Facebook employees sign open letter demanding site ‘fact-check’ political ads
October 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – More than 250 Facebook employees have signed an open letter publicly dissenting from the social network’s policy of exempting ads by political candidates from fact-checking, suggesting a desire to take an even more activist stance on overseeing political speech than company founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook says any claims “made directly by a politician on their page, in an ad or on their website” are “considered direct speech and ineligible for our third-party fact checking program,” which has been a source of controversy when applied to various other types of advertisers. Massachusetts senator and Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren recently protested the policy by submitting a fake ad of her own, which falsely claimed Zuckerberg had endorsed President Donald Trump.
On Monday, The New York Times published an open letter signed by more than 250 employees of the company expressing their displeasure with the policy.
“Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing,” the letter declares, arguing that the exemption for candidates “doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”
“Allowing paid civic misinformation to run on the platform in its current state,” the signatories claim, could “increase distrust in our platform by allowing similar paid and organic content to sit side-by-side — some with third-party fact-checking and some without,” and undermine the work of Facebook’s “integrity teams” in “giv(ing) users more context on the content they see.”
The letter lays out a series of proposals for a policy more agreeable to them, including simply eliminating the exemption for campaign ads, making political ads more visually distinct from other types of posts, and forbidding political campaigns from targeting their ads to custom audiences.
Supporters of Facebook’s approach to campaign ads argue that unfettered competition between two opposing sides is more conducive to discerning truth than having a third-party organization with its own biases proclaim an “official” version of the truth, and in fact have long faulted Facebook for not applying the same neutral, hands-off approach to content from news publications, commentators, or issue advocacy groups.
The open letter also provides some insight into rank-and-file Facebook employees’ self-image as active arbiters of “trustworthy” political speech. Zuckerberg and other Facebook defenders have repeatedly attributed the website’s various censorship and discrimination controversies to isolated human error or technological quirks, rather than conscious bias.
Facebook has been criticized for suppressing and otherwise discriminating against many right-of-center pages and posts, while multiple analyses have found that Facebook’s algorithm changes instituted at the beginning of 2018 disproportionately impacted conservative politicians and websites. Earlier this year, an insider revealed that Facebook “deboosts” traffic to several mainstream conservative sites.