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Facebook employees decry Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to allow deceptive political ads: ‘This is still our company’

Staff say policy ‘allows politicians to weaponise our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy’

Chris Riotta
New York
Tuesday 29 October 2019 18:02 GMT
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questions Facebook's Zuckerberg over allowing politicians to lie in ads

Facebook employees have written a letter to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg decrying his recent announcement that the platform would allow politicians to advertise false claims, calling the move a “threat to what FB stands for”.

The open letter was reportedly signed by more than 250 employees after being posted on the company’s internal software programme called Facebook Workplace nearly two weeks ago.

“We strongly object to this policy as it stands,” the letter read, according to the New York Times, which obtained a copy on Tuesday.

It follows a decision by the platform’s top executives not to fact check any political advertising and sharp criticism from 2020 Democratic candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, who later released an intentionally deceptive advertisement on Facebook that claimed Mr Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump for re-election.

Facebook’s decision to allow politicians to advertise false information “doesn’t protect voices”, the letter reportedly read, “but instead allows politicians to weaponise our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy”.

“We want to work with our leadership to develop better solutions that both protect our business and the people who use our products,” the letter continued.

Facebook has sought to defend the new policy in several recent statements that noted other tech companies have also chosen not to fact check political advertising on their platforms.

“In a democracy, people should decide what is credible, not tech companies,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to the Associated Press. “That’s why – like other internet platforms and broadcasters – we don’t fact check ads from politicians.”

At one point, Facebook had considered banning political advertising on the platform entirely “given the sensitivity around political ads,” the statement continued.

“But political ads are important for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that use our platform to reach voters and their communities,” the spokesperson said.

The decision by Facebook executives not to fact check political advertising ahead of the 2020 presidential elections drew a swift outcry nationwide and on Capitol Hill that resulted in a contentious hearing last week in which House members grilled Mr Zuckerberg about the new policy. Mr Zuckerberg was testifying about his company’s bid to launch a new cryptocurrency.

In their letters to Facebook’s executives, the employees issued a stark reminder: “This is still our company.”

The employees reportedly listed a number of alternative proposals rather than ignoring political advertising altogether, including restricting targeting capabilities in political ads and implementing spending caps for politicians.

The letter also suggested changing the actual design of political advertisements to make it clear they are different than other posts.

Facebook employs more than 35,000 people around the world.

The company has also received criticism for relying on third-party fact-checkers, including one that is a subsidiary of the right-wing website The Daily Caller.

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When asked about the controversial fact-checkers Facebook reportedly relies on, Mr Zuckerberg said last week: “They go through an independent organisation … that has a rigorous standard for who they allow to serve as a fact-checker.”

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