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Facebook removed an ad over the weekend that made false claims about Sen. Lindsey O. Graham. But the ad was run by a political action committee and not an individual politician, underlining the different standard for policing such content on the social media behemoth.
Facebook took the action after the left-leaning group, The Really Online Lefty League, posted an ad last week to test Facebook’s ad policies. The ad falsely claimed the South Carolina Republican and fierce Trump defender supported the Green New Deal, a sweeping approach to climate change that failed in the Senate. Facebook spokesman Tom Channick told Reuters the ad was eligible for review — and potential removal — by the platform's third-party fact-checking partners because it was paid for by a political action group and not a politician.
The ad was inspired by an exchange during Mark Zuckerberg’s Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday, when the Facebook chief executive told Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) she could “probably” run an ad claiming Republicans support the Green New Deal during a heated line of questioning.
Some critics said the erroneous ad highlighted the problems with Facebook's political ads policy. It also raises fresh questions about the company’s ability to detect and fight false information ahead of the 2020 election because the PAC ad was initially approved by Facebook and ran on the platform.
Sleeping Giants, a group that has called on media outlets to remove advertising from outlets like Breitbart, said on Twitter:
This is it. This is exactly why the @facebook political ad policy must be scrapped.— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) October 26, 2019
To allow politicians to lie with impunity while collecting cash for the privilege is so incredibly dangerous. All it does is guarantee the death of truth and profitability of Facebook. https://t.co/ADLpMMMfeo
Daniel Tunkelang, a tech consultant, questioned how Facebook had arrived at its policy:
I'm sympathetic to the challenge of Facebook's balancing act as a neutral-ish platform, but I'm struggling to understand the decision process that led to fact-checking posts unless they're from politicians -- but not if they're from political groups. https://t.co/rlym5wMKVM— Daniel Tunkelang (@dtunkelang) October 27, 2019
Facebook's policies on political ads have been under fire since the company officially announced last month it would not submit ads or posts sponsored by politicians to its third-party fact-checkers. Democratic presidential candidates have blasted the company for allowing President Trump to make false claims about former vice president Joe Biden in ads, and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) recently told the Technology 202 he's working on legislation to ensure that Facebook isn't making money off of politicians disseminating falsehoods.
The Really Online Lefty League decided to run the ad to spark greater debate about how the social network should handle misinformation in ads.
“It shouldn’t be up to one man or one company to decide for a country what truth in advertising in politics looks like,” Adriel Hampton, The Really Online Lefty League treasurer who made the video, told Newsweek magazine. "And we need to have a robust conversation around that, which includes where Mark Zuckerberg is not the decision-maker."
Hampton said the ad was approved by Faebook overnight with zero questions. The company has previously said it’s working to improve its systems to address phony ads after Russian actors were able to purchase Facebook ads to spread political disinformation during the 2016 election.
"It just shows you that not only is Facebook not enforcing any kind of truth in advertising, there's no tools for people to get it to the fact-checkers—that I can see—and people believe it," Hampton said in the same Newsweek interview.
Hampton spliced together videos to make it appear as if President Trump’s ally was approving the Green New Deal. Graham’s office confirmed to Reuters that the congressman does not support Ocasio-Cortez’s initiative.
David Roberts, a writer at Vox, said the ad raises new questions about a future where misinformation is shared more widely in videos. Though this ad did not appear to be a deepfake, he noted social media's misinformation challenges will only get worse as such videos doctored with artificial intelligence become more widely available:
I guess this is kinda funny but also our future of deep fakes and unreality, where no one knows anything for sure and everyone falls back on tribe to find certainty, fills me with dread. https://t.co/0LKhP8DjNi— David Roberts (@drvox) October 25, 2019
It seems that Facebook is set on treating third-party ads differently. My colleagues Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker reported this morning that Facebook took down some ads from a pro-Trump super PAC for violating its policies and submitted others to its third-party fact-checking partners. The ads sought personal information of voters by targeting them with messages that said their voter registration was incomplete.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Zuckerberg is further struggling to defend Facebook's decision to include right-wing news source Breitbart in its new News Tab program, Adi Robertson at The Verge reports. Zuckerberg described the feature as “dedicated to high-quality and curated news,” in an interview with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson on Friday. When asked by the New York Times's Marc Tracy how Breitbart, a site known for fabricating stories and spreading racist views, fit the criteria, Zuckerberg responded:
“Part of having this be a trusted source is that it needs to have a diversity of views in there, so I think you want to have content that represents different perspectives,” he said.
