Facebook, free speech, and political ads – Columbia Journalism Review

A number of ’s recent decisions have fueled a that continues to follow the , including the decision not to -check political and the of in the company’s “trusted sources” News tab. These controversies were stoked even further by Mark ’s speech at last week, where he tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to portray Facebook as a defender of . CJR of these topics were worth discussing with free-speech experts and researchers who focus on the power of like Facebook, so we convened an on our Galley platform, featuring guests like , former of Facebook, veteran , Jillian of the Electronic Frontier , Jonathan Zittrain, and Kate Klonick.

Stamos, one of the to raise the issue of potential involvement on Facebook’s platform while he was the of , said he had a number of issues with Zuckerberg’s speech, including the fact that he “compressed all of the different products into this one blob he called Facebook. That’s not a useful frame for pretty much any discussion of how to handle speech issues.” Stamos said the News tab is arguably a completely new category of , a curated and in some cases paid-for selection of , and that this means the company has much more responsibility for what appears . Stamos also said that are “dozens of Analyticas operating today collecting sensitive on individuals and using it to for political campaigns. They just aren’t dumb enough to get their data through breaking an agreement with Facebook.”

Goodman, of the Rutgers Institute for & Law, said that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first to have to struggle with tensions between free speech and democratic discourse, “it’s just that he’s confronting these questions without any connection to press traditions, with only recent acknowledgment that he runs a media company, in the absence of any , and with his hands on personal data and technical affordances that enable microtargeting.” Kate Klonick of Stanford said Zuckerberg spoke glowingly about First Amendment cases, but got one of the most famous— v Sullivan—wrong. “The case really stands for the idea of tolerating even untrue speech in order to empower citizens to criticize political figures,” Klonick said. “It is not about privileging political figures’ speech, which of course is exactly what the new Facebook policies do.”

Douek, a doctoral student at Harvard Law and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center For & , said most of Zuckerberg’s statements about his commitment to free speech were based on the idea of a marketplace of being the best path to truth. This metaphor has always been questionable, Douek says, “but it makes no sense at all in a where Facebook constructs, tilts, distorts the marketplace with its that a certain kind of .” She said Facebook’s amplification of certain kinds of information via “is a cause of a lot of the unease with our current situation, especially because of the lack of .” EFF Jillian York said the political issue is a tricky one. “I do think that fact-checking political ads is , but is this company capable of that? These days, I lean toward that maybe Facebook just isn’t the right place for political advertising at all.”

Swisher said: “The problem is that this is both a media company, a telephone company and a tech company. As it is architected, it is impossible to govern. Out of convenience we have handed over the keys to them and we are cheap dates for doing so. get a free map and quick delivery? They get and control the world.” Zittrain said the political ad fact-checking controversy is about more than just a difficult product feature. “Evaluating ads for truth is not a mere issue that’s solvable by more generic content staffers,” he said. “The real issue is that a single company controls far too much speech of a particular kind, and thus has too much power.” Dipayan Ghosh, who runs the Platform Project at Harvard, warned that Facebook’s policy to allow in political ads means a politician “ have the to engage in coordinated operations in precisely the same manner that the Russian agents did in 2016.”

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Today and tomorrow we will be speaking with Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute, Wardle of First Draft and Lessin, a former of product at Facebook, so please tune in.

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