Some Democratic presidential campaigns blasted Facebook’s reiteration of a policy to allow political ads, even those with claims that are false, a contrast to other social media platforms like Twitter that are not accepting candidate spots.
“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, campaign spokesman for Joe Biden, said. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.) tweeted, “Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you. Facebook needs real competition and accountability so our democracy isn’t held hostage to their desire to make money.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wrote, “Facebook opposed my bipartisan Honest Ads Act for months, came around only after everything blew up, opposed many privacy leg. proposals & now say they won’t do anything about ad truthfulness without regulation. Just another reason I want to be President.”
In a post on Thursday, Facebook’s director of project management, Rob Leathern, wrote that “in the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies. We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”
He wrote that Facebook also will continue to allow targeting of ads to certain groups of people, even though Google has announced they are placing limits on such practices. Instead, Leathern wrote that Facebook would introduce several new features, including one where users can limit political and social issue ad they see in their feeds, and another that will make it easier for users to look up specific spots.
Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have come under fire by critics for its refusal to fact-check political ad spots. The Biden and Warren campaigns have been among the most aggressive in challenging Facebook’s policy. The Biden campaign chided the company in October, when Donald Trump’s reelection campaign purchased spots that made several misleading claims about Biden’s interactions with Ukraine. Politifact rated the ad as false.
To make a point, Warren’s campaign purchased a series of Facebook ads in October that falsely claimed that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump for reelection. Her campaign said that the fact that Facebook allowed the spots showed how little the platform was doing to battle disinformation.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, is the co-sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, which would require more disclosure of the source of political ads placed on tech platforms, as well as other information about cost and targeting. In his blog post, Leathern said that Facebook supported the legislation and wrote, “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.”
But the legislation has not moved in Congress, and other regulatory efforts, like a privacy bill, are a long way from passage.
Broadcasters and cable channels also are not required to fact-check political ads, but a number of outlets do. CNN and NBCUniversal refused to air the Trump campaign ad in October.
Facebook’s policies also have come under fire from a number of entertainment figures. Sacha Baron Cohen criticized Zuckerberg at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, and wrote on Twitter, after the platforms most recent announcement, “Outrageous. This is Facebook’s idea of change? #MarkZuckerberg, you STILL take politicians’ money, STILL refuse to fact check their ads and STILL microtarget their lies to your +2 billion users. Mark, the demagogues of the world thank you!”
By contrast, Trump’s reelection campaign had urged Facebook to retain the ad policy, and even some progressive groups also favored the current Facebook policy. Trump’s campaign has spent $27.1 million on Facebook ads since May, 2018, the most of any candidate in the presidential race.
Acronym, which is building out a digital presence to counter the GOP, said on Twitter, “Several months ago, we were among the first to warn that a complete ban on political ads on @Facebook would have had disastrous consequences for Democrats. Today, we’re excited to see that Facebook has decided against that.”