Facebook is refusing to let activist and California gubernatorial candidate Adriel Hampton run lying political ads, even though, under company policy, it should be okay. The spat highlights how little Facebook appears to have thought about the consequences of its stance on political speech.
The background: For weeks now, Facebook has been under fire for its policy of not fact-checking ads by political candidates. The company rejects debunked ads from companies and other individuals completely, but won’t even send ads from politicians to fact-checkers. (Facebook believes that the company shouldn’t be the gatekeeper of truth on candidate ads.) That’s why the Trump campaign could place an ad insinuating that Joe Biden colluded with Ukraine. To challenge this policy, Hampton registered as a gubernatorial candidate just to run the fake ads.
Running for office to spread lies is fine—just do it quietly: Hampton’s move is clearly a gimmick. It also shows that Facebook’s policy is full of holes. His idea isn’t a huge stretch: it’s an obvious and logical way to get around Facebook’s rules. The fact that the company didn’t anticipate it is worrying.
Sure, it’s not in good faith to register as a candidate just to mess with Facebook. But if there’s anything we’ve learned since 2016, it’s that there are probably lots of people out there who are willing to register as a politician just to spread lies and mess with Americans. What’s to stop someone from running for local office just to take out misleading ads to target the most vulnerable? When disinformation is such a big problem on the platform, leaving this one huge loophole undermines all the company’s other efforts. Facebook stopped Hampton only because he talked publicly about his efforts. Other people who do it quietly won’t be stopped, and can do far more harm.
Dissent is coming from inside the house: Facebook has already been beaten up by politicians and journalists and activists. Now it’s also facing pushback from its own workers. Hundreds of Facebook employees recently signed a letter against the ads policy, arguing that “free speech and paid speech are not the same." It claims that the policy will erode public trust and suggests that political ads be held to the same standards as any others. “We want to see actual change,” the letter reads. Facebook should listen.