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 ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: FBI, DHS warn that foreign hackers will likely spread disinformation around election results | Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day | Trump to meet with Republican state officials on tech liability shield Facebook to 'restrict the circulation of content' if chaos results from election: report 2.5 million US users register to vote using Facebook, Instagram, Messenger 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 BidenBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDimon: Wealth tax 'almost impossible to do' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court 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-CortezWells Fargo CEO issues apology after saying there was a 'limited pool of Black talent' Brand responds to Trump claim protesters throw tuna cans at police: 'Eat em, don't throw em' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context 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