Should Facebook Fact-Check Political Speech?

Should Facebook Fact-Check Political Speech?

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In a speech at Georgetown University on Oct. 17, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, defended a sweeping policy the company unveiled last month around political speech on the site.

The Times reports:

In it, the company said it would not moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their political ads because comments by political leaders, even if false, were newsworthy and in the public’s interest to hear and debate.

What is your reaction to this policy? Do you think Facebook should fact-check politicians? Why or why not?

In “Defiant Zuckerberg Says Facebook Won’t Police Political Speech,” Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac write about the policy:

Facebook’s position on political speech is part of a growing divide between social media companies and traditional media companies. Twitter, too, has said it will not remove accounts of politicians who appear to violate its policies against violent speech because the posts add to discourse. In contrast, traditional media companies — including cable channels like CNN, MSNBC and CNBC — have taken a harder line by declining to air political ads with false content.

Facebook’s policy on political speech was quickly put to the test this month when the Trump campaign released a 30-second video ad that falsely claimed Mr. Biden committed corrupt acts in Ukraine. The ad played across social media outlets and on some broadcast networks; CNN and NBCU declined to air it because they said the ad violated their standards.

When Mr. Biden’s campaign asked Facebook to take down the false ad, the social network refused. Ms. Warren later dared Facebook by deliberately creating an inaccurate political ad that said Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg were backing Mr. Trump’s re-election, even though neither Mr. Zuckerberg nor his company has announced their support of a candidate.

“We decided to see just how far it goes,” Ms. Warren said of Facebook’s openness to leaving up false political ads.

Civil rights groups said they were stunned by how hands-off Facebook was being on political speech. Giving politicians free rein to post any material — even lies — potentially sets up the social network for more disinformation efforts ahead of the 2020 election, they said.

Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition representing 220 civil rights groups, said she spoke to Mr. Zuckerberg last week to express alarm about the policy. She said he told her the public could make its own determinations about false statements and racially divisive content from politicians.

“Mark Zuckerberg is co-opting civil rights history to try to justify Facebook’s policies that do long-term damage to our democracy,” Ms. Gupta said. “The company is in denial about what’s happening.”

Neil Chilson, a senior research fellow at Stand Together, an organization within the Koch network, a conservative policy group, said Facebook’s free speech position was “a very reasonable policy choice.” When Mr. Trump speaks, reporters then fact-check what he says, showing “that the cure to a politician’s misstatement is more speech, not to shut it down,” Mr. Chilson said.

The article continues:

In an interview at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters on Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg laid out more of the reasoning behind his speech. He cited Facebook’s role as an American company — one that can espouse Western ideals such as free expression — and mused on how the social network would be viewed in time.

“Today, the state of the global internet around the world is primarily defined by American companies and platforms with strong free expression values,” he said. “There’s just no guarantee that will win out over time.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • After reading this article, has your initial answer to the question changed? Do you think Facebook should fact-check political speech on its site? Why or why not?

  • How good do you think you are at detecting false information on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites? When you come across a political ad or meme, do you check to make sure it’s true? Or do you trust that what you see is accurate?

  • Some have argued that false political content on Facebook could have potentially dangerous effects on our lives and democracy. For example, Russia used the platform to run a disinformation campaign that interfered in the 2016 election. (And it’s still using these tactics in countries around the world today.) Facebook has also been used to incite violence in places like Myanmar where military officials led disinformation campaigns that helped fuel the modern ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people.

    What consequences could you see Facebook’s policy having in our society today? Given these potential risks, how important do you think it is for Facebook to moderate political speech, if at all?

  • Do you think limiting what politicians can say on Facebook is a violation of free speech? Does Facebook have a responsibility to promote free expression as Mr. Zuckerberg says, despite the potential consequences? Or do you agree with Aaron Sorkin, who argues in this Op-Ed, that Facebook isn’t defending free speech; instead, it’s assaulting truth.

  • Nearly half of all Americans get some of their news from Facebook. In some developing countries, like Myanmar, Facebook essentially is the internet — and, by extension, the only source of information — for millions of people. Given these statistics, to what degree do you think Facebook has a responsibility to be a reliable source of public information, if at all?

  • Do you think Facebook should get to determine what content it does or doesn’t fact-check? Or should the government be responsible for regulating the type of content that is allowed on Facebook and other social media sites?

  • Twitter recently announced that it would no longer accept political ads. What do you think of this policy? Which do you think is better: Twitter’s policy or Facebook’s? Or neither one? Why?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.