Commentary

Republicans May Want To Regulate Facebook -- But Not Its Political Ads

Hypocrisy is in the air.

In a recent Pew Report on social media, more than half of U.S. adults (54%) say social-media companies should not allow any political ads on their platforms.

Here’s the catch: Just 15% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say social-media companies should allow all political ads on their platforms, compared with 38% of Republicans and GOP leaners.

When it comes to banning any political ads on these sites, 56% of Democrats give a thumbs-up. But only half of Republicans agree. (Some 43% of conservative Republicans say social-media companies should allow all political ads on their platforms.)

Where’s the consistency?

Republicans are keen to regulate social media, specifically Facebook -- until they need it.

Then, they are happy to run political ads!

Or use the platform to spread White supremacist hate. Or let Vladimir Putin utilize social media to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Remember when the GOP was the party of national security? “Better dead than red” was its McCarthy-era slogan. Now, its relationship to Russia is more akin to: “Your wish is my command.”

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In fact, early in 2020, President Trump issued an executive order to revise Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. He did so after Twitter alerted users to specious COVID-19 claims in two of his tweets. Trump directed the Commerce Department to seek FCC regulations that would limit tech companies’ immunity when they restrict or remove material without providing a “reasoned explanation.”

(Section 230 states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In short, it provides immunity for site publishers from third-party content.)

The social media flip-flop, in part, resembles Mitch McConnell and his Republican brethren’s stance on filling RBG’s seat. They insisted in 2016 that the next president and the people should determine who selects a Supreme Court justice. Until it’s their turn -- then all bets and ethics are off.

To call it hypocritical is the least of the charges.

But it’s a position that may be baked into Pew’s political ad findings.

Three of the biggest platforms responsible for the spread of disinformation and divisive content online -- Facebook, YouTube and Twitter -- have taken an important step in a new self-regulatory process negotiated by the World Federation of Advertisers. The platforms will adopt a common set of definitions for hate speech and other harmful content and agreed to collaborate on devising industry-monitoring efforts to curtail it in the future.

It sounds good -- but the reality is something else.

Facebook has stated it would ban new political ads in the week before the Nov. 3 presidential election and enforce other policies around mail-in voting and the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s a policy without bite.

As CNBC noted: “The political ad ban only affects new ads submitted after Oct. 27. Political ads submitted before then will still run, and the advertisers will still be allowed to adjust the targeting on those ads so they reach the people they want to reach.”

Also, many Americans are voting before Election Day -- so any protections the social titan thinks it’s employing are moot. False information can still spread and a political candidate could declare victory or cast doubt on the results on Facebook -- truth be damned.

If the government interferes with your freedom of speech, it's a First Amendment issue. Social-media platforms are not the government. They are private entities, and therefore, they have no First Amendment obligation to protect your freedom of speech. Equal access, like immunity, is a separate argument.

Key issues are truth and public safety. Laws and regulations cannot be capricious. They should be instituted smartly and sensibly, recognizing the power and the dangers of social media. They should not be ordered simply to mollify one’s pique -- or to countenance dangerous deceptions -- as long as they benefit your political party.

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