On October 31st, 2019, Aaron Sorkin, writer of “The Social Network,” wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg for The New York Times on his hypocrisy and the irony of his Georgetown speech on protecting free speech.
Recently, Zuckerberg has been defending his company’s posting of false advertisements regarding political candidates under the guise of free speech. He insists that Facebook is a “platform, not a publisher,” and that this excuses the company from making the distinction between real and false news. But if you ask a crowd where they get their news from, how many will say either Twitter or Facebook?
Zuckerberg uses this argument to escape the moral (and legal) obligation a publisher would have to ensure that the content being posted to it was factually correct. While testifying before Congress last week, Zuckerberg stated that Facebook does not fact-check politicians’ speech because of their belief in democracy and the people’s ability to fact-check for themselves.
The issue with this is that most people do not have the tools or the skepticism to fact-check these politicians’ posts. And Republican members of Congress are commending Zuckerberg’s excuses and encouraging Facebook to “resist temptation to censor its users’ speech,” like Republican Bill Posey, who showed concern over Facebook’s potential restriction of free speech regarding “the risks associated with vaccinations.” (However, I cannot bring myself to go further into the ridiculousness of protecting anti-vaxxers at the moment).
Meanwhile, hundreds of Facebook’s own employees signed a letter to Zuckerberg stating their disagreement with the decision to let any politician post false claims in advertisements on the site. Meaning the issue here lies not within free speech, but paid speech.
The letter states, “Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”
This letter also gives potential options for the company to better distinguish advertisements from organic posts, especially regarding political advertisements as the election approaches. At the very least, if Facebook chooses to disregard making any changes to/fact-checking political posts themselves, there must be clearer policies for political ads, because as it stands, it’s unclear to both consumers and advertisers that political advertisements are not held to the same standards as other advertisements.
Political misinformation is the most harmful kind of misinformation, and for Facebook to continue to excuse it’s extreme disregard for the truth is unsettling. Mark Zuckerberg is not a kid anymore, though that’s been his usual approach to scrutiny. He is extremely powerful, wielding that power in a way that should make us uncomfortable to use his website, and can no longer portray himself as an awkward technology geek in order to disarm us when we catch on to what his company has been doing.