Editor’s Note: Liar, liar, Facebook is on fire

By Alexandra Yetter, Co-Editor-in-Chief

At just 15 years old, the popular social media platform Facebook has died. According to sources close to the company, it died in a fire started by widespread lies.

Facebook’s health issues can be traced back to its post-Obama fall from grace when the U.S. government found the platform played a significant part in Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.But its last nail in the coffin was delivered by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) Wednesday during what was supposed to be a congressional hearing on Facebook’s new cryptocurrency, Libra, but turned into a five-hour-long interrogation of Facebook’s new policy allowing lies in political advertisements.

“Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. “If you’re not fact-checking political advertisements, I’m just trying to understand the bounds here, what’s fair game?”

The grilling came after Facebook allowed an ad, funded by President Donald Trump’s election campaign, that falsely said Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son conspired with Ukrainian officials. After receiving harsh criticism for permitting the ad to stay on the site, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—an outspoken critic of the company—ran an ad falsely claiming Zuckerberg endorsed Trump. The move proved the ridiculousness of Facebook’s own policy.

In a response on par with that of a scolded five-year-old, Zuckerberg told Ocasio-Cortez the company would “probably” allow falsified ads claiming Republican candidates support the Green New Deal to run. He reiterated: “I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad.”

However, Zuckerberg’s thinking that allowing constituents on Facebook to determine which ads are lies and which are truth ignores a fundamental reality: People no longer can distinguish between fact and fiction.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in July and August of 2018, four in 10 adults get their news from Facebook. By equivocating the news with Facebook, many users put the platform in the same category as news outlets such as The New York Times or Vice News when they could not be more dissimilar. Most news outlets fact-check political ads before allowing them to run. Facebook—to the detriment of the American democratic system—does not.

Zuckerberg’s motives are clear: Party polarization is bad for business.

Facebook was long heralded by President Barack Obama, who was patted on the back for using the platform in his successful campaign for the White House, to the point where many accused the company of having a liberal bias. In a drastic overcorrection, Facebook executives have bent over backward to better relations with Republicans.

Zuckerberg has even been systematically meeting with conservative reporters, commentators and at least one Republican legislator to discuss free speech and partnerships in an effort to rehash the platform’s image, as reported Oct. 14 by Politico. By seeming like it skews toward a liberal audience, Facebook is most likely concerned with possibly losing out on a revenue source from right-wing politicos.

Rather than trying to have their cake and eat it, too, Facebook needs to have a truth bias rather than a political bias. If it instituted a truth policy for political ads, it would incentivize political candidates to create truthful ads because campaigns know their target demographic is most readily accessible on Facebook. What’s more—if politicians are allowed to lie on social media, who else will be allowed to? Medical companies advertising a new drug treatment? A newspaper claiming Facebook is dead? Like it or not, Facebook has set itself up as an extinguisher. Now, it needs to put out its own fires.