Photo Credit: pexel
If you’re one of those people who believes whatever they see or read on Facebook, then this should be a wakeup call: Facebook has announced that it will not be fact-checking the political ads on its platform heading into the 2020 presidential election. According to Facebook, “We will not send organic content or ads from politicians to our third-party fact-checking partners for review…” Let that sink in for a moment. It means that Facebook could become a free-for-all for dirty attack ads, misinformation and outright lies throughout the 2020 presidential campaign.
A political advertising free-for-all
However, Facebook does not see anything inherently wrong with such an approach. After all, do you really think CNN, MSNBC or Fox News fact-checks any political ads they show on broadcast TV? Do you really think your favorite radio station analyzes every political ad before you hear it on the airwaves? Of course not! The big media players won’t air outwardly bigoted, racist or incendiary content, but they are not going to get down in the weeds and analyze the tax-and-spend policies of a particular candidate to find a lie. (“He’s lying, that policy will cost taxpayers $100 million and not $50 million!”)
Where things get complex, though, is when it comes to “attack ads,” because these are a lot harder for any media platform to police, and there is no clear line between fact and fiction. Attack ads are a staple of any good, nasty political fight, and it’s safe to bet that 2020 will be chock-full of extremely nasty attack ads. In the past, a candidate might have implied that a rival was not to be trusted. But in today’s super-charged, highly partisan environment, a candidate will just say, “He’s corrupt. Lock him up.” As a result, many media commentators have pointed out the obvious: Facebook is giving candidates carte blanche to say just about anything about their rivals and nobody is going to hold them accountable.
Is it really possible to crack down on misinformation and disinformation?
Of course, Facebook says it has some rules in place to handle obvious misinformation or disinformation. Thus, it will do everything in its power to avoid showing people “previously debunked content,” such as by demoting that content in newsfeeds. And it will exclude any obvious lies from inclusion in its advertising program. But, this being politics, you can see where there is a huge gray area. The reason why some issues (such as guns or abortion) are “hot button” issues is because they can immediately trigger people. It’s impossible to have a rational, nuanced view of those issues anymore. Thus, any political ad even mentioning these topics will be viewed as outrageous lies by half of the nation.
In search of a Facebook alternative
So where should America go for reliable news these days, if Facebook is going to turn into a cesspool of lies, fake news and half-truths? One answer might be Twitter, which is banning political ads altogether. However, as anyone who has ever posted a political tweet knows, Twitter can become a huge cyberbullying platform for anyone with political views.
And, to be honest, just about any social media platform these days is open to manipulation by political operators. The best answer might be a mixed diet of diverse news sources across several different social media platforms. Somewhere, hidden between all the political lies and outrageous statements, might just be a few kernels of truth.