Zuckerberg says it’s not Facebook’s job to worry about misleading political ads

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Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook won’t be banning political ads, even if they contain false information, during a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday.

The Facebook CEO argued that political advertising is more transparent on Facebook than anywhere else, and added that political ads are an essential form of free speech. “I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians,” he said.

“Given the sensitivity around political ads, I’ve considered whether we should stop allowing political ads altogether,” he added. “ From a business perspective, the controversy certainly isn’t worth the small part of our business they make up … but political ads can be an important part of voice, and banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.” 

He said that Facebook does not fact-check political ads because he believes that people should see for themselves what politicians are saying. 

“I believe that people should decide for themselves what is credible, not tech companies,” Zuckerberg said. 

Even though Zuckerberg said political ads are welcome on the platform, Facebook added strict new changes to its ad policies in August that will require new disclosures for political ads. Advertisers that run political or social issues ads will have to show government credentials such as a tax-registered organization identification number or a government website domain. Other advertisers without these credentials will have to prove their identity by providing a phone number, business email, or a mail-deliverable address. 

Facebook’s approach to political ads has long been in the spotlight, but has become a major talking point of the Democratic presidential primary. Massachusetts senator and front-runner Elizabeth Warren took out an intentionally false ad on Facebook to draw attention to the issue. Zuckerberg has previously called Warren, who wants to break up the social media giant, an “existential threat” to Facebook.

mark zuckerberg georgetown free speech political ads university
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 17: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leads a conversation on free expression at Georgetown University on October 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. The event was hosted by the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy and its Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics). Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Facebook

The social media giant has received a lot of backlash for how ads and news articles were handled during the 2016 election, particularly in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and Zuckerberg defended his decisions as the 2020 election approaches.

“I’m committed to the values that we are discussing today, but we won’t always get it right, and I understand that people are concerned about how much control we have,” he said. “I don’t think we should be making such important decisions about speech on our own either.” 

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