Elizabeth Warren is actively trying to raise awareness about Facebook’s problematic ad policy ahead of the 2020 election, and she’s getting especially creative with her tactics.
The Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate recently invested in a series of Facebook ads that target both Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg with intentionally false information. Warren’s campaign paid for the sponsored ads to appear on timelines of Facebook users in hopes that the ads would call attention to the fact that Facebook allows politicians to blatantly lie in promotional material that then gets shared across the platform.
“Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election,” Warren’s ad reads. “You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?’ Well, it’s not. (Sorry.) But what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform — and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”
Warren’s ad goes on to explain that “If Trump tries to lie in a TV ad, most networks will refuse to air it. But Facebook just cashes Trump’s checks.”
“Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once. Now, they’re deliberately allowing a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people. It’s time to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable — add your name if you agree,” it concludes.
Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 12, 2019
“America’s biggest tech companies are controlling more and more of our digital lives. And they’re using their size and power to make it harder for the next tech entrepreneur with the next big idea to break through and compete with them — meaning less options for us,” the website reads.
Facebook responded indirectly to Warren’s point with a Saturday evening tweet from the Facebook Newsroom account. Many respondents to the quickly ratio’ed tweet weren’t buying the company’s stance that Facebook is basically the same as the FCC when it comes to political ads.
@ewarren looks like broadcast stations across the country have aired this ad nearly 1,000 times, as required by law. FCC doesn’t want broadcast companies censoring candidates’ speech. We agree it’s better to let voters—not companies—decide. #FCC #candidateuse https://t.co/WlWePjh1vZ
— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) October 12, 2019
Warren has made her intentions to dismantle large tech monopolies extremely clear on the campaign trail thus far, and Zuckerberg recently acknowledged them in leaked audio from a pair of July meetings with employees, which The Verge obtained and transcribed:
I mean, if [Warren] gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.
The Democratic candidate responded to Zuckerbeg’s comments by reiterating her plan to diminish Big Tech’s control.
What would really “suck” is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy. https://t.co/rI0v55KKAi
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 1, 2019
Warren isn’t the only 2020 candidate to express concern over Facebook. On Friday, Amy Klobuchar tweeted about the platform’s need for “truth standard,” and Joe Biden’s campaign also asked Facebook to take down a Trump ad that contained false claims. But the fact that Warren did so in such a unique and direct way is impressive.
On Friday, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN that the company believes political speech should be protected, which is why their ad policy allows politicians to speak so freely.
“If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in the position of censoring that speech,” Stone said.
That’s all well and good in this case, because Warren is clearly admitting she’s spreading false information to illustrate a larger concern. But the real issue arises if a politician were to say something they know to be untrue without acknowledging it, so as to secretly and intentionally misinform the public. Trump, for instance, spends a huge chunk of change on Facebook ads, and several of his ads have been criticized for containing lies.
Some may find Warren’s ad controversial because it includes “fake news” that people might not read in full, but others see it as a masterful and successful attempt at using Facebook’s own platform to highlight this very real problem that exists.
In the past Zuckerberg has admitted that Facebook might not be so great for democracy and found that thousands of Russia-created ads reached millions of Facebook users in the United States ahead of the 2016 election.
Warren’s ad was a bold step, but she’s trying to get Facebook’s attention and move the company to act in hopes of avoiding another presidential election that’s influenced by lacking social media policies.