Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s policy against fact-checking political ads during the company’s third quarter earnings call Wednesday afternoon — about an hour after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his company would soon ban almost all types of political ads.
Zuckerberg — without specifically naming Dorsey — said at the start of the call that Facebook has done “more than any of the other major internet platforms to build positive incentives into our system,” and complained that it runs political ads just like Google and YouTube, but receives more blowback for it.
Reiterating comments he’s made several times in the last month, Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s opposition to limiting certain kinds of political ads, such as ads containing blatant falsehoods, is grounded in support for freedom of speech. That policy has been harshly criticized by some pundits and left-wing politicians — most notably, 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren — who have called for the company to stop publishing ads containing misinformation.
On Monday, several hundred Facebook employees signed an open letter that also strongly criticized those policies, and urged the company to reconsider. Zuckerberg did not address that letter during his remarks Wednesday.
Zuckerberg said during the call that Facebook has been criticized from both the political right and left, but that the company’s goal isn’t to “make either side happy.”
“Our values on voice and free expression are not partisan,” Zuckerberg said. “But unfortunately in our current environment, a lot of people look at every decision through the lens of whether it’s going to help or hurt the candidate they want in winning the next election.”
Political ads, Zuckerberg added, make up only 0.5% of Facebook’s projected 2020 revenue. (The company, after posting $17.7 billion in Q3 revenue, has already made nearly $50 billion this year.)
“I expect that this is going to be a very tough year. We try to do what we think is right, but we’re not going to get everything right,” Zuckerberg said. “And anyone that says the answers are simple, hasn’t thought long enough about all the nuances and downstream challenges.”
Earlier Wednesday, just as Facebook’s earnings were being released, Dorsey announced that Twitter would stop almost all political advertising on Nov. 22.
“We believe political message reach should be earned,” Dorsey tweeted. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people.”
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