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Political advertising in social media | Free speech v Paid speech | Facebook v Twitter

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey both posted significant management (I would call it political) decisions at the same time on October 30th.

Zuckerberg published nearly 2000 words long statement based on his third quarter earnings call where he doubled down on his position about “free-expressed-voice-and-togetherness” and “laissez-faire” policy for misleading and manipulative political and issue ads after his speech in Georgetown University. [Standing for Voice and Free Expression]

Here is an excerpt of Zuckerberg’s statement about political ads:

Should we block political ads with false statements? Should we block all political ads? Google, YouTube and most internet platforms run these same ads, most cable networks run these same ads, and of course national broadcasters are required by law to run them by FCC regulations. I think there are good reasons for this. In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news. And although I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue.

I would emphasize too on his repeated claims about what other companies do and how Facebook is the most responsible one from them all. Here is an example: I think we invest more in getting harmful content off our services than any other company in the world. And another one: I think we’ve done more than any of the other major internet platforms to try to build positive incentives into our system. Well, I would make a guess that this could be true if you measure the efforts and investments in numbers only, not as ratios.

And now Jack Dorsey. Who, as me myself, thinks that “political message reach should be earned, not bought”. Because free speech is not the same as (and actually it is the opposite to) paid speech and what Mr Zuckerberg has been defending and protecting is paid speech. (There is nothing free neither in paid speech nor in obscured algorithmically screened speech. Or metaphorically said – is speech free if you give megaphones to certain people and sordines to others?)

A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money. […] Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.

And we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow” Dorsey says while Zuckerberg is giving his own creation all the credit for making today global communication possible. As if without Facebook the modern digital society democracy would not survive.

Off course both Twitter and Facebook are for-profit private companies and all decision-making that determines the framework of their development and standards has it’s ecofin motivation, explanation and reasoning. But profit and principles are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

It is interesting to see what challenges Facebook will confront in the months to 2020 elections (and the weeks to December 12th general elections in UK too) and how will defend its decision about political ads.

Instead of conclusion or some kind of coda I’ll put this tweet of Mr Kaye’s here:

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