Should Facebook Ads Be Regulated Like TV Commercials?

Last week, Facebook disclosed to congressional investigators that it sold $100,000 worth of advertisements to a troll farm connected to the Kremlin surrounding to the U.S. presidential election. These advertisements, which targeted voters with divisive political content, added even more evidence of Russia’s attempts to meddle with the election. But they also contributed to a larger conversation about free speech in an era where social-media posts replace political pamphlets and the public square has increasingly moved into cyberspace.

Tech giants like Facebook are largely left to decide for themselves how to arbitrate what is said on their platforms: what speech is permissible or not, whether to flag propaganda or not, and how to regulate advertisements. While, across mediums, it is illegal for foreigners to financially influence U.S. elections, last week’s news also means a new reckoning with the specific responsibility of tech companies to regulate the ads they sell and the content they host.

Legal and tech experts have growing concerns about individual private companies’ massive power over public discourse on the internet. The ability of any single entity to significantly arbitrate speech has previously belonged to the government alone. Now, Facebook, with a small number of its peers, has assumed much of the responsibility for regulating this influential realm online.

Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union sees danger in steps toward censorship on social media. “We would ideally like to see companies that provide a forum in which people communicate with each other to be free-speech zones, especially companies that play important roles in our national discourse,” he said. “Once companies go down the path of engaging in censorship, line-drawing decisions are often impossible, inconsistent, capricious, or downright silly.”

But Andrew McLaughlin, the co-founder of Higher Ground Labs, a company that invests in technology to help progressive candidates, believes that platforms should suppress propaganda in ad space. “Despite their best intentions, tech companies have built systems that are so open to manipulation by bots and trolls and other techniques that they effectively reward propaganda,” he says. “Failing to tackle that problem means ceding the terrain to fraudsters, fake-news pushers, and other kinds of propagandists, who easily gain the upper hand.”

Susan Benesch, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and the founding director of the Dangerous Speech Project, likewise falls in this camp. “If you deceive people consistently …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Technology

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