On Wednesday, Facebook did in fact get some leverage to prevent the spread of false and misleading news — by requiring political advertisers to confirm themselves. But if recent history is a guide, Facebook shouldn’t be satisfied.
The company is allowing only 37 states and territories to sign-up for the free verification program. Facebook has also held the promise, last April, to “deconflict” its ad policies with the free sign-up. In July, it did make such a change.
“We realize that allowing the manipulation of authentic news—for political gain—is particularly harmful to the news industry, so we’re working with news organizations to help ensure that the personal and public information we offer in our ads more closely aligns with the information they offer,” Facebook’s Director of Product Partnerships for Ads, Scott Ginsberg, wrote in a blog post in July.
It seemed, at the time, like this wasn’t just lip service.
But neither would Facebook’s presence on the walled garden Washington town hall rise to Facebook’s highest standards for transparency and open. At a hearing that next month on election integrity, Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar requested that all advertisers submit “to a federal or state government background check as part of the free verification” program.
Her fellow senators don’t seem to mind Facebook’s attempt to funnel its verification into states’ voter databases. During its shutdown, Facebook already pulled down the voter information on over 40 states.
“ Facebook won’t modify its deceptions or elections management tools to combat false news. ”
“The problems of fake news will only be solved if Facebook actually puts people and the news industry first,” Klobuchar wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on January 4. “I will be glad to join your team and I hope you will join mine to make this happen.”
Not only do Klobuchar and the legislators of New York and Delaware want Facebook to share its related services and software with third-party transparency databases — as Minnesota’s Klobuchar and California Senator Dianne Feinstein did — but Klobuchar also wants Facebook to actually modify its deceptions and elections management tools to combat false news.
Klobuchar and Feinstein declined to comment for this story.
Meanwhile, Washington state is awaiting federal Justice Department approval, according to The Daily Beast, for a plan to require political advertisers who spend over $5,000 to verify their identities. California Assemblymember Chris Holden, chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee, wants to make such identities available to the public to help reduce hate speech.
In Illinois, Representative Jan Schakowsky has said Facebook shouldn’t use fake IDs to get around requirements to verify, her previous office head said. In California, Democrat Fiona Ma wants political advertisers to put at least a state-issued identification for those who don’t have one, ABC News reported.
“It is so important to make sure that we have all of these necessary protections and transparency measures,” Lauren Lyster, Schakowsky’s communications director, told the Daily Beast when asked about the process. Lyster said it will take some time for supporters of these measures to see how they fare in various legislative chambers.
“It’s going to take a lot of work in order to get through various chambers that we’re going to have to work on now with our members and hearings on this will hopefully happen,” Lyster said.
It sounds like there’s a good chance Facebook won’t give away much by making its vetting service free.
For the same reason, Facebook should give everyone better tools to differentiate between political ads and informational ads. It should avoid giving up so much and if we don’t see meaningful alterations that reflect our concerns, it won’t be enough to change the top of the Republican election tower.