Facebook should not be ‘the arbiter of truth’ in political ads, says former FEC chairman

Facebook should not be tasked with determining the truthfulness of political campaign ads, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission told CNBC on Thursday.

Lee Goodman — a Republican who led the FEC during Barack Obama’s presidency — was reacting to the social network’s decision to reject a Biden campaign request to remove an advertisement from President Donald Trump’s campaign containing unproven information. Other tech companies like Twitter and Google’s YouTube were running the Trump ad. CNN refused to run it.

The Trump ad claims that former Vice President Joe Biden “offered Ukraine $1 billion to fire the prosecutor investigating a company affiliated with his son.” The Biden campaign said the claim should be covered by Facebook’s pledge to reject political ads with “previously debunked content.” Trump’s July phone call asking Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens is central to the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats.

“Facebook, like all publishers, has to have reasonable editorial standards,” Goodman said on “Squawk Box.” “What we’re seeing here is an exercise of their editorial freedom to feature candidate ads without fact-checking and allow the political process to be the arbiter of truth and falsity in political advertising by the candidates themselves.”

The global elections policy chief at Facebook wrote a letter to Biden’s campaign, which was originally obtained by The New York Times. The letter said the social network’s approach to political ads is “grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is. … Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers.”

Facebook will be “condemned” either way, Goodman said, even though the company “doesn’t want to be the arbiter and doesn’t want to take sides in these political debates.”

“Their stated policy, I think, is fair,” Goodman said, adding Facebook is avoiding refereeing “truth or falsity, opinion versus fact, candidate versus candidate debates” by taking a hands-off approach.

Facebook — which declined to comment after the letter surfaced — has worked to improve its advertising disclosures after government officials concluded Russians used the platform to influence the 2016 election. In late August, the company tightened its verification process that requires people who want to run ads to prove they are in the U.S., and to confirm their group’s identity through a tax identification number or a government ID.

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