In a move Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) described as a perfect example of why her plan to break up tech giants is necessary, Facebook late Monday took down ads from Warren’s presidential campaign that promoted the proposal and denounced tech corporations—including Facebook itself—for exploiting users’ private information for profit.
“You shouldn’t have to contact Facebook’s publicists in order for them to decide to ‘allow robust debate’ about Facebook. They shouldn’t have that much power.”
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Though the ads were later restored, Warren said the episode demonstrates the need for a “social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor”—a point that was echoed by critics of big tech’s monopoly power.
“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” the Massachusetts senator wrote, using the hashtag #BreakUpBigTech.
Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor. #BreakUpBigTech https://t.co/UPS6dozOxn
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) March 11, 2019
You shouldn't have to contact Facebook's publicists in order for them to decide to "allow robust debate" about Facebook. They shouldn’t have that much power. https://t.co/yPi57RHozf
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) March 12, 2019
The Facebook ad by Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign boosted her newly released plan to “break up big tech” by highlighting how concentration of power in the hands of just three corporate behemoths—Facebook, Amazon, and Google—has affected the U.S. economy and democracy itself.
“Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” read the ad. “We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”
“It’s time to break up these big companies so they don’t have so much power over everyone else,” Warren’s ad continued. “I’ve got a plan to protect consumers and competition.”
On Monday evening, the ad was briefly replaced with the following message: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.”
After the move sparked immediate backlash, Facebook issued a statement claiming the ads were pulled because “they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo.”
“In the interest of allowing robust debate,” the statement continued, “we are restoring the ads.”
As Open Markets Institute fellow Matt Stoller pointed out, Facebook’s policy barring the use of its corporate logo originated a decade ago in response to a group titled “Facebook Users Against the New Terms of Service.”
Following the group’s formation, Stoller noted, Facebook instituted a ban on the use of the company name or logo in ads and group titles.
In the name of debate? Facebook banned the use of its name and logo about a decade ago in response to a large group titled ‘Facebook users against the new terms of service.’ https://t.co/nW9EZayzK8
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) March 12, 2019
“In other words, it has been policy for Facebook not to allow political debates about Facebook on Facebook,” Stoller concluded. “Facebook has been autocratic since the roll-out of Beacon in 2007. Barring users from organizing on Facebook about Facebook was an important part of Zuckerberg’s control of his platform’s politics.”