Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a less-than-stellar performance in Congress. In an appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, Zuckerberg answered questions about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency project—Libra—but legislators also grilled him on his social media platform's policies on political advertising, Cambridge Analytica, diversity, and other issues with the company at large. Facebook has been facing sharp criticism over the revelation that it would not be fact-checking political ads, and that it would allow candidates and campaigns to make demonstrably false claims. Zuckerberg feebly tried to defend this policy, while also explaining why Facebook had recently started using the Daily Caller, a fringe-right website with white nationalist ties, as a trusted news source and fact-checker for news content.
In one viral exchange, New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tried to get a straight yes or no from Zuckerberg on whether Facebook would take down ads that overtly lied—Zuckerberg never gave a direct answer.
Legislators had a great deal of skepticism over Zuckerberg's claims that the veneration of free speech keeps Facebook from taking down political ads with outright lies. It turns out, staffers in Facebook's 35,000 workforce are also skeptical—some enough to go public against their bosses. According to the New York Times, more than 250 employees signed a letter to Zuckerberg and other top executives at the company, asking them to adhere to Facebook's own rules for conventional advertisers when assessing political ads. It reads in part:
Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing. Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.
What's particularly illuminating about the letter is that the employees provide several suggestions for how to improve Facebook's political advertising problem. Some of the suggestions are as straightforward as, "Hold political ads to the same standard as other ads," but others dig into the technical aspects of how Facebook works as an advertising platform. A bullet point under "Restrict targeting for political ads" reads:
Currently, politicians and political campaigns can use our advanced targeting tools, such as Custom Audiences. It is common for political advertisers to upload voter rolls (which are publicly available in order to reach voters) and then use behavioral tracking tools (such as the FB pixel) and ad engagement to refine ads further. The risk with allowing this is that it’s hard for people in the electorate to participate in the “public scrutiny” that we’re saying comes along with political speech. These ads are often so micro-targeted that the conversations on our platforms are much more siloed than on other platforms. Currently we restrict targeting for housing and education and credit verticals due to a history of discrimination. We should extend similar restrictions to political advertising.
There's no indication that Zuckerberg will take the concerns of these employees seriously. Reining in political advertising would mean turning down money that politicians and PACs are throwing at the social media giant. And despite claims that Facebook has an anti-conservative bias, the company gives generously to Republican and Democratic politicians alike, and it reaps a great deal of money from both parties also. In 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign sank a combined total of $81 million into Facebook advertising.
Thou shalt not steal…unless you're one of the Vegas-loving nuns who allegedly took the Catholic school under their watch for every penny they could. A Southern California community reckons with an altogether new form of churchly hypocrisy.
Originally Appeared on GQ