A former Facebook employee says that social media companies “owe it to democracy” to increase restrictions on Facebook’s political advertising and “fix the mess” they allegedly created.
Facebook’s former government and politics client partner Clare O’Donoghue Velikić wrote an article for The Guardian on Dec. 6 on “how to fix social media’s political ads problem.”
“I am convinced that simply banning political ads on social media fixes nothing” she proclaimed, theorizing that “it encourages inflammatory, polarising rhetoric and drives campaign money elsewhere.” She also believes that digital platforms are “legitimate campaign spaces” and that “politics could actually be improved – through increased democratic participation and civic engagement – if big tech made the efforts to fix digital political advertising, rather than just banning it.”
She then described three steps that Big Tech companies could take going forward to “fix” what she considers to be the digital political advertising problem.
“No more micro-targeting”
Velikić suggested that the ability for ads to actually target specific audiences in order to be more effective qualify as “violation and manipulation.” She claimed that “the intersection of data and digital has created ways to target messages so precisely that it now feels possible for advertisers to reach inside consumers’ minds.”
She suggested no less than “Banning the use of off-platform data sources,” such as “email lists of party members, voter files or dubiously purchased contact lists from data companies.”
She cited Google’s recent policy change on targeted ads as a good example of reform that “would immediately provide reassurance that the sort of creepy micro-targeted ads we have seen proliferate will be no more.”
“No more ‘dark ads’”
Velikić proposed that companies should be more transparent about their advertising process as far as who paid for the ads themselves.
She cited Facebook’s transparency via its ad library, noting that it “has in itself ended some of the shadier practices: once it began requiring advertisers’ names and addresses in the UK, the flow of ads from a notoriously obscure pro-Brexit organisation immediately ceased.”
“No more paid lies”
In what free speech advocates and conservatives may find most controversial, was her proposal that Facebook should take a harder stance on the political campaign ads themselves.
“In cases where a claim made in a political ad could be demonstrably proven to be false,” noted Velikić, “this ad should not be allowed to run.”
But has not similar terminology to “demonstrably” false been applied by liberal sources to the Trump campaign ad against Democratic Party presidential primary frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden? CNN said in a statement that “in addition to disparaging CNN and its journalists, the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN.” Facebook’s stance in response was that when one party’s truth is another party’s fake news, the best thing to do is allow both to make opposing ads and let voters decide for themselves what to believe.
When pressed about this by CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King in early December, Zuckerberg doubled down on free speech, stating, “What I believe is that, in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments.”