Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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In a letter to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Facebook doubled down on its policy to allow speech from politicians to go unchecked regardless of the truthfulness of their claims.
The letter, originally obtained by The New York Times, was a response to the Biden campaign’s request for Facebook to reject or demote ads from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that contain false claims. The Biden campaign’s original request to Facebook, addressed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and global elections policy chief Katie Harbath, pointed to an ad by the Trump campaign that contains a statement that has not been proven by evidence that the former vice president “offered Ukraine $1 billion to fire the prosecutor investigating a company affiliated with his son.”
“The allegation of corrupt motive has been demonstrated to be completely false,” the Biden campaign wrote, according to a copy of the letter posted online by a CNN reporter. The campaign said the claim should be covered by Facebook’s pledge to reject political ads with “previously debunked content.”
CNN had refused to air the ad, with a spokesperson telling NBC News last week, “it does not meet our advertising standards,” and that “the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets.”
Other tech companies like Twitter and Google‘s YouTube are running the Trump ad. Trump’s campaign spent over $1 million on Facebook ads in one week as it ramped up messaging against the House’s impeachment inquiry against Trump, ABC News reported.
In its response to the Biden campaign, according to the copy of the letter also posted by the CNN reporter, Facebook reiterated its recently-stated policy of taking a hands-off approach to speech by politicians.
“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,” Harbath wrote. “Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers.”
Harbath said the company would take steps to reduce the reach of a “viral hoax” shared by a politician, however.
“That is different from a politician’s own claim or statement — even if the substance of that claim has been debunked elsewhere,” Harbath wrote. “If the claim is made directly by a politician on their Page, in an ad or on their website, it is considered direct speech and ineligible for our third-party fact checking program.”
Lawmakers like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have argued that political advertising laws need to be updated to reflect the wider array of ad platforms available to campaigns. Klobuchar, also a presidential candidate for 2020, introduced a bill called the Honest Ads Act, which would classify paid internet and digital communications and public or electioneering communications subject to disclosure and record-keeping laws that already apply to other formats like TV and radio.
Facebook has voluntarily taken steps to improve its advertising disclosures after the 2016 election, after government officials concluded Russian actors used its platform to influence the race. Facebook now has a searchable ad archive with information about who is running a political ad and how much they spent.
Facebook declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Biden campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.