Facebook’s Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions, was interviewed by Peter Kafka at the 2019 Code Media conference in Los Angeles yesterday. Vox had a nice report of the interview. This section is particularly interesting:
When pressed on Facebook’s refusal to fact-check political ads, Everson tried to defend the company’s stance by referencing the rules that govern how broadcasters must handle political advertisements. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission has extensive guidelines for television and radio broadcasters around political advertising that bar broadcasters from censoring ads or from taking down ones that make false claims. Those guidelines don’t apply to online platforms, including Facebook, but the company has consistently tried to hide behind them.
“We have no ability, legally, to tell a political candidate that they are not allowed to run their ad,” Everson said.
That’s complete baloney. Facebook is not bound by any regulations governing TV ads. It can shut down anyone or anything it likes or dislikes.
After the interview, a Facebook spokeswoman walked back the comments and said that Everson misspoke when she said Facebook was legally barred from refusing to run political ads.
An audience member also asked Everson why Facebook has decided to allow right-wing website Breitbart to be listed in its new News tab, which is ostensibly an indication that Breitbart offers trusted news, despite being a known source of propaganda. “We’re treating them as a news source; I wouldn’t use the term ‘trusted news,’” Everson said, pointing out that Facebook will also include “far-left” publications.
Which of course raises interesting questions about Facebook’s standards for determining the “integrity” of the news sources it includes in its tab, which the company extolled when it launched the feature in October.
Jeremy Paxman, who once served as Newsnight’s answer to the pit-bull terrier, famously outlined his philosophy in interviewing prominent politicians thus: “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” This was unduly prescriptive: not all of Paxman’s interviewees were outright liars; they were merely practitioners of the art of being “economical with the truth”, but it served as a useful heuristic for a busy interviewer.
Maybe the time has come to apply the same heuristic to Facebook’s public statements…
I’ve been thinking and lecturing recently on disinformation and about what we might do about it. One of my heroines, danah boyd, gave a very thoughtful talk about it recently — starting with the (liberal) proposition that ideas like greater ‘media literacy’ might help. (She doesn’t think it will, and neither do I.) But I was particularly struck by one passage in her talk:
In 2012, it was hard not to avoid the names Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but that didn’t mean that most people understood the storyline. In South Carolina, a white teenager who wasn’t interested in the news felt like he needed to know what the fuss was all about. He decided to go to Wikipedia to understand more. He was left with the impression that Zimmerman was clearly in the right and disgusted that everyone was defending Martin. While reading up on this case, he ran across the term “black on white crime” on Wikipedia and decided to throw that term into Google where he encountered a deeply racist website inviting him to wake up to a reality that he had never considered. He took that red pill and dove deep into a worldview whose theory of power positioned white people as victims. Over a matter of years, he began to embrace those views, to be radicalized towards extreme thinking. On June 17, 2015, he sat down for an hour with a group of African-American church-goers in Charleston South Carolina before opening fire on them, killing 9 and injuring 1. His goal was simple: he wanted to start a race war.
It’s easy to say that this domestic terrorist was insane or irrational, but he began his exploration trying to critically interrogate the media coverage of a story he didn’t understand. That led him to online fora filled with people who have spent decades working to indoctrinate people into a deeply troubling, racist worldview. They draw on countless amounts of “evidence,” engage in deeply persuasive discursive practices, and have the mechanisms to challenge countless assumptions. The difference between what is deemed missionary work, education, and radicalization depends a lot on your worldview. And your understanding of power.
Great talk — worth watching in full. And she helpfully includes the transcript below it for those who are cash-rich but time-poor!