Facebook caught a political ad that contained blatantly false information. That was, however, the whole point. The ad, paid for by The Really Online Lefty League, claimed that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham supports the Green New Deal. While it would be great if he did support the proposal—which, in short, aims to curb climate change and push the country to 100% green energy—he definitely doesn’t. But the incorrect information in this ad was no accident.
On the one hand, ads that contain false information about politicians should be fact-checked, right? Otherwise, things get pretty dangerous in a world already overflowing with fake news. As we’ve learned, and had confirmed when Mark Zuckerberg was questioned by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a congressional hearing last Wednesday, however, fake news is apparently fine—as long as politicians pay for those ads.
As a refresher, the most viral lines of the exchange went like this:
“Could I run ads targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” Ocasio-Cortez asked the Facebook CEO.
“Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg answered. “I think probably.”
Here’s that exchange in more detail:
— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) October 23, 2019
Why was this ad removed? The Really Online Lefty League is a Political Action Committee (PAC), which means that its ads are subject to fact-checking by Lead Stories, Facebook’s fact-checking partner. Lead Stories rated the ad as “false.” The ad is still available on The Really Online Lefty League’s page, by the way, but paid distribution is no more. The video now has a disclaimer that it contains false information and a “hoax alert.” You can view it here.
But if Ocasio-Cortez (or, assumably, any other politician) had paid for it, it would, according to Facebook’s policy, still be up. And that’s the point The Really Online Lefty League was trying to make. These double standards are at best confusing and at worst, contributing to the enormous problem of fake news we’re already battling against.
So far, Facebook is sticking to its policies. As covered at Daily Kos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren paid for a Facebook ad with false claims that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump for president, and that stayed up. Prior to that, as we also covered here at Daily Kos, Facebook refused to pull an ad about former Vice President Joe Biden, filled with lies about Ukraine. Why? Because Trump—who is, technically, a politician—paid for it.
What’s especially frustrating is that politicians arguably have a much bigger reach and audience; it’s not as though an ad filled with lies that Trump pays for is only reaching a handful of family members. And it’s not as though politicians lack an assumption of correctness, at least from their own supporters. How many people look at an ad and think, well, if he or she says it, it must be true? If they’re allowed to post that on Facebook, it must be true? Not everyone has the same degree of media literacy. The loophole on political ads and misinformation is dangerous.