FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 04, 2019
Facebook lets political ads say anything, while Twitter stops allowing them this month
Try to find a social media reference in a news article, column or letter. What's the topic?
Read about any other technology issue and give your viewpoint.
Do you follow this newspaper on Facebook or Twitter? Why or why not?
Facebook is the focus of yet another controversy – this time over its policy of allowing paid political ads on its site even if they have false information. Although the giant social network routinely takes down hate speech and other content violating "community standards," it accepts blatant distortions and lies in sponsored political content because it doesn't want to decide what’s true or not.
Company founder Mark Zuckerberg defended the approach recently in a Georgetown University speech in Washington, D.C. "In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression," he told students. "I believe we must continue to stand for free expression. . . . Even if we wanted to ban political ads, it's not clear where we'd draw the line." In a follow-up comment to Wall Street analysts last week, the social media pioneer said: "In a democracy, I don’t think it's right for private companies to censor politicians or the news.”
His stance draws wide criticism, including from some of his employees. More than 250 sign an open letter calling the political ads policy "a threat to what FB stands for." The statement, reported on last week by The New York Times, says: "We strongly object to this policy as it stands." Pushback also is voiced by Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard University professor of computer science and internet law: "The fact that something is hard to do is, in the case of a half-trillion dollar company, not much cause for sympathy. Let them hire people to take on the hard task of evaluating ads -- or have them reject political candidate advertising altogether if they can’t evaluate them properly."
Another social media powerhouse now takes an opposite position. As of Nov. 22, Twitter no longer accepts ads from candidates, parties or groups pushing views on topics like climate change or abortion. (See video below.) "We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought," chief executive Jack Dorsey tweeted last week. Such ads, he noted, "can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions." Paid pitches for voter registration will be allowed, along with other exceptions to be clarified. Earlier, the video app TikTok said last month it won't host paid political ads. In The New York Times, tech columnist Kara Swisher calls Dorsey's announcement "a bold and epic poke that seemed aimed directly at Mark Zuckerberg."
Facebook says: "It has been a long-held American ideal that we win the day with better arguments, not by silencing those we disagree with." -- Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships
Twitter says: "While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics." – Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer
Tech columnist says: "Facebook is the platform that matters most when it comes to politics because of the effectiveness of its ad targeting and its size." – Kara Swisher, The New York Times
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