Joe Biden’s presidential campaign launched an online petition and open letter targeting Facebook’s policies, telling CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the platform has taken “no meaningful action” to root out misinformation.
In the letter, the Biden campaign writes that Facebook “continues to allow Donald Trump to say anything — and to pay to ensure that his wild claims reach millions of voters. SuperPACs and other dark money groups are following his example. Trump and his allies have used Facebook to spread fear and misleading information about voting, attempting to compromise the means of holding power to account: our voices and our ballot boxes.”
Among other things, the Biden campaign wants Facebook to stop “amplifying untrustworthy content and promptly fact-checking election-related material that goes viral.” They also propose a two-week pre-election period during which all political advertisements must be fact checked, and for rules that “prohibit threatening behavior and lies about how to participate in the election.”
In contrast to Twitter, which has put fact-checking and other labels on some of the president’s tweets, Facebook has refused to take such actions, arguing that it is better to take a hands-off approach to political speech. Twitter is also not accepting political ads, while Facebook is, campaigns are spending heavily. According to Facebook’s own figures, the Trump campaign already has spent $36.7 million on ads; the Biden campaign has spent $23.3 million.
“We live in a democracy, where the elected officials decide the rules around campaigns,” the company said in a statement. “Two weeks ago the President of the United States issued an executive order directing federal agencies to prevent social media sites from engaging in activities like fact-checking political statements. This week, the Democratic candidate for President started a petition calling on us to do the exact opposite.”
Trump’s executive order, issued on May 28, targets a provision of the Communications Decency Act that gives social media companies immunity over third party content placed on their platforms. But it also protects them from litigation if their content moderation decisions are made in “good faith.”
Facebook and other tech platforms condemned the executive order, but there also are doubts that the president or federal agencies would have the authority to change the law without an act of Congress.
Facebook also argued that its policy toward campaign ads — which they do no fact check — mirrors those of broadcasters. “Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians’ campaign ads — the people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them,” the company said. “There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it.”
Like the Trump campaign, which has argued that the platforms are biased, Biden’s bid has seized on the backlash against social media, as its open letter was accompanied by a fundraising pitch.