Two weeks ago, I asked in my column why Facebook finds it so hard to “do the right thing."
I explained that, even if Facebook’s income from political advertising in the U.S. would double, it would become 2% instead of 1%, and is therefore insignificant for its business. At the same time, its refusal to fact-check these ads seems to border on the ridiculous. Why would you WANT politicians to peddle plain, obvious and often even damaging fake truths? Why would you want to perpetuate the existence of false political ads and create an overall crappy user and advertiser experience? It's clearly not for the money, so why not completely ban the whole practice?
Kaila Colbin, one of my fellow (and much respected) Media Insiders, tried to provide an answer. Her argument: We should not wish for the abolition of all political advertising on Facebook because we would lose the good with the bad. In her words: “If Facebook bans ‘political’ ads, the community group fighting against a new coal mine is silenced, while the fossil fuel company advertising its ‘eco-fuels’ is allowed. The parents group arguing for gun control is silenced, while the gun company advertising its new weapons is allowed. …
You want to know why Facebook doesn’t do the obvious and ban all political advertising? It’s because everything is political -- especially our choices about who does and doesn’t get to pay to have their voices amplified.”
I get this argument. But I don’t necessarily agree.
First of all, if Facebook banned all political ads, we basically go back to a time of BFB (Before Facebook). Politics happened back then, but minus the self-amplifying echo chambers and the unchecked falsehoods (including those placed by foreign entities), shareable with one click. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Secondly, I don’t think there should be a ban for platforms or causes or companies, even if they peddle black coal. But these ads should be held to the same standards as, say, ads for Heineken or ChapStick.
Heineken can’t advertise that beer is good for you, and that by drinking beer your love life and attractiveness will grow exponentially. The only thing that will grow exponentially is your gut.
Likewise, ChapStick can’t advertise it's the cure for cancer or the common cold.
But politicians’ ads COULD say any kind of claptrap because Facebook tells us that it allows us to learn and understand our political candidates better.
Elizabeth Warren famously placed ads on Facebook with false claims that Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump "to goad the social network to remove misinformation on political ads," according to The New York Times.
I continue to believe that Facebook should own up to being a responsible platform and regulate what gets advertised by politicians, parties and their interest groups. Either that, or just ban ads placed by and for candidates, their parties, their PACs or any other platform whose sole objective it is to support and promote a political candidate or party.
In this scenario, the NRA is free to advertise a membership drive, but not allowed to advertise that candidate A is going to abolish the Second Amendment when that is simply not true.
The world would become a better place. Perhaps there is a role here for the newly formed
Global Alliance for Responsible Media, "which is working with digital media platforms to improve their environments 'with the goal of eliminating harmful online content and ensuring that bad actors
have no access to advertiser funding,'" according to a Media Daily Newspost.