Facebook employees raised concerns over political ad policy in letter to Zuckerberg: report

Facebook employees raised concerns over political ad policy in letter to Zuckerberg: report
© Aaron Schwartz

Hundreds of Facebook employees are raising sharp concerns over the company's policy allowing misinformation in political ads, raising the stakes as the company simultaneously faces a firestorm of criticism from policymakers and 2020 Democrats externally.  

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergLGBTQ groups accuse Facebook ads of spreading misinformation about HIV drugs Trump, Pelosi on shortlist for Time Person of the Year Tech finds surprise ally in Trump amid high-stakes tax fight MORE, obtained by The New York Times, the employees wrote they "strongly object" to Facebook's decision not to fact-check political ads paid for by elected officials or political candidates. 

"Misinformation affects us all," they wrote, according to a copy published by the Times. "Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for." 

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"We strongly object to this policy as it stands," the employees continued. "It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."

Earlier this month, Facebook clarified that it does not fact-check or censor misinformation in political ads, drawing aggressive scrutiny from leading Democratic presidential candidates including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday FBI head rejects claims of Ukrainian 2016 interference MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies UN International Anticorruption Day highlights democracy as a human right MORE (D-Mass.). 

Zuckerberg defended the policy at a congressional hearing last week during a fiery line of questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump tops list of most tweeted about politicians in 2019 Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally Trump keeps Obama immigration program, and Democrats blast him MORE (D-N.Y.), who pressed the tech executive over whether she could place ads making false claims about Republican rivals.

Ocasio-Cortez asked if Facebook would allow her to pay for advertisements claiming Republicans in vulnerable primaries support the Green New Deal, progressive legislation that moderates have largely eschewed.  

"So you will take down lies, or you won't take down lies?" Ocasio-Cortez asked. "I think this is a pretty simple yes or no." Zuckerberg said it depended on the "context." 

Ocasio-Cortez on Monday praised the Facebook employees that signed on to the letter, calling them "courageous."

The Facebook employees in the letter wrote they believe the company should not take money for political advertisements "without applying the standards that our other ads have to follow." 

They also called for Facebook to restrict the extent to which politicians can target their advertisements, a spending cap to ensure more entrenched lawmakers do not have an unfair advantage over new candidates and broader observance of "election silence periods." 

"We want to have this conversation in an open dialog because we want to see actual change," they wrote.

This past year has seen a substantial uptick in public protests by tech workers, including walkouts by Amazon employees and widely circulated petitions within Microsoft. The letter indicates Facebook may be the latest company to face off with its own employees in public over controversial decisions. 

"This is still our company," the Facebook employees wrote. 

Facebook said it was committed to not censoring political speech in a statement responding to the letter from employees.

"Facebook’s culture is built on openness so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic," Bertie Thomson, Facebook's vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement to The Hill. 

"We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads," she said. 

This report was updated at 3:05pm