Contributor Post Created with Sketch. It’s Too Late in Campaign Season for Facebook to Ban Political Ads, but Not Fact-Check Them


Facebook has instituted fact-checking before, like with its partner BOOM in India.
There are some famous natural experiments out there, such as the Dutch Hunger Winter study or the Oregon Health Insurance study. Or how about that nighttime satellite photo of North and South Korea showing the benefits of democratic capitalism vs. totalitarian communism. That may be the most famous and instructive natural experiment of all.

Silicon Valley may be giving us another enlightening comparison. Twitter is banning all political advertising, while Facebook will continue to run such ads — even those containing false or misleading claims. We should get a first read on the results on either the evening of Nov. 3 or the morning of Nov. 4, 2020.

Actually, Team Trump seems ready to draw its conclusion right now: Twitter is making a mistake. Campaign manager Brad Parscale called the move “yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.”

Now the smart money among tech journalists – who by and large seem to love the new Twitter policy – is that Facebook will likely soon follow suit. But I doubt it. As The New York Times recently reported in “Trump Campaign Floods Web With Ads, Raking In Cash as Democrats Struggle,” more than any other platform, “Facebook is the focus for digital campaign spending, and it is in many ways even friendlier turf for Mr. Trump’s campaign than in 2016.”

Given the centrality of Facebook to their campaign, Team Trump’s reaction to a Facebook ad ban would likely be far more negative than to the Twitter ban. They would even more strongly argue that the rules are being changed in the middle of the game. And they would have a point, especially since such a ban would seem to hurt them far more than Democrats. The entire GOP would go ballistic. And remember, this is already a party where some claim to think it would be wonderful if Facebook didn’t exist. A Facebook ad ban, if it were to happen, seems like it should wait until the start of the next election cycle.

Of course, still plenty of time to install some sort of fact-checking operation with an appeal process, a move Facebook has also rejected. But it seems some such effort – although imperfect – would be valuable to deal with what Twitter boss Jack Dorsey calls the “Increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale” of microtargeted misinformation. That, even if the ads – although labeled as false – were still allowed to run.

There are 4 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Does the author also think that FB should be responsible for verifying the truth of the claims in the immense volume of commercial advertising that it carries?


    • #1
    • October 31, 2019, at 5:20 PM PDT
  2. James Lileks Contributor

    Define “False” and “misleading.”

    • #2
    • October 31, 2019, at 10:16 PM PDT
  3. David Carroll Thatcher
    David CarrollJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Facebook’s policy is easier to administer (and more profitable). The Twitter policy is in theory equally even-handed, but it leaves open the tough decisions about issue ads. When is a campaign ad really a campaign ad? It is no so clear.

    What if Planned Parenthood runs an ad just saying that during the last four years the states have been trampling on a woman’s right to choose? (Yes, right to murder, but that is a digression.) Is that a campaign ad? Even if it does not mention a candidate? In the regulatory context, the courts have said no.

    What if the trump administration is expressly mentioned? Again, without an express “vote for” or “vote against” statement, the courts in the regulatory context have said no.

    But Twittter is unregulated. How is Twitter going to deal with the hard cases?

    I predict lots of controversy.

    • #3
    • November 1, 2019, at 3:54 AM PDT
  4. Full Size Tabby Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Define “False” and “misleading.”

    The real power is in who gets to define them. 

    And in Twitter’s case, who gets to define what a “political ad” is. 

    • #4
    • November 1, 2019, at 8:33 AM PDT

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.