Warren mocks Facebook rules with false ad claiming Zuckerberg endorsed Trump
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Warren mocks Facebook rules with false ad claiming Zuckerberg endorsed Trump

Campaign by 2020 hopeful meant to call out social network’s policy giving politicians greater leeway to say what they want, which critics say aids the spread of disinformation

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Democratic presidential contender Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken to Facebook to run paid advertisements that falsely claim Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, endorsed US President Donald Trump — a move that aims to call out the social media giant for its stated policy of not removing posts by politicians, even if they breach normal content rules, nor fact-checking them.

“Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election,” the ads read above a photo of Trump and Zuckerberg following an Oval Office meeting in recent weeks.

The ad quickly states that the endorsement is not true but says Zuckerberg has given Trump “free rein to lie on his platform — and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out” these lies to American voters.

“If Trump tries to lie in a TV ad, most networks will refuse to air it. But Facebook just cashes Trump’s checks,” Warren goes on in the ad.

Warren alleged that Facebook “already helped elect” Trump once. “Now, they’re deliberately allowing a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people. It’s time to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable…” the ad goes on.

Facebook and Twitter have both steered away from removing “newsworthy” content which may include false or misleading comments from political leaders. YouTube offers a similar exemption.

Facebook vice president Nick Clegg said last month the social network would treat speech from politicians “as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”

In a statement to CNN, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said in response to Warren’s ad, “If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in the position of censoring that speech.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 11, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Last week, Warren accused Facebook of buckling to pressure from the White House on political misinformation.

“Trump and (Facebook CEO Mark) Zuckerberg met at the White House two weeks ago. What did they talk about?” Warren tweeted. “Facebook is now okay with running political ads with known lies.”

Facebook maintains it has not changed its stand but clarified a policy of steering clear of the touchy subject of moderating political speech.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook public policy director Katie Harbath said in a statement.

Warren has made calling out Facebook and other tech behemoths over free speech and anti-trust concerns a pillar of her campaign.

Global citizens movement Avaaz display life-sized Zuckerberg cutouts near the EU Commission to protest against fake Facebook accounts spreading disinformation on the platform, in Brussels, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Leaked audio from an internal Facebook meeting in July captured Zuckerberg acknowledging that if “someone like” Warren is elected, he expects Facebook to fight back — and prevail — against efforts to break it up in court. But he added: “And does that still suck for us? Yeah.”

Other Democratic candidates have also taken up the fight, arguing that Google, Facebook and Amazon are too big and powerful and are bad for privacy, public discourse, democracy and small business. They’re spying on us, contributing to economic inequality and hooking us and our children on addictive, useless services, candidates charge.

Critics say Facebook’s ad policies leave a gaping loophole for Trump, the biggest political ad spender on the platform, as he faces a congressional impeachment inquiry.

Gaurav Laroia of the watchdog group Free Press said exceptions allowed by Facebook means the company “is allowing its platform to be a vector for misinformation in the lead-up to the 2020 election.”

This policy “seems like a troubling compromise because it’s an invitation to political actors to say whatever they think is expedient whether it’s true or not,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University and author of a report on “Disinformation and the 2020 Election.”

Barrett’s report recommends that social networks take down “provably false” information, though he acknowledged that would leave big loopholes for politicians stretching the truth.

The report noted that a majority of deliberately deceptive or false information shared on social media comes not from Russia or other foreign sources but from within the United States, making it more complicated to take down.

“It’s a real conundrum. I don’t think there’s a an easy answer,” Barrett said.

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