Democrats say Facebook is 'grossly unprepared' for 2020 election

Democrats say Facebook is 'grossly unprepared' for 2020 election
© Greg Nash

A group of more than 25 Democrats on Wednesday accused Facebook of being "grossly unprepared" for disinformation on its platform ahead of the 2020 election, citing the company's response to the doctored video of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Conservatives push Trump tariff relief over payroll tax cuts Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (D-Calif.).

Lawmakers for weeks have hammered Facebook and Twitter for allowing the video of Pelosi to remain online, though it has been flagged as misleading. The video has been slowed down to make Pelosi appear as though she is drunk or ill.

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"We write to express our deep concerns about the doctored video of Speaker Pelosi that was posted on Facebook’s platform last month and has been viewed by millions of people," the 27 lawmakers, all of whom sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday.

"The spread of political disinformation on social media poses grave consequences to our nation’s democracy," they added.

Facebook has opted to limit the distribution of the video on its platform and tagged the footage with a fact-checking message, which warns users that the video has been deemed "fake" by Facebook's partners.

Lawmakers have said that is not enough, and compared the video to "deepfake" videos, which have manipulated to make it appear as though people are doing or saying things that they've never have.

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday, representatives with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook said they are consulting with outside experts about how to address "deepfakes" and other forms of misinformation ahead of the 2020 elections. 

The presidential elections are expected to evoke a barrage of lies and misleading content online, with bad actors employing new tactics such as manipulated footage.

"Leading up to 2020 we know that combating misinformation is one of the most important things we can do," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement responding to the letter. "We continue to look at how we can improve our approach and the systems we've built."

"Part of that includes getting outside feedback from academics, experts and policymakers," the spokesperson added.

The lawmakers, including House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), raised concerns that "there may be a potential conflict of interest between Facebook’s bottom line and immediately addressing political disinformation on your platform."

Critics have accused Facebook of putting profits over safety on its platform, alleging that Facebook makes money from posts that get a lot of engagement – which are often hyperbolic or incendiary.

"We are concerned that you and your company are not taking these occurrences seriously and are grossly unprepared for the 2020 election," they wrote.

They are asking Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report MORE to answer a series of questions about its preparedness for 2020 and treatment of the Pelosi video, including whether Facebook gets "any revenue" for allowing the video to stay on the platform and how many staff the company has dedicated to dealing with disinformation.