In an almost perfect illustration of adversarial politics, US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has today called on Facebook to do more to stop misinformation in political campaigns, while also pushing the company to take action against voter suppression efforts.
Folks, we saw in 2016 what can happen when social media platforms are left unchecked and allow disinformation to run rampant. It puts the very integrity of our elections at risk.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 11, 2020
We simply cannot let it happen again in 2020.
In an open letter, Biden says that Facebook needs to:
- Promote authoritative and trustworthy sources of election information, rather than the rants of bad actors and conspiracy theorists
- Promptly remove false, viral information
- Prevent political candidates and PACs from using paid advertising to spread lies and misinformation — especially within two weeks of election day
- Apply clear rules, across all users (including the President) which prohibit threats and lies about how to participate in the election.
As per Biden:
"After foreign operatives and rightwing trolls used Facebook to hack the 2016 election, Facebook vowed “never again” and promised to take action. But with fewer than 5 months until the 2020 election, Facebook seems to be on a crash course to let the same mistakes happen again."
This comes as US President Donald Trump pushes for reforms to the current laws in order to prevent social platforms from interfering in free speech.
Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
After Twitter added fact-check markers to two of his tweets, President Trump accused the platform of left-wing bias, and vowed to stop them, and all social networks, from limiting free speech. Twitter, it's also worth noting, banned all political ads on its platform back in October - a move which also angered the Trump administration.
So now, the two main candidates are taking entirely opposing viewpoints to how social platforms should be used. Make of that what you will.
Interestingly, at the same time, Facebook has announced the return of former VP Chris Cox, who left the company last year after clashing with other Facebook executives over, among other things, how it should handle political content.
Cox also infamously noted at one stage last year that:
“I think Trump should not be our president."
As noted by Will Oremus on Twitter, after Cox's departure in March 2019, Facebook has increasingly turned to Republican operative Joel Kaplan for many of its decisions on political speech. Cox, seemingly, took the opposite view to Kaplan, and his return to the company could suggest that Facebook will be looking to take a different approach.
Or it may, as others have noted, be looking to better prepare itself for a Trump loss at the polls in November.
In response to Biden's letter, Facebook has posted this statement:
"We live in a democracy, where the elected officials decide the rules around campaigns. Two weeks ago the President of the United States issued an executive order directing Federal agencies to prevent social media sites from engaging in activities like fact-checking political statements. This week, the Democratic candidate for President started a petition calling on us to do the exact opposite. Just as they have done with broadcast networks - where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians’ campaign ads - the people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them. There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."
So again, Facebook is standing firm on its rulings around political ads, putting the onus on the people, essentially, to decide what's acceptable.
But no matter happens, it is interesting to consider the opposing viewpoints from the candidates. And while Facebook will undoubtedly play a key role in deciding the eventual winner, how, exactly, it does so is still up for debate, and could still change as Facebook re-examines its current stance.
Also, if you wanted to get some scope around the importance of social media platforms in the modern media process, this debate is a pretty amazing indicator of their position in today's society.