Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress this week.
Move fast and break things was the infamous motto of Facebook since the early days of the social networking company. Who knew that one of the things that Mark Zuckerberg would go on to break would be our collective sense of objective truth?
Or worse, that he would have zero interest in fixing it?
Zuckerberg faced grilling on Capitol Hill this week on many topics, not the least of which was the announcement that Facebook would not fact-check political ads on its site.
We believe that in a democracy, it is important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, Zuckerberg said while testifying to the House Financial Services Committee.
Whether or not those politicians are spreading complete falsehoods in the ads is immaterial to Facebook. Its attempts at fact-checking don’t extend to paid content on the site.
You could make any number of arguments to justify such a policy; after all, political ads don’t fall into the purview of the Federal Trade Commission’s rules on truth in advertising. But Facebook’s announcement last week still came as a surprise and, I’m sure, a delight to politicians who have adopted lying as their preferred strategy.
It reminds me of the days when the nationwide speed limit was 55 mph. Nearly every driver went that fast, if not a little faster, all the time. You’d almost never get stopped for going 56 mph, but whatever the real speed limit was, it was unknown to most people. Then the speed limit went up to 65, then 70, and drivers followed suit.
Expand the limits of allowable behavior, and people will adjust their actions accordingly.
In other words, expect to see a flood of political ads filled with complete bunk and nonsense in your news feed between now and November 2020.
It’s bad enough that credulous Facebook users continue to share completely false stories that pass for news on the platform that treats all links the same, whether from C-SPAN or a hoax site. Facebook, in its doe-eyed attempts to proclaim transparency and openness, in reality gives a louder voice to those who like to suck all the oxygen out of the room.
That’s why, in an otherwise educated society, we still hear from flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers, groups whose grasp on the facts is objectively wrong. The earth is round, yet the Flat Earth Society’s Facebook page has more than 200,000 fans. Look up “vaccines truth” or “vaccines cause autism” and you’ll find a bunch of links to the federal Centers for Disease Control Facebook page.
Oh, wait. Looks like Facebook is actively debunking one of the most pernicious myths on the internet.
What do you know? Zuckerberg, et al., CAN do something about fact-checking on their site.
When it comes to false political ads, they just choose not to. Well, the only side effects are a misinformed electorate, a fractured democracy and an even more polarized society.
Facebook changed its motto in 2014, but it still seems comfortable with breaking things.
Contact Digital News Editor Adam Richter: email@example.com or 610-371-5045.