Facebook Cannot Fact-Check Political Ads, Says COO Sandberg

Facebook and controversies have a long relationship and this time it is not about data but the foreign interference in American elections, freedom of speech and biased politicians.

It all started when last year Facebook announced about its advertising, saying it would not check the political ads on the platform.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, during his speech last year at Georgetown University, said they cannot fact check the political ads. According to him, it is not to favor politicians but let people see what the politicians are saying. If the content is worth it, the platform will not remove it even if it contradicts with its standards.

The stance created controversy and the CEO along with COO, Sheryl Sandberg had to clear it in several interviews.

Sandberg, in her latest interview with NBC News’ Byers Market podcast, said Facebook cannot fact-check the political ads.

During an interview she said, it is not possible to fact-check the political ads and the platform cannot be a mediator of truth anyway. She confessed that there is no perfect answer to this and Facebook still has not yet formed a perfect stance on this subject.

Previously, Zuckerberg and Sandberg, both argued that political ads are like political speech and cannot be censored. Sandberg said in an interview in October 2019 that less than 1 percent of the revenue is generated from these ads and the money earned is not worth the controversy attached to it. Therefore, Facebook is not doing it intentionally.

Mark Zuckerberg also said that in a democratic environment, a private company cannot censor the politicians or related news. The ads can be helpful for candidates and advocacy groups who otherwise might not be covered by the media.

The policy of not fact-checking the political ads have come with much criticism. Yael Eisenstat, ex-head of global elections integrity in his op-ed in the Washington Post said Facebook makes a profit through lies and dangerous targeting tools that let politicians start new information warfare.

A group of Facebook's existing employees also sent internally sent a letter to the CEO against the decisions.

According to the letter, free speech and paid speech are not the same and misinformation can affect everyone. Policies related to fact-checking the news of politician does not compliment the values of Facebook. Employees believed the policy does not protect the voices and instead the platform can be misused by politicians to target masses who believe that political figures cannot post untrustworthy content on Facebook.

Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote Facebook employees themselves know how letting politicians lie can be dangerous for the country. She believes that Zuckerberg should listen to the suggestions of the employees who courageously raised their point and made the company accountable.

Even if Facebook plans on banning political ads, it would be stuck in deciding which political ads are and which is not, just like Twitter.

Zuckerberg talked about the issue saying, it is difficult to distinguish the political ads. There are several ads other than just about elections. If ads of healthcare, women empowerment and rest are allowed, how can it be justified that the public is allowed to have a political debate but political candidates themselves cannot be part of it?

Indeed there can be a great debate about what to be taken as a political ad and what is not political and then again it would be hit with not allowing freedom of speech.

Therefore, Zuckerberg said there are issues on both sides and it is better to favor where the freedom of expression is not suppressed.

Photo: Ruben Sprich/Reuters

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