Elizabeth Warren runs ‘fake’ Facebook advert attacking Zuckerberg over inaction on misinformation

Andy Gregory
Elizabeth Warren has taken out a Facebook advert publishing a lie about Mark Zuckerberg to highlight how the company's policy allows political misinformation to spread: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren has paid for a series of Facebook adverts built on a false statement about Mark Zuckerberg, as part of a row with the social media giant over political misinformation.

“Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election,” read the sponsored posts addressed from the US presidential hopeful.

Ms Warren quickly clarifies her statement is untrue, before claiming that Mr Zuckerberg’s company is guilty of giving the president “free reign to lie”, as he pays Facebook “gobs of money to push out [his] lies to American voters”.

The adverts, which were still active on Saturday morning and had been viewed by at least 150,000 people, bookend a week of Democratic outrage over a loophole in the company’s misinformation rules that allows politicians to publish mistruths within paid adverts.

The backlash began in force this week after the Trump campaign ran an advert claiming Joe Biden had “promised Ukraine a billion dollars” to fire the prosecutor investigating Burisma – the gas company of which his son, Hunter, was a board member.

However the loophole had already been acknowledged by former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who now works for the social media giant, in a September speech, after Facebook changed its policy online to downgrade its ban on “deceptive, false or misleading content” to only exclude “previously debunked content”.

Mr Clegg, now Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, said: “It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak. That’s why I want to be really clear today – we do not submit speech by politicians to our independent fact-checkers, and we generally allow it on the platform even when it would otherwise breach our normal content rules.”

Ms Warren has previously backed breaking Facebook up into smaller companies and has pushed for stronger antitrust laws to rein in the power of tech giants.

Last week, audio leaked of Mr Zuckerberg giving an unusually terse response to Ms Warren’s calls for greater regulation, saying in the face of an “existential” threat he would “go to the mat and fight”.

He said Facebook would likely sue the US government if Ms Warren brought in such reforms as president.

“It’s like, we care about our country, and want to work with our government and do good things,” Mr Zuckerberg said. “But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and fight.”

Ms Warren retorted by saying: “What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

She continued this theme in her advert on Thursday, which read: “Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once. Now, they’re deliberately allowing a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people. It’s time to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable.”

Ms Warren has spent $4.1m on Facebook adverts since May 2018, and more than $172,000 between 4 and 10 October.

Donald Trump, who has raised more funds at this point in the campaign than any candidate in history, has spent $20.6m since May 2018, and more than $587,000 between 4 and 10 October.

Responding to Ms Warren’s adverts, a Facebook spokesperson told CNN: “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.”

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