Zuckerberg defends allowing misinformation in campaign ads

Zuckerberg defends allowing misinformation in campaign ads
© Aaron Schwartz

Facebook founder and CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day A book can explain why Elizabeth Warren's ideas bother billionaires so much Facebook says it removed millions of posts over hate speech, child exploitation violations MORE on Thursday defended his company’s controversial decision of allowing politicians to post political ads with misleading or false claims on its platform, saying it’s “something we have to live with.”

“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.

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“In general, in a democracy, I think that people should be able to hear for themselves what politicians are saying," Zuckerberg continued. "Often, the people who call the most for us to remove content are often the first to complain when its their content that falls on the wrong side of a policy.”

In his 35-minute speech at Georgetown Thursday afternoon, Zuckerberg elaborated on that defense, saying that having tech company's moderate content could be dangerous.

“Political ads on Facebook are more transparent than anywhere else,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t factcheck political ads… because we believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.

“I know many people disagree, but in general I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy. And we are not an outlier here.”

Zuckerberg said that the company had considered banning political ads all together but rejected that approach.

“Political ads can be an important part of voice, especially for local candidates and up and coming challengers that the media might not otherwise cover,” he explained. “Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.” 

Zuckerberg and Facebook have received backlash over their policy, which came under scrutiny this month after President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE’s reelection campaign released an advertisement accusing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE — without evidence — of using his office to pressure Ukrainian officials to drop an investigation into a company where his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board.

The Democratic National Committee called on Facebook to remove the "false ad." Cable network CNN has refused to run the ad, but Facebook has declined to remove it.

Facebook does have a third-party fact-checking program but for now has exempted posts and ads from political figures from that process. Critics argue that the social media giant is responsible for regulating ads on its platform, which reaches more than 2 billion people globally. But Facebook and free speech advocates say they are wary of giving tech companies authority over vetting political claims.

Democrats are keeping pressure on Facebook.

Biden’s 2020 contender, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE (D-Mass.), has repeatedly hammered Facebook over the policy by running her own campaign ad that falsely claims that Zuckerberg supports Trump for re-election.

Facebook also came under fire earlier this year when it declined to take down a user-posted video of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings MORE (D-Calif.) that was doctored to make it seem like she was slurring her words.

Zuckerberg told the Post that Facebook is “working through what our policy should be” when it comes to deepfake videos and is “getting pretty close to at least rolling out the first version of it.”

Zuckerberg will testify before the House Financial Services Committee next Wednesday in a hearing on his company’s plans to launch Libra, a new digital currency that has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators alike.

Updated at 3:13 p.m.