Democrats in Congress recently pressured Facebook into its policy of political ads, criticizing the social media giant for not having what they believe are the appropriate safeguards to avoid political ads with dubious or overtly false information.
During a congressional hearing, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) Even tried to get CEO Mark Zuckerberg to admit that anyone could publish a political announcement that contains shameless lies.
“Could you post ads on Facebook to Republicans in the primary and say they voted for the Green New Deal? I mean, if you're not checking the political ads, I'm just trying to understand the limits here, what is the fair game, "he said.
Zuckerberg replied: "I don't know the answer to that, I think probably."
"You don't know if I can do that?" Asked Ocasio-Cortez.
"I think probably," said Zuckerberg.
"Do you see a potential problem here with a total lack of verification of facts in political announcements?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.
To which Zuckerberg replied: “Well, Congressman, I think that lying is bad, and I think that if I published an ad that had a lie, it would be bad. That is different from being … in our position, the right thing to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you have lied. "
Other media such as television, radio and print media are subject to federal regulations (under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002) regarding the financing and transmission of political announcements. If a political action committee (PAC) publishes an ad that makes false statements about a political opponent on its local ABC channel, both the PAC and the ABC may face legal repercussions for slander, but it is almost impossible to prove slander against people of public interest .
But social media platforms like Facebook don't really fit into any of those existing categories.
"I think there is a strong argument that the United States as a democracy benefits most when the political announcements are honest," said Aram Sinnreich, president of communication studies at the American University. “If you get to that point, then you have the question, how do we enforce that? One answer is that we can do a better job regulating advertisers because they are identifiable. The problem with 2016 is that it had Russian and other national disinformation campaigns to pay US political ads. That is something very simple to prevent. Russians should not pay in rubles to spread misinformation in our campaigns. It's easy enough to tell Facebook that you can't do that. "
But telling Facebook how to moderate misinformation and how to distinguish the truth from lies on its platform begins to generate First Amendment problems and freedom of expression.
"If they did, Republicans and Democrats would be invisible, none of their ads would happen," said Roslyn Layton, a visiting researcher of technology policy at the American Enterprise Institute. "It is impossible to enforce."
Critics point to prominent examples of Republicans and Democrats who make statements that were not true, such as President Donald Trump's recent announcement about Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, President Barack Obama's repeated claim that under ObamaCare, "if he like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, "or the then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying during the 2o12 campaign that Mitt Romney had not paid any income tax.
To stop the spread of misinformation, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced this week that the social media platform will ban all political ads worldwide.
Instead of the federal government intervening to monitor what appears on Facebook, Layton believes that Facebook users should be able to decide for themselves what to believe about what they see on the social media platform.
"It is inherently subjective," he told InsideSources. "Zuckerberg has points that say that if you want to be a citizen in a democracy, work is needed, and you need to solve for yourself what you believe and what you don't believe, that is the job of a voter." It is not the job of the government to do this. That prescription … is always promoted by people who want to silence their enemies (politicians). Why are people so afraid of people thinking for themselves?
Because of the freedom of expression and First Amendment issues surrounding political ads on Facebook, Sinnreich says it makes more sense to require advertisers to adhere to more stringent standards around political advertising.
"Regulatory mechanisms already exist to restrict the behaviors of PACs and campaigns," he told InsideSources. "It is absolutely true that the regulator should prevent them from lying in their ads."
Hundreds of Facebook employees also recently signed a letter asking their company to "keep political ads to the same standards as other ads" and impose spending limits on all politicians trying to buy ads on the platform. They believe that measures like these could help prevent liars.
But Layton said that once he starts trying to verify political ads, he won't be able to execute any of them, because all politicians exaggerate and lie, both Democrats and Republicans.
"Transparency, (make Facebook reveal) who paid for the ad, well, that was a good step, but it will never be enough," he said. "They have some standards, but I would say that the verification of the facts would take both political parties out of the advertising business."
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