Opinion | Facebook not only allows lies, it prioritizes them
Facebook, which has declared not to be a media company for years, now claims it is a necessary medium for a fair election process. That is the implication of the tennis analogy, and also of Mr. Zuckerberg’s preferred defense of his politics, that Facebook must run political advertisements, even blatant lies, to help political challengers take on incumbents. Since I personally ran against an incumbent, I am good at measures that could level the playing field. But not only is there no evidence to back up Facebook’s claims, there are many other, more obvious and less dangerous ways to combat the benefits of tenure, such as publicly voting on campaign funds. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is really a need to allow paid political lies online to help the little boys.
So strange is the policy, so confusing even for Facebook’s own employees, perhaps it really is nothing more than an attempt to appease the conservative critics of Facebook – and to give Mr. Zuckerberg the space to declare out loud that he is a fair and Pursues balanced politics when it comes to political speech. That being said, this is unlikely to appease mainstream Conservatives, whose main concern is that Facebook’s hate speech filtering will establish “political correctness”. It is the endeavor to appease oneself that should be raised red flags.
What we are learning is that by tinkering with its political advertising rules, Facebook can gain special, unregulated power over elections. It is precisely this possibility that gives Facebook political influence and politicians reasons to influence Facebook. And we’re not talking about the local television network, which is bad enough, but rather the nation’s dominant social network creating the kind of monopoly influence over politics that the creators of the Sherman Antitrust Act were concerned about. By refusing to stay outside, Facebook is effectively building the arguments for its own breakup.
It is a dangerous game with enormous potential for corruption, which is why Mr Dorsey and the rest of Silicon Valley rightly dodge as far as possible. It may well be that one day Silicon Valley will examine its role in elections and develop some kind of healing town hall of the future. But false neutrality is worse than nothing. Without the assurance that they can do more good than harm, both Facebook and Google will have to get out.
Tim Wu (@superwuster) is a law professor at Columbia University, commentator, and most recently author of The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.
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