Book of Lies

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Book of Lies

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Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. The hearing was meant to be about Facebook’s Libra crypto project, but instead Zuckerberg was questioned by members of the Committee concerning any issues on the social media platform . One of the main issues of concern to members of Congress and the general public was Facebook’s policy that allows politicians to lie in their political ads. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first-term Democrat from New York, grilled Zuckerberg on this matter. Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg whether under Facebook’s political ad policy if she could pay to target predominantly black zip codes and advertise the wrong date for an election. In response Zuckerberg said, “If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause … that is calling for violence, or could risk imminent physical harm, or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy, we will take that content down .” After asking if there is a threshold where Facebook and Zuckerberg would fact-check political advertisements, Ocasio-Cortez then followed up concerning a different scenario. She asked Zuckerberg if ads targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal, a cause that the Congresswoman has notably championed, would be allowed. In response to Ocasio-Cortez pressing him further concerning whether Facebook would take down ads containing outright lies Zuckerberg said, “In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves .” 

    Facebook’s political ad policies have come under heavy criticism and scrutiny in the past few weeks. Many politicians, members of the media and the general public have criticized Facebook and other social media platforms for refusing to take down political ads containing false information. In light of this pushback, Facebook and Zuckerberg have stuck to their approach in regard to political advertising on the platform. Zuckerberg has maintained that “banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.”  While this may be true in a vacuum, this still does not cover the issue of fake political ads being put out on the platform, and who Zuckerberg uses to fact-check the political advertisements that appear on Facebook. In defense of his social media platform’s political ad policy, Zuckerberg seems to be willfully ignorant of the fact that fake or misleading political advertisements can be even more harmful to democracy than banning political advertisements altogether. Allowing American citizens to see political ads on the platform and decide which candidates they want to support from there may be a nice soundbite for Zuckerberg, but this argument does not really apply when Facebook allows political ads containing outright lies. 

An interesting aspect of Facebook’s political ad policy is that the platform does not even need to run political ads in the first place. Political advertisements are simply not a significant portion of Facebook’s business . With this in mind, Facebook and Zuckerberg are still determined to leave their political ad policy unchanged. In my eyes, allowing these untruthful ads to be run on the world’s most popular social media platform is extremely misguided and only harms our democracy. There are millions of people in this country who use Facebook, many of who could be potentially persuaded to vote a certain way or could receive untruthful information about a candidate because of the platform’s political ad policy. As Ocasio-Cortez had made clear in her questions towards Zuckerberg, it could be very easy for a party or politician to use this ad policy to suppress and mislead many potential voters. While Zuckerberg claims to have fact checkers for political ads, they obviously have not been doing a great job considering how large of an issue this has now become. The fact that these huge tech corporations like Facebook, Twitter and even Google have so much control over the information we consume is quite dangerous. Facebook’s willingness to allow propagandic ads on their platform shows that these corporations don’t have our best interests in mind as American citizens. Ultimately, by allowing political ads full of lies to persist on the platform under Facebook’s ad policy with the guise of being “unbiased,” Zuckerberg comes off as even more untrustworthy to the public than ever before.