Facebook has received backlash recently for its apparent indifference towards posts that are deemed to be inciting violence and violating Facebook community guidelines. This comes as its rival Twitter banned political ads and even went further to label the tweet of the US President as “inciting violence” after President Donald Trump called those protesting the death of a black man George Floyd as “thugs”. Facebook CEO went to have a call with Trump and following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to rein in some President Trump’s posts, several Facebook employees staged a virtual walk out in protest.
But it now looks like the social media giant is bowing to public pressure to do something about political ads after saying it wouldn’t anything some months based on its belief that tech companies should not be seen as infringing on the rights of politicians to free speech. Facebook says it will start labelling posts and advertisement off state-owned or controlled media outlets. But the United States government doesn’t own or control the media unlike what you have in many other countries so you can understand why many think this measure doesn’t go far enough.
It looks like Facebook is more concerned about possible foreign interference in the upcoming Unites States general election. This is because it says users in the US will start seeing labels on Pages belonging to big media controlled by the government like the Russia Today and China’s Xinhua as early as next week. But they will start showing this to users in other countries as well over the next few months hopefully.
Nathaniel Gleicher who is Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook in a blog post said “State-controlled media outlets rarely advertise in the US. Nevertheless, later this summer we will begin blocking ads from these outlets in the US out of an abundance of caution to provide an extra layer of protection against various types of foreign influence in the public debate ahead of the November 2020 election in the US.”
So, if by Gleicher’s account, foreign media outlets rarely advertise in the United States, why then is this Facebook’s first point of call at fighting misinformation and fake news? Well that’s because Facebook and Google control the digital ads space even though their dominance seems to be cracking. According to Investopedia Google and Facebook control 37.2% and 19.6% of the market, respectively, down from 38.6% and 19.9% the prior year 2018. So you see why Facebook is very unlikely to out rightly ban political ads like Twitter. There’s so much business at stake. Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent a whopping $81m in 2016 on ads, a figure that is set to rise even as parties opt for virtual campaigns in 2020 due to the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
That said, Facebook reportedly had to act quickly even though it first announced back in December that it would do so. Some state media like those in China and Russia have taken advantage of the Coronavirus spread and the civil unrest in the Unites States to stage an information campaign against the US government. You will recall that the Chinese government had recently told the American government to treat protesters with respect even though China’s policy towards protest is not exactly exemplary. It’s all part of the shades that these governments throw at each other. So the Chinese are for example saying the US government supported the Hong Kong protesters while criticizing US protesters who have taken to the streets over the killing of an unarmed George Floyd at the hands of police.