Facebook faces staff backlash over political ads policy

Congress laid into Mark Zuckerberg for more than six hours over his company's policies and the Libra Project.
Image: YouTube | Washington Post

Last week, Congress grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding the firm’s various policies, with particular attention given to how it handles political advertisements. Representative Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-NY) took issue with the company’s policy to not fact-check content promoted by politicians. A recent New York Times report revealed some of the company’s workers also have problems with the firm’s paid political content strategy.

The Open Letter

Two weeks ago, a Facebook employee posted an open letter to the firm’s internal communications platform, Facebook Workplace. Since then, more than 250 of the social network’s workers have signed their names to the message. In it, staffers ask the corporation’s leadership to make significant changes to its political advertising policies.

The firm’s employees argue Facebook’s position on politicians’ statements has undone their work to improve its corporate integrity. Moreover, the group wrote, “paid civic misinformation” hurts the company’s reputation and fosters distrust.

The disgruntled workers also offered a series of proposals to improve Facebook’s political content strategy. The employees’ suggestions include that the firm treats political ads the same way it treats regular ads, restricted user targeting, labeling delineating paid ads from organic commentary, and spending caps for individual politicians and political action committees.

Lastly, the group recommended Facebook notify users and advertisers the paid political content it hosts aren’t fact-checked.

Facebook’s Reaction

In response to the publication of the internal missive, Facebook spokeswoman Bertie Thomson offered a statement. “Facebook’s culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic,” said Thomson. “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”

Bloomberg reports Facebook’s leadership is receptive to some of the suggestions made in the open letter. A company insider told the publication the firm’s leadership is considering clearly labeling political ads as such. However, the news company indicated Zuckerberg is unlikely to change the firm’s policy regarding the fact-checking of paid political content.

Indeed, Facebook has controversially hosted paid content related to the 2020 Presidential Election that contains proven lies. Earlier this month, President Trump’s campaign published ads alleging Democratic candidate Joe Biden offered Ukrainian officials aid in exchange for dropping an investigation into his son’s activities. Biden asked the world’s largest social network to take down the misleading content, but his request was denied.

Conversely, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) exploited the firm’s ad policy to publish misinformation about the company itself. The Democratic candidate put out content falsely stating Facebook and Zuckerberg declared their support for President Trump. As of this writing, Warren’s sarcastic ads are still active on the platform.

Furthermore, while testifying before Congress last week, Zuckerberg told Representative Ocasio-Cortez she “probably” could run ads that contained lies about her political opponent’s voting records.

A Lack of Clarity

While Facebook’s decision to host ads NBC and CNN rejected is concerning, the company is facing criticism from politicians and employees for a different reason. The platform’s biggest problem is that its policies are too ambiguous.

Earlier this month, the firm proudly announced it deactivated the Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to several state-sponsored trolls. Moreover, the company rolled out new tools designed to crack down on the spread of misinformation from foreign sources. But Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear he doesn’t view the lies featured and paid political content as propaganda.

The corporation unveiled those tools to mitigate attempts by out of country agents to interfere in the 2020 National Election. However, the firm’s employees are correct in noting that allowing domestic interests to spread politically motivated lies undercuts Facebook’s integrity.