Facebook has denied a request from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign to remove a false video advertisement posted by President Donald Trump’s campaign. The refusal comes weeks after Facebook changed its policies and decided to allow advertisements pushing misinformation from Trump and other political figures.
According to The New York Times, Biden’s campaign sent a request to Facebook asking the company to remove a Trump campaign advertisement that falsely suggested the vice president had offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid to fire a prosecutor investigating a company tied to his son. On Tuesday, Facebook refused to take the ad down, responding, “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression" and "respect for the democratic process.” (CNN had previously refused to air the ad.)
From the Times’ October 8 report:
In a letter to the Biden campaign, Facebook said the ad, which has been viewed five million times on the site, did not violate company policies. Last month, the social network, which has more than two billion users, announced that politicians and their campaigns had nearly free rein over content they post there.
Even false statements and misleading content in ads, the company has said, are an important part of the political conversation.
“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.
In September, Facebook changed its policies to no longer prohibit ads that include “deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or methods,” instead only barring ads “debunked by third-party fact checkers” or in some cases “by organizations with particular expertise.” Additionally, Facebook said that “ads from political candidates are ineligible for fact-checking.” (According to Mother Jones, Facebook has claimed that “the changes don’t represent a shift in policy but were issued to make existing rules clearer.”)
Even before the policy tweak, the Trump campaign had repeatedly posted false and misleading Facebook ads, along with ads using “invasion” rhetoric invoked by white nationalists, even though Facebook’s policies prohibit “violent” or “dehumanizing” attacks against a group of people based on immigration status. Mother Jones tech reporter Ali Breland wrote that the policy change “potentially incentivizes politicians to lie” on the platform. Yael Eisenstat, who previously headed Facebook’s effort to prevent election meddling, criticized the policy justification as a “b.s. answer when FB takes $ for ads.”
Along with the issue of misinformation proliferating in its ads (whether posted by politicians or other bad actors), the platform continues to struggle with detecting and removing propaganda and other misinformation, including from foreign actors such as Russia. These current challenges add to Facebook's history of problems with privacy, fake news, civil rights, and more.