were assured that the label affixed to the video, buried on the top right corner of the screen where many viewers will miss it, should allay any concerns.
The campaign also noted the numerous examples of Trump continuing to spread similar claims with almost total impunity on Facebook, including a post in which he said his supporters should vote twice — once by mail, then again in person — to ensure Democrats don’t invalidate their ballots. According to the Biden campaign, Facebook told them that Trump’s post didn’t encourage “illegal” behaviour. (Voting twice is a felony in at least 28 U.S. states and punishable under federal law by fines of up to $US10,000 ($14,045) and five years in prison, though there are various exceptions in some states.)
The Biden camp noted that Trump has continued to make various statements on Facebook with similar lies about voting, with the company in each case attaching a feckless fact-check module below the post but declining to remove it. O’Malley Dillon added:
Imagine if, decades ago, the National Enquirer had the resources to target every person who glanced at its cover in the supermarket checkout line with endless mailings. Imagine further that it had the ability to figure out which of those mailers were read when they had been received, so as to influence the content of the next mailer and the next. Every trip to the mailbox would yield more evidence of a fantastical or hyper-partisan story. That is what Facebook does, with the daily mail replaced by instantaneous smartphone updates.
Finally, O’Malley Dillon challenged Facebook over a Bloomberg report which cited current and former employees of the company, who claimed Facebook deliberately formulates and enforces its policies to appeal to the Trump administration. (The downstream effects include allowing politicians to lie in ads, as well as refusing to remove a post in which the president called for the military to shoot protesters.)
This is far from Biden and Facebook’s first spat. Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, has long become a boogeyman among conservatives who believe that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks are engaged in a secret conspiracy to silence them on behalf of the left. This narrative isn’t rooted in reality, but has proven useful as a political cudgel for conservative politicians to try and extract favourable treatment from such sites. It’s also served as fodder for Trump’s ongoing efforts to turn the Federal Communications Commission into a sort of speech police. Biden has attacked Section 230 in even more sweeping terms, arguing that Facebook and “other platforms” should have their protections against lawsuits for the things users say and do on them revoked.
“… I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, but we should also be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt, which you’re not exempt,” Biden told the New York Times editorial board in December 2019. “[The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can. The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For [CEO Mark] Zuckerberg and other platforms.”
He added that Facebook and Zuckerberg “should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at The New York Times. Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would, in fact, be equal to a criminal offence, that’s a different issue. That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen.”
The Biden campaign has also issued demands to Facebook (after behind-the-scenes lobbying by the campaign reportedly had little effect.) The proposed safeguards include a two-week period before elections in which it actually fact-checks political ads.
In addition to tolerating Trump’s misinformation about voting, Facebook has done virtually nothing to stop hundreds of misleading ad campaigns paid for by Republican super PACs. Biden’s campaign and its joint fundraising committee have, at the same time, been trying to catch up to Trump’s ad spending on Facebook with millions of dollars in ad buys.
In a statement to Axios, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone took the now-familiar line that if both parties are criticising them, that must prove the company is doing something right instead of, say, absolutely everything wrong.
“While many Republicans think we should take one course, many Democrats think we should do the exact opposite,” Stone told Axios. “We’ve faced criticism from Republicans for being biased against conservatives and Democrats for not taking more steps to restrict the exact same content. We have rules in place to protect the integrity of the election and free expression, and we will continue to apply them impartially.”