Facebook has become a prime outlet for presidential campaign messaging, with President Trump and his Democratic rivals collectively spending more than $1 million every week on targeted ads, according to published reports. So it was disturbing, to say the least, when Facebook altered its rules recently to exempt politicians and political parties from its ban on false advertising.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the change amounted to a standing invitation for politicians to lie on Facebook — something it doesn’t allow any other advertisers to do. And this isn’t about free speech, or politicians’ ability to bend the truth in the comments posted to their profile pages and seen only by the people who follow them. It’s about paid speech, or their ability to use the immense power of Facebook’s platform to show masses of voters deceptive ads tailored to those voters’ preferences and weaknesses.
Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, insist that voters deserve access to the unfiltered words of their politicians so they can decide for themselves what to believe. “By limiting political speech,” the company asserted, “we would leave people less informed about what their elected officials are saying and leave politicians less accountable for their words.”
There is an enormous difference, however, between not censoring candidates’ remarks and handing them a bullhorn to amplify untruths across the electorate, which is what Facebook is doing.