Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “should pay a price for what he is doing to our democracy,” in reference to the social media giant’s insistence that it will not fact-check political ads and remove false ones.
During prickly questioning last month by Democratic lawmakers at a televised House hearing, Zuckerberg dug in on not fact-checking politicians’ speech and the handling of hate speech and potential incitements to violence.
He said the company’s policy was based on a long tradition of allowing free expression. “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true,” he said.
Clinton spoke over the weekend at a Netflix event for the film “The Great Hack” on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the now-defunct data consultancy allegedly hijacked personal data on Facebook users ahead of the 2016 US vote.
The 2016 presidential candidate warned that Facebook’s attitude was encouraging the spread of misinformation ahead of a likely repeat of efforts to affect the 2020 election.
“We are getting warning signals all the time about what is happening right now and how it is likely to affect our next election,” she said. Disinformation campaigns are “only going to be more powerful going forward because it is more well tested. They know what they were successful at.
“Part of our problem, those of us who are appalled by this war on truth and this fake news which is truly surrounding us these days, is we’re not very good at combating it,” she said. “It’s hard because you’re up against algorithms, plus all these other powerful forces, it’s really hard.”
Asked if she saw a connection between Zuckerberg’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in the White House in September and Facebook’s decision not to censor political ads, the said: “If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I might suggest that there seems to be some connection… I don’t understand the mindset that we currently see operating with Zuckerberg.”
She also noted the irony she saw in Facebook’s position, enabling the growth of political attitudes that are anathema to the culture that enabled it in the first place.
“It was an open society that enabled technology to be birthed and now be so dominant in our lives,” she said. “It’s like a bad fairy tale. They are going to kill that golden goose. They are going to create a political system that is going to either come down too hard on them and squeeze them in ways that are not productive or continue to have a laissez faire attitude toward them where they continue to undermine our privacy and our freedom and our democracy. It could not be a more imperative challenge for us.”
Twitter announced last week that it would stop accepting political advertising globally on its platform, responding to the growing concerns over misinformation from politicians on social media.
Chief executive Jack Dorsey tweeted that while internet advertising “is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.”
But Facebook looked unlikely to follow Twitter’s lead, with Zuckerberg holding to his line that he would let political figures speak freely, and count on voters to judge truthfulness.
“In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call with analysts, the transcript of which he posted on Facebook.
Dorsey said Twitter’s new policy, details of which will be unveiled next month and enforced from November 22, would ban ads on political issues as well as from candidates.
“We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent,” he said. “Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we’re stopping these too.”
Dorsey said the company took the action to head off potential problems from “machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes.”
Twitter’s move comes in contrast to Facebook’s policy that allows political speech and ads to run without fact-checking.
Zuckerberg has said political advertising is not a major source of revenue but he believes it is important to allow everyone a “voice,” and banning political ads would favor incumbents.
Ads were important to candidates and groups the media wouldn’t cover, he said. And it would be hard to know where to draw the line. “Would we really block ads for important political issues like climate change or women’s empowerment?”
Dorsey said he disagreed with Zuckerberg’s assessment.
“We have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow,” he added.
Clinton praised Twitter’s stance, tweeting: “This is the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world.”
Social media platforms have been challenged by Trump’s campaign and its use of ads that contain claims critics say have been debunked by independent fact-checkers.
Democrats have stepped up pressure on Facebook to remove political ads, and a group of employees has also called for stronger efforts by the social network to clamp down on “civic misinformation” from politicians.
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