Tech Firms Under Fire On Political Ads Are Trying Every Response But the Right One

In Facebook, Media, Misleading Information On

TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES under fire for refusing to fact-check political advertisements on their platforms are pursuing all manner of responses — except fact-checking political advertisements on their platforms. That’s a mistake.

Free speech has always been a foundational value in Silicon Valley, and leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg are right to champion it against the corrosive censorship model on offer in China and elsewhere. Politicians should, for the most part, be able to lie on Facebook, just as anyone else is, and the public should be able to hold leaders to account. But that’s a different question from whether politicians should be able to pay to have their lies spread, based on unprecedentedly precise behavioral data, to the voters who are most likely to believe their lies.

Twitter’s response to this quandary has been to ban political ads, full stop. Or so it thought; it turns out that defining what’s political is almost as difficult as defining what’s true. Twitter caught flak almost immediately for the possibility that it might permit ExxonMobil’s elegies to the oil industry while barring green groups’ climate ads. The move is also a boon to incumbents and a burden for upstarts clambering to build a list of donors, or to catch the public’s notice at all.

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