Felix Stalder on Tue, 29 Oct 2019 10:31:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> "Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing." Letter of FB staff to Mark Zuckerberg

[I don't think appeals to leaders to act ethically are particularly
effective. Yet, this letter is still interesting as it documents the
rising concerns, even within the belly of the beast, over the total
commercialization of communication and its detrimental impact on
democracy. Because, no matter how imperfect in practice, democracy rely
on communication generating social meaning, rather than just cybernetic
effects. I don't think FB in its current form, not the least because of
its sheer scale, is able, or willing, to address this problem.]


We are proud to work here.

Facebook stands for people expressing their voice. Creating a place
where we can debate, share different opinions, and express our views is
what makes our app and technologies meaningful for people all over the

We are proud to work for a place that enables that expression, and we
believe it is imperative to evolve as societies change. As Chris Cox
said, “We know the effects of social media are not neutral, and its
history has not yet been written.”

This is our company.

We’re reaching out to you, the leaders of this company, because we’re
worried we’re on track to undo the great strides our product teams have
made in integrity over the last two years. We work here because we care,
because we know that even our smallest choices impact communities at an
astounding scale. We want to raise our concerns before it’s too late.

Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.

Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking
people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to
what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It
doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our
platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by
political figures is trustworthy.

Allowing paid civic misinformation to run on the platform in its current
state has the potential to:

— Increase distrust in our platform by allowing similar paid and organic
content to sit side-by-side — some with third-party fact-checking and
some without. Additionally, it communicates that we are OK profiting
from deliberate misinformation campaigns by those in or seeking
positions of power.

— Undo integrity product work. Currently, integrity teams are working
hard to give users more context on the content they see, demote
violating content, and more. For the Election 2020 Lockdown, these teams
made hard choices on what to support and what not to support, and this
policy will undo much of that work by undermining trust in the platform.
And after the 2020 Lockdown, this policy has the potential to continue
to cause harm in coming elections around the world.

Proposals for improvement

Our goal is to bring awareness to our leadership that a large part of
the employee body does not agree with this policy. We want to work with
our leadership to develop better solutions that both protect our
business and the people who use our products. We know this work is
nuanced, but there are many things we can do short of eliminating
political ads altogether.

These suggestions are all focused on ad-related content, not organic.

1. Hold political ads to the same standard as other ads.

a. Misinformation shared by political advertisers has an outsized
detrimental impact on our community. We should not accept money for
political ads without applying the standards that our other ads have to

2. Stronger visual design treatment for political ads.

a. People have trouble distinguishing political ads from organic posts.
We should apply a stronger design treatment to political ads that makes
it easier for people to establish context.

3. Restrict targeting for political ads.

a. Currently, politicians and political campaigns can use our advanced
targeting tools, such as Custom Audiences. It is common for political
advertisers to upload voter rolls (which are publicly available in order
to reach voters) and then use behavioral tracking tools (such as the FB
pixel) and ad engagement to refine ads further. The risk with allowing
this is that it’s hard for people in the electorate to participate in
the “public scrutiny” that we’re saying comes along with political
speech. These ads are often so micro-targeted that the conversations on
our platforms are much more siloed than on other platforms. Currently we
restrict targeting for housing and education and credit verticals due to
a history of discrimination. We should extend similar restrictions to
political advertising.

4. Broader observance of the election silence periods

a. Observe election silence in compliance with local laws and
regulations. Explore a self-imposed election silence for all elections
around the world to act in good faith and as good citizens.

5. Spend caps for individual politicians, regardless of source

a. FB has stated that one of the benefits of running political ads is to
help more voices get heard. However, high-profile politicians can
out-spend new voices and drown out the competition. To solve for this,
if you have a PAC and a politician both running ads, there would be a
limit that would apply to both together, rather than to each advertiser

6. Clearer policies for political ads

a. If FB does not change the policies for political ads, we need to
update the way they are displayed. For consumers and advertisers, it’s
not immediately clear that political ads are exempt from the
fact-checking that other ads go through. It should be easily understood
by anyone that our advertising policies about misinformation don’t apply
to original political content or ads, especially since political
misinformation is more destructive than other types of misinformation.

Therefore, the section of the policies should be moved from “prohibited
content” (which is not allowed at all) to “restricted content” (which is
allowed with restrictions).

We want to have this conversation in an open dialog because we want to
see actual change.

We are proud of the work that the integrity teams have done, and we
don’t want to see that undermined by policy. Over the coming months,
we’ll continue this conversation, and we look forward to working towards
solutions together.

This is still our company.

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