Facebook refuses to remove Trump ads that smear Biden

Facebook is allowing the Trump campaign to post false information about former Vice President Joe Biden, a policy change that came after CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a White House meeting with the president.

The Biden campaign had requested that the company remove a campaign ad that claimed Biden, as vice president, had threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid to Ukraine to induce the government to stop an investigation into his son Hunter. There is no evidence this occurred, and the same ad was rejected by CNN for containing inaccuracies. The ad was accepted by Fox News, Twitter and YouTube.

“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,” wrote Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director for global elections, in a letter to the Biden campaign. “Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers.”

Before joining Facebook, Harbath worked as chief digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and as a digital staffer on Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign. Giuliani is a key figure in the White House’s dealings with Ukraine that are under scrutiny in the impeachment inquiry.

President Donald Trump meets with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the Oval Office on September 19, 2019. (Photo:The White House via @DonaldTump Facebook)
President Trump meets with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the Oval Office. (Photo: The White House via @DonaldTump Facebook)

On Sept. 19, Zuckerberg and Trump had a surprise meeting at the White House, which the president referred to as “nice.” Facebook announced a change in policy on Sept. 24: It would not fact-check or remove content by politicians even if the posts violate the company’s rules. Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of global affairs and communications, wrote, “it is not our role to intervene when politicians speak,” adding that would be done only if a politician’s speech endangers people.

The Trump campaign has pumped millions into Facebook, including $5 million over the past three months, as it attempts to push back against an impeachment inquiry that’s reached majority support in many polls.

The move has drawn scrutiny from another Democratic frontrunner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been a critic of the power of big tech, wrote in a series of tweets on Monday that “Facebook has incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. Mark Zuckerberg is telling employees that he views a Warren administration as an ‘existential’ threat to Facebook. The public deserves to know how Facebook intends to use their influence in this election,” adding, “Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once because they were asleep at the wheel while Russia attacked our democracy — allowing fake, foreign accounts to run ad campaigns to influence our elections.”

[ Related: What’s behind Warren’s plan to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google ]

Zuckerberg called a potential Warren administration an existential threat to his company during a July meeting, the audio of which was published by the Verge last week. In March, the company removed policy-oriented paid ads by the Warren campaign that called for breaking up monopoly tech companies, then reversed itself after criticism. The company had pledged that it would work to fight disinformation on its site by sharing huge amounts of data with the public to allow researchers to flag questionable posts. But reconciling that goal with its privacy policy has proved difficult, and the company is behind schedule on the project.


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