Breitbart is not a paid partner and its inclusion doesn't guarantee that its content will be featured, Zuckerberg added. But his defense of Breitbart, which reporters and researchers have linked to white nationalism, drew swift criticism. The New York Times's Charlie Warzel opined that the incident highlighted Zuckerberg's emphasis on growth above all other principles.
“His only consistent ideology is that connectivity is a universal good,” writes Warzel. “And his only consistent goal is advancing that ideology, at nearly any cost.”
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, defended Zuckerberg. He said that while he was “not defending Breitbart,” he questioned if reporters criticizing Facebook “want a platform our scale to make decisions to exclude news organizations based on their ideology.”
Two things to consider: (1) do you really want platform as big as Facebook embracing a political ideology? And (2) not as important, and this is an honest question, why such a different reaction to Breitbart being Apple News partner?— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) October 26, 2019
The Guardian's Julia Carrie Wong called it a "very good argument for breaking up Facebook."
Very strong argument for breaking up Facebook from architect of News Feed, current head of Instagram pic.twitter.com/n0KCrlFM3s— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) October 26, 2019
NIBBLES: The Pentagon awarded a $10 billion contract to upgrade its cloud computing services to Microsoft over competitor Amazon on Friday evening, my colleagues Aaron Gregg and Jay Greene report. Now, the president's role in lobbying against awarding the contract to Amazon — a potential violation of federal law — could become the subject of litigation, experts tell Aaron and Jay.
The Department of Defense snubbed cloud-computing giant Amazon after an intense lobbying effort and lawsuit by rival Oracle that the contract was biased in favor of Amazon. Amazon had a bid in for the so-called JEDI contract in July, but the President ordered a halt to the process, publicly citing complaints from Amazon's competitors. Privately, Trump instructed Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to review the award because of concerns it would go to Amazon, officials told Aaron and Jay. Former Defense staffer Guy Snodgrass said that Trump also asked former defense secretary Jim Mattis to “screw” Amazon and lock it out of the bid process in 2018.
The Defense Department maintained in a public statement that all companies, “were treated fairly and evaluated consistent with the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria.” A person familiar with Amazon’s thinking said the company is “evaluating options” for protesting the decision, Aaron and Jay report.
BYTES: Google is struggling with internal debate over its decision to hire a former Department of Homeland Security official who backed Trump's travel ban on Muslims, CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged in a recent all-hands meeting, my colleague Greg Bensinger reports. While Google has tried to quell internal political debate, its moderation efforts have sparked even more concerns from employees.
“We are genuinely struggling with some issues — transparency at scale,” said Pichai in a video of the meeting obtained by The Washington Post. “I think we need to figure out how to make this work better so we can actually drive the open culture we have. That needs to come with some balance — you’ve clearly seen the amount of leaks we are seeing.”
But employees, who have been increasingly public in their protests against the company's behavior and work with the government, weren't satisfied with the answer.
“Are we supporting the border camps now?” asked an employee in another online question, referring to Miles Taylor, the former DHS employee, who's hiring was first reported by BuzzFeed. During the meeting, some employees accused Google leadership of censoring questions about Taylor.
Karan Bhatia, a Google vice president for government affairs, defended Taylor’s hiring, saying his expertise is in counterterrorism and national security.
Other employees expressed greater concerns with new content moderation software the company is rolling out to monitor meetings for 100 or more workers. The company wants to use the same software to eventually monitor internal forums.
— News from the public sector:
— News from the private sector:
RANT AND RAVE
Trump had some more criticism for Apple CEO Tim Cook this week...about an iPhone feature the company changed two years ago:
To Tim: The Button on the IPhone was FAR better than the Swipe!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2019
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Coming up:
- The House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Repurposing the C-Band to Benefit all Americans” on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
The House Judiciary Committee will host a hearing on Antitrust and Economic Opportunity: Competition in Labor Markets on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Facebook's new fact-checking policy gets the Saturday Night Live treatment with Alex Moffat playing Mark Zuckerberg.