Facebook should follow CNN’s approach and reject “demonstrably false” political ads, Senate Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia says in a new letter to Mark Zuckerberg.
“In making strides not to continue contributing to the coarsening of our political debate, and the undermining of our public institutions, at a minimum, Facebook should at least adhere to the same norms of other traditional media companies when it comes to political advertising,” Warner writes.
The letter comes after weeks of controversy over Facebook’s decision to exempt political ads from its fact-checking program.
Late last month, Facebook vice president Nick Clegg defended the company’s position on the grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for Facebook “to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny.”
Several weeks after Clegg’s statement, it emerged that the social networking platform allowed President Donald Trump to run an attack ad implying that former Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukraine government to fire its chief prosecutor for personal reasons.
The ad falsely suggests that Biden wanted the prosecutor fired because he was investigating an energy company with ties to Biden’s son. The Obama administration reportedly wanted the prosecutor fired for failing to investigate corruption among Ukraine’s politicians.
CNN refused to air the same ad, but Fox News ran it.
In his letter to Zuckerberg, Warner essentially argues that ads on Facebook aren’t subject to the same type of public scrutiny as ads in traditional media, due to Facebook’s ad-targeting tools.
“The public nature of broadcast, television, radio, print, cable, and satellite ensured a level of accountability for traditional political advertisements,” he writes. “In addition to being broadly accessible to the electorate, these communications are accessible to the press, fact-checkers, and political opponents.”
Warner adds that social media platforms “tout their ability to target portions of the electorate with direct, ephemeral advertisements — often on the basis of private information that platform has on individual users, facilitating political advertisements that are contradictory, racially or socially inflammatory, or materially false, without the same constraints as more traditional communications mediums, and without affording opposing candidates an equal opportunity to respond directly in front of the same targeted audience.”
Around 250 Facebook employees also recently asked Facebook to rethink its refusal to fact-check political ads, and to curb politicians’ ability to target their ads.
Warner is posing some specific questions to Zuckerberg, including how the company is defining politicians, and whether the company will agree to publicly post information about how political ads are being targeted.