Facebook about a month ago confirmed that politicians are exempt from its speech policies and ad standards. That policy frees up holders of political jobs, and candidates seeking those jobs, to, basically, lie their entire faces off in Facebook ads if they choose to do so.
The Internet and the 21st century being what they are, of course, many people greeted this news with responses along the lines of: “Does that mean I can just sign up for any local race and then put any ads I want on Facebook?” One man decided to find out.
And so far, at least, the answer seems to be: No.
Adriel Hampton lives in California and runs a digital marketing firm that promotes progressive causes. On Monday, he formally registered as a candidate for the state’s gubernatorial race, and his stated platform explicitly challenges both President Donald Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
His plan, he told CNN, was to use his new status as a political candidate to buy ads on Facebook promoting false content about Trump, Zuckerberg, and others explicitly to call attention to Facebook’s policies and force the company to change them.
Who’s a politician?
Hampton’s bid to become the Golden State’s next head honcho isn’t his first foray into challenging Facebook’s ad policies. In fact, it’s not even his first headline-grabbing Facebook-related action in the last week.
Hampton also runs a political action committee, The Really Online Lefty League (TROLL), which a few days ago lived up to its name by purchasing a stunt advertisement claiming Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) supports the Green New Deal, a progressive policy package and the signature proposal of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y).
Graham, who is a devoted Republican, is as ardent an opponent of the Green New Deal as you might expect and has said: “There’s not one Republican going to vote for anything coming out of the Green New Deal ’cause it’s crazy.”
Facebook suspended the ad’s paid distribution. It said that—because the promotion came from a third-party PAC rather than directly from a candidate or politician—it was eligible for review and removal under the site’s policy.
Launching a campaign doesn’t appear to be enough to make Hampton a legitimately exempt advertiser in Facebook’s eyes, though. Facebook told CNN, “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.”
Hampton responded to CNN that Facebook, “made a policy specific to me, and I am running for California governor to regulate Facebook,” adding, “I am going to look at suing them—I will immediately seek all available legal options.”
The fight around what Facebook does or does not allow on its site is already beyond exhausting—but it’s almost certainly going to get worse before (or if) it manages to get better. US politicians on all sides are wading into the fray, and with the 2020 election finally less than a year away, tensions are only going to intensify.
The current fight over political ads on Facebook began when President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign ran a false ad about former Vice President Joe Biden, who is among the leading candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The site refused to pull the spot, kicking off outrage, especially from Biden’s fellow Democrats.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another leading contender in the crowded 2020 field, herself launched a false ad on Facebook earlier this month to draw attention to what she sees as the platform’s failings. “Breaking news,” the ad begins: “Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election.”
It immediately reveals the deception as it goes on:
You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, “how could this possibly be true?”
Well, it’s not. (Sorry.) But what Zuckerberg *has* done is give Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform—and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.
Facebook inexplicably used its official news twitter account to challenge Warren, comparing itself to legacy TV broadcasters, which are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Facebook, however, is not subject to regulation by the FCC—nor would company leadership particularly want it to be, one assumes.
“You’re making my point here,” Warren responded. It’s up to you whether you take money to promote lies. You can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards.”
Investigations by The Washington Post, Reuters, and others, meanwhile, show that questionable political advertising by third parties is not only rampant, but also can stay up on Facebook until media attention causes the company to pull it down.
Employees, meanwhile, are reportedly no happier with the contentious policy than anyone else: more than 250 Facebook workers have signed onto an open letter asking the company to adopt new standards for political ads.