Facebook Won’t Change Policy on Lies in Political Ads

Social network doubles down on its view “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all”

Despite calls from its critics to crackdown on lies in political ads, Facebook said Thursday it would not be making significant changes to its political ad policy as the 2020 U.S. election grows closer.

The social network has been skewered in recent months for doing little to combat misinformation in political ads. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been perhaps Facebook’s most vocal detractor, ripping the company on multiple occasions for approving political ads with lies. In October, Warren submitted an ad to Facebook with a lie about CEO Mark Zuckerberg supporting President Trump’s reelection bid — and later, after it was approved, trolled Facebook and Zuckerberg for it.

On Wednesday, Facebook said in a blog post it wouldn’t be changing its current rules, but that it was in favor of more regulation around political ads.

“Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better,” Rob Leathern, the company’s director of product management, said in the post.

Until new laws are in place on political ads, though, Facebook will not be shying away from its current policy.

“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,” Leathern added.

The blog post echoed Zuckerberg’s stance on the topic. During a speech in October at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said he believed “in a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” before adding he’s doesn’t think “a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”

Zuckerberg’s views on political ads were not shared by all of his Silicon Valley peers. Twitter banned all political advertising in November, for instance, juxtaposing itself against Facebook in the process. The decision was likely made easier by the fact that only a fraction of Twitter’s sales stemmed from political ads. Twitter CFO Ned Segal in October shared that the company made about $3 million from political ads during the 2018 midterm election cycle — or about 0.46% of the $650 million in total ad revenue Twitter received during the third quarter of 2018.

Leathern, in Wednesday’s blog post, said politicians are not free to say anything they want in their ads. All political ads must adhere to the company’s community standards, he said, which includes rules against “hate speech, harmful content and content designed to intimidate voters or stop them from exercising their right to vote.” Facebook, after being criticized for a lack of transparency for political ads during the 2016 election, has been publicly labeling who pays for political ads. The company also has an Ad Library where users can see how much politicians and organizations are spending on political ads.

Moving forward, Leathern said the company will be introducing new tools allowing users to see fewer political ads on their news feeds. The feature will be available this summer, Leathern said — a few months before the next presidential election.