What Facebook Still Needs To Do About The 2020 Elections

Michael Posner
By Michael Posner
This week, Facebook announced a series of important changes aimed at countering political disinformation on its platform in the two months leading up to the U.S. election. As the company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg rightly observed, “This election is not going to be business as usual.” Responding to this reality, the company is taking welcome actions including taking down Russian government sponsored sites, banning new political ads in the week before the election, strengthening responses to posts which aim to dissuade voter turnout, and countering political disinformation in the uncertain weeks after November 3rd. All of these measures reflect Facebook’s recognition of the enormity of its influence on our political process. As Zuckerberg acknowledged, “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy.” Despite these laudable steps and statements, the company still refuses to do what really needs to be done to protect our democracy, namely taking down all provably false political content on its site. 

When Facebook’s fact-checkers identify false content, the company labels the information as false and demotes the post in users’ newsfeeds. Generally, they do not apply the same measures to political ads. In defending themselves against calls to do more, Zuckerberg and Facebook have wrapped themselves in a straitjacket, asserting time and again that they are not “arbiters of the truth.” They maintain they are obligated to allow deliberately and provably false information on their site in the name of free speech. This may have seemed like a reasonable talking point in the past, but it no longer rings true. First, Facebook is not bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects free speech, because the provision applies to governments, not private companies. And second, Facebook’s efforts to take down certain types of false posts proves their willingness to moderate some forms of harmful content. 

Indeed, Facebook routinely acts as an arbiter of the truth in other contexts. To cite one recent example, the company has done a commendable job in taking down provably false information relating to COVID-19. It has labeled or removed from the platform false claims of effective treatments and bogus assertions of cures. This is the right thing to do. The decision to take down false posts from the Russian government-sponsored Internet Research Agency this week is another example. The company acted quickly and decisively, taking down Russian-sponsored fake accounts and a website the Russians created to look like a left-wing news site. This was also the right thing to do. The company justified the decision based on their prohibition on coordinated inauthentic behavior. With these interventions, Facebook has shown itself to be capable and effective in monitoring and curating what appears on its site.

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.