Facebook Public Affairs Exec: Not Our Place to Police Political Ads

Facebook is holding fast to its decision not to fact-check political advertising on its vast social network.
"We don't believe that it is our role to fact check politicians," Robert Traynham, head of Public Affairs at Facebook ($FB), told Cheddar in an interview Friday. "If a politician says the world is flat, you should vote for me because of it, you should hold him accountable for what he said. We know that's not true, but it's not up to us as a private company to be able to discern that."
Late last month the platform announced new measures to protect election integrity and improve transparency ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Traynham admitted that the company should have moved quicker in addressing foreign interference and misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election but said that he thought it successfully protected the 2018 elections. He stated that Facebook's 2020 strategy is three-fold: increase transparency on political advertisements, combat foreign interference, and reduce misinformation.
Not on the company's agenda heading into 2020: fact-checking political ads.
The company's stance is controversial, and Facebook has been criticized by candidates, lawmakers, and even employees for its decision not to fact-check ads bought by political candidates. Hundreds of Facebook employees signed a letter denouncing the decision and asking leadership to reconsider. Just before Facebook reported better than expected earnings Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his company would no longer allow political ads.
The company's decision "was based on principle, not money" Twitter's Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal wrote in a tweet, as political ad spend for the 2018 U.S. midterm election was less than $3 million. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call this week that political ad spending accounted for less than 1 percent of company revenue.
Though Facebook doesn't allow advertisements for tobacco products, weapons, guns, ammunition, illegal supplements and prescription drugs, it also claims it would be censorship to ban political ads, Cheddar's Tim Stenovec noted. Traynham responded the company believes it is up to politicians to make their case to voters and for voters to make a determination.
"It's really up to our users out there to have as much information as possible ahead of election day," Traynham said.
He said the company employs 35,000 fact checkers "to try to take down as much incorrect information as possible," but the company does not use those fact checkers on political ads.
Instead, it is up to users to discern what, on a Facebook feed, is true or false. If something "doesn't smell right or doesn't seem right coming from a politician's ad, you can go on Facebook's Ad Library and see how much they're spending on this ad," Traynham said.
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