In an announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that the social media company would not allow any political advertisements to run the week before the 2020 U.S. presidential election and will “flag any premature claims of victory.” The decision raises strong concerns that Facebook could potentially exert a considerable amount of influence on the election results.
After the 2016 election resulted in Donald Trump becoming president of the United States, there were charges, mainly in the media and from the losing party, that Facebook and other social media companies had allowed Russian operatives to interfere in the election results through advertising and posts. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is hoping to stop this campaign of ‘misinformation,’ which could result in Facebook itself interfering in the election.
The official statement, released on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, said, “The US elections are just two months away, and with Covid-19 affecting communities across the country, I’m concerned about the challenges people could face when voting. I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.
“This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”
Though it’s understandable that Zuckerberg wants to avoid allegations against his company of unintentional election interference, his plea comes across as personal, not professional. This raises questions about whether this decision is being made to help protect Facebook or a particular candidate.
“In the last seven days of the most important election in our history, President Trump will be banned from defending himself on the largest platform in America,” Samantha Zager, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary, said in a statement. “When millions of voters will be making their decisions, the President will be silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia.”
Ben Block, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “Democrats will continue to urge these platforms to recognize the great responsibility they have in 2020 to protect voters from dangerous disinformation. That means real, concrete action to combat disinformation that is being organically spread by users on their platforms.”
Facebook has already started this process and flagged one of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts that questions the validity of mail-in voting. The social media company put up a message with the post, stating, “Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S. and the same is predicted this year.”
It appears like other social media companies are following suit. Twitter has already flagged one of Donald Trump’s tweets in a similar way to Facebook. Pinterest has also said that it will expand its “misinformation policy, saying it would remove false or misleading information about how to vote or engage in civic duties such as providing data for the Census.”
Though all of these social media businesses claim that they are protecting the public against misinformation, it does raise some interesting questions.
Is it the responsibility of social media companies to become the thought police in democratic elections? If someone falls for false advertising, is it the responsibility of the company that allowed the post or the person who believed it? Is there even any evidence that the advertisements created by Russian antagonists in 2016 had a significant impact on the election?
Also, Zuckerberg fails to highlight the reality that limiting speech during this election cycle, could result in the company’s use of Facebook to impact future elections in countries across the world and free speech in general.
Instead of focusing on the elections, perhaps, Facebook could do a better job monitoring the violent, abusive and sexually explicit content that can be found on its platform.
Photo from PixieMe / Shutterstock.com
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