Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg criticized Twitter on Thursday over the company's decision to block Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) from promoting an advertisement on the social media site that Twitter had deemed “inflammatory.”
“Marsha Blackburn ran an ad, which is launching her campaign for Senate. And in that ad there’s a lot of positions that people don’t like — that I don’t like,” Sandberg said in an interview with Axios that was broadcast on Facebook Live. “But the question is: should divisive political or issue ads run? Our answer is yes.”
Earlier this week, Blackburn launched her campaign for the Senate through an online video outlining her political beliefs. In the video, Blackburn said that she had worked to stop “the sale of baby body parts,” a reference to her opposition to fetal-tissue research. Her campaign paid to have the video promoted as an ad on Twitter, but the social media company on Monday moved to bar Blackburn from doing so.
According to campaign spokeswoman Andrea Bozek, Twitter told the campaign that the ad was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.” Blackburn's campaign and any other Twitter user could still share the ad, but Blackburn was prevented from paying to promote it to a broader audience.
In a campaign email, Blackburn seized on what she perceived as politically motivated censorship, telling her supporters that “Silicon Valley is in the pocket of the liberal establishment, but our conservative revolution is going to keep on winning.”
A day later, Twitter reversed its decision. “Twitter tried to censor us & you rose up! This is a victory for free speech & the conservative revolution. Let's carry this to the Senate!" the Blackburn campaign tweeted Tuesday.
During Thursday's interview, Sandberg said that Facebook allows such divisive, issue-based ads, “because when you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people.” In fact, the Blackburn ad is running as a sponsored post on Facebook.
Sandberg went on to say that ads, just like unpaid content, are important to free expression. "[W]hen Twitter took down the ad, they said, ‘Well, she can run the free content, but she can’t run the ad.’ But we all know that her ability to get that message out does depend on having access to ads," she said. “We don’t check the information people put on Facebook before they run it, and I don’t think anyone should want us to do that.”
Sandberg also fielded questions about Facebook's cooperation with Congress as Intelligence Committee investigators examine the role of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last month, the company said it had identified more than 3,000 advertisements purchased in a Russian-orchestrated campaign to influence the American public's views and exploit divisions around contentious issues.
Sandberg emphasized that Facebook has shared the content of those ads with the committees and that the company is also working with other digital platforms to prevent foreign meddling. Officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify in front of two congressional committees next month.