Political Ads on Social Media
In the last few weeks social media giants Twitter and Facebook have decided on their strategy to deal with political advertising. Twitter decided that all paid political adverts would be banned on the site beginning Nov. 22, while Facebook has taken a hands-off approach, saying it won’t fact check or remove political ads.
Trust in Facebook has been sharply declining in recent years as a number of scandals have come out in reference to them, and this change in policy seems to have worsened the situation. In a congressional hearing regarding Facebook’s new block-chain currency Libra, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that political ads with misinformation would not be taken down. Additionally, it was revealed that one of the organizations approved to be a fact checker for Facebook, The Daily Caller, had a number of connections to white supremacists’ organizations. This combined with Facebook’s involvement in the spread of misinformation during the 2016 Presidential election has generated a lot of scrutiny from regulators as well as the general populous.
Twitter on the other hand has mostly stayed out of the discussion on political advertising until now. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, announced the elimination of political adverts while Facebook was announcing its revenues, leading many to speculate that the announcement’s timing was intentional. It’s important to note that the revenue from political advertising are insignificant compared to other revenues generated by both companies, so both Facebook and Twitter could eliminate political ads without issue. This seems to indicate that the issue is more a moral one rather than a fiscal one.
In his announcement, Jack Dorsey said “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.” And in alignment with this, messages from politicians won’t be able to use money to boost their reach. Facebook on the other hand has 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.” Which essentially means they won’t fact check or remove political content, but they will provide better tools for transparency. Many critiques have pointed out that this doesn’t address the issue of misinformation.
Facebook is in a tough situation, any move they make will garner backlash. If they eliminate all political advertisements like twitter, they would have to define ‘political advertisements’ and whether that includes organizations like the NRA, or to other organizations like workers unions. If they were to remove clearly false posts from the president then they would become responsible for fact checking all political content, which would be a challenge. Not to mention, removing the president’s content would likely lead to backlash from the president himself and his supporters. In the face of all this Facebook seems to have decided on inaction. By choosing to not filter the content on their site they put the site, they leave the burden of fact checking on the user, which also has a few issues.
It’s unclear whether Facebook will hold onto its current policy, as pressure increases, they have already shown signs of backtracking. Time will tell whether this ‘hands-off’ approach to content will be successful.