Lies, Hate and Disinformation – Should Facebook Decide What’s What?

FB Protesters - Copy

Crowds have been gathering in front of Facebook headquarters and Mark Zuckerberg’s home demanding that Facebook stop accepting political ads from users and stop availing users of targeted political ads.  The crowd that gathered on February 17 was organized by well-known groups like Media Alliance and Global Exchange

Some groups have demanded that Mark Zuckerberg step down as Facebook CEO. They cite Twitter’s ban on political ads and Google’s ban on targeted political ads as models for stopping posted content that mislead voters.

Although both major political parties use Facebook and other media platforms to promote their causes, the current demands focus more specifically on right-leaning political groups:

* Mr. Zuckerberg appears to be engaged in some kind of mutual assistance arrangement with Donald Trump that will help him to get re-elected. Facebook does not need to wait for government regulations to stop accepting any political advertising in 2020 until after the elections on November 4. If there is any doubt whether an ad is political, it should err on the side of caution and refuse to publish. It is unlikely that Facebook will follow this course. George Soros: Remove Zuckerberg and Sandberg From Their Posts. Letter from Soros to Financial Times, February 17, 2020.

* This year’s US presidential elections are in jeopardy—in part because San Francisco Bay Area technology company Facebook refuses to take responsibility for the lies, hate, and disinformation that are being spread using its platform. Crowd Outside Mark Zuckerberg’s Home Protests Political Disinformation on Facebook, Newsweek, February 18, 2020.

* Tech companies must play a more active role in regulating the content on their platforms, and we stand in full support of tech platforms removing demonstrably false content and instituting better transparency standards. That approach combats the spread of disinformation without harming civic engagement or limiting the ability of campaigns to connect directly with voters. DCCC, DNC, DSCC Joint Statement on Google’s Recent Changes To Its Political Ad Policy. November 22, 2019.

In spite of demands for banning all political ads or banning targeted ads, the real item on the left-leaning wish list is for Facebook to act as gatekeeper and ban false or misleading content. This is a tall order requiring ample resources, which does not help Facebook’s bottom line.

Facebook is not a content provider, it merely offers a platform for content generated by users. Therefore, Facebook is supposedly protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes websites from certain liability when they publish information provided by another source. This usually arises in the context of defamation, privacy, negligence, and other tort claims. It does not, however, cover criminal liability, copyright infringement, or other intellectual property claims. Findlaw:  Understanding the Legal Issues for Social Networking Sites.

The bigger elephant in the room, other than that Facebook benefits monetarily from political ads that might be misleading, is how would the folks creating Facebook algorithms determine what is misleading.

Say, a Facebook political ad states that immigrants helped build our nation, while another ad states that illegal immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. What ad should Facebook approve or prohibit? Could picking one or the other ever be considered objective? Would Facebook’s financial bottom line be affected by an effort to fact check such a complex question?

The point here is that what protesters are advocating is blatant censorship, and censorship outside the parameters of laws such as Section 230 is never good.