Political ads, including ones that smear candidates with lies, are here to stay on Facebook.
Speaking at Georgetown University, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook has no intention of fact-checking political ads, or curbing their viral spread.
"We think people ought to be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Zuckerberg said during his 40-minute sprawling defense of Facebook's policies.
Zuckerberg added that he considered banning political ads from the platform, but decided against doing so.
“From a business perspective, the controversy certainly isn’t worth the small part of our business they make up,” he said. “But political ads are an important part of voice -- especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”
He added that a ban on political ads would also raise questions about how to treat ads that deal with hot-button issues, but don't mention particular candidates.
“Do we ban ads about healthcare, immigration or women’s empowerment?” he asked. “If you’re not going to ban those, does it really make sense to give everyone else a voice in political debates except for the candidates themselves?”
Zuckerberg's speech comes more than one week after the company found itself embroiled in a political controversy centering on an attack ad run by the Trump campaign.
The ad implied that former Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukraine government to fire its chief prosecutor for personal reasons. In actuality, Obama wanted the prosecutor fired for failing to investigate corruption among Ukraine's politicians. But the ad falsely suggests that Biden wanted the prosecutor fired because he was investigating an energy company with ties to Biden's son.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a vocal critic of tech companies, pushed back a few days later with an ad stating: "Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election."
Warren's ad goes on to say that while Zuckerberg didn't actually endorse Trump, Facebook has “given Trump free rein to lie on his platform -- and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters."
Zuckerberg didn't mention Warren in his speech Thursday, but his remarks left no doubt that the company isn't swayed by her arguments.
“I know many people disagree,” he said, “but, in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy.”
This policy might see a real test when Warren runs an ad on Facebook that attacks Facebook.