Politicians can pay to lie on Facebook but they can’t pay to tell the truth on Twitter. That truly odd statement summarizes recent decisions made by those social media platforms.
Facebook has a policy against misleading advertisements, but recently chose to exempt politicians from that policy. This effectively clears the way for politicians to blatantly lie in Facebook ads. Sounds insane, right?
Twitter has a policy against misleading advertisements, but recently chose to not accept any political advertising at all. This effectively silences the voices of lesser known politicians who do not have a large organic reach. Pretty crazy, don’t you think?
What an odd world where two similar platforms take polar opposite approaches to solving the same problem. Both approaches have merit, and both company leaders seem to be thinking about the problem in the right way. So, which decision is the right one?
Let’s start by identifying the problem. Both policies acknowledge that the real dilemma is that neither Facebook nor Twitter has the ability to police “truth” in the advertisements they accept. They want to publish the ads and they want the ads to be truthful, but neither can come anywhere close to verifying accuracy or factualness.
Both companies also claim to be acting in the best interest of democracy.
Facebook has effectively made the argument that transparency trumps truthfulness. In other words, sure, politicians can lie on Facebook but they have to put their picture next to it. If users do their diligence, they should be able to spot the lie.
Twitter, on the other hand, has decided that silence really is a virtue. Don’t worry, politicians can still totally lie in their tweets, they just cannot pay to spread that lie to more people. This very clearly favors incumbents and the famous with large Twitter audiences.
Initial public opinion seems to be that Twitter has made the better decision. Because they have rejected revenue, they must be more virtuous. To us, that is a pretty poor argument. Indeed, to us the solutions offered by both Twitter and Facebook are pretty terrible and smack of kicking the can down the road.
We reject the premise that these massive companies should be let off the hook when it comes to being responsible for the information that they publish. Facebook should not be allowed to publish lies and Twitter should be dissuaded from their attempts to not publish at all. They should both allow political ads and those ads should be held to standards of truthfulness.
Both platforms are arguing that their reach is too large and the issue too complex to be solved. No, it isn’t. Talking heads love to say that we are living in a “post-truth” world. No, we aren’t.
We are just living in a world where we let liars off the hook, where we accept factual inaccuracy if it happens fast enough. That is not worthy of us, and it is not worthy of our nation. We should demand that our politicians not lie and that our media platforms not enable them. This is really not that hard, but we make it look hard by hiding behind large numbers and ethical riddles masquerading as technology.
We are not so stupid as politicians treat us during an election cycle. We are not so gullible that we cannot know when we are being pandered to. Thus, we cannot endorse any solution where corporate behemoths throw up their hands and say, “Not our problem.” We cannot like it, share it or retweet it. We know they can do better, and we need to hold their feet to the fire until they do.