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Why Facebook censored an anti-Trump ad

The reason, explains Facebook spokesman Andrew Stone, is that the Lincoln project is not an advertisement of a campaign politician, but an external organization. If candidates for a public office pay Facebook to prove that they have made false claims themselves, Facebook will be happy to include them in the news feeds of a target group. However, if the advertiser is not running for office, Facebook will add a scarlet letter to ads that have made excessive claims and misrepresentations.

But wait: the “grief” indicator appears to be correct. Online critics wondered if Facebook – whose handling of misinformation in the 2016 election campaign benefited the Trump campaign ̵

1; did the White House a favor by censoring the Lincoln ad.

The truth is not so disgraceful, but neither is it particularly comforting.

Facebook relies on external organizations that check facts to determine the accuracy of controversial content. These operations choose which stories to review by either identifying controversial content or choosing from a dashboard of popular content provided by Facebook. In this case, Politifact, the fact-finding department of the nonprofit Poynter Institute, decided to view the ad, which immediately attracted much attention.

According to Aaron Sharockman, Executive Director of Politifact, his fact checker had no problem with one of the many statistics in the coronavirus death toll or unemployment rate. Instead, Politifact focused on one sentence: “Donald Trump saved Wall Street but not Main Street.” For many (like me) this may seem like an opinion, the value of which depends on data. The Lincoln project provided a number of sources, including Bloomberg, NBC, Vanity Fairand even that New York Postwhere a reporter from Fox Business News wrote in a comment: “Wall Street traders will make money while Main Street companies face economic conditions that have not been seen since the Great Depression.” But Politifact chose an absolutist interpretation. Because the Cares Act, passed by Congress and signed by Trump, did so something Things for Main Street, it argued, in fact Trump had saved America’s mainstream. “Most people who argue seem to suspect that Trump saved Wall Street more than Main Street,” Sharockman said. “But the ad didn’t say that. I feel really good when I say the rating is wrong. “

The warning sign on Facebook read “Partially wrong”. I asked Sharockman, since every second sentence was undeniably factual, why wasn’t the ad marked “Mostly True”? He told me that the only alternatives were “right, partly wrong and wrong”. (I later did my own fact check: Politifact’s website describes a “truth-o-meter” that includes categories like “Mostly True” or “Half True”. Apparently, Facebook only accepts the three that Sharockman mentions.)

Checking political facts can be more art than science. it is often based on lean distinctions. But as Politifact knows, the power of these distinctions can be grotesquely distorted if translated into labels that Facebook blindly uses. The penalties are severe. If an ad is verified as false or partially false by an organization that verifies facts, Facebook pulls the ad. Even worse, when people share the ad with friends, it is treated as toxic content and buried in the news feed. When people see the post, they have to click through the warning sign to see the actual ad as if it contained bloody medical scenes or other disruptive content.

The Lincoln project complained to Facebook and received no formal response beyond a referral to the fact reviewer. Politifact’s stance is that the organization should have changed the ad to say that Trump helped Wall Street more than Main Street. Sharockman says the correction would only take six seconds. Jennifer Horn, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, says her organization will not bow to censorship. (There’s also the fact that this controversy has made the ad even more effective – the Lincoln Project says it was a fundraising champion.) It notes that YouTube and Twitter have no objection to the content of the ad and several The television markets operated it without asking for changes.

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