One of the companies that Facebook hired to fact-check posts on its platform will propose a change to Facebook’s policy allowing politicians to run ads containing falsehoods, CNN Business has learned.
Lead Stories, one of the fact-checking organizations hired by Facebook (FB) after the 2016 election to help curb the platform’s misinformation problem, will propose that fact-checkers vet ads from politicians and that those fact-checks then be reviewed by a new nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel.
Lead Stories will make the proposal at a meeting for Facebook’s fact-checkers at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters next week, Alan Duke, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lead Stories, told CNN Business Thursday.
“There is an urgent need for a fair method to identify egregiously false political ads in 2020,” Duke, himself a former CNN journalist, said. “Our experience as fact checkers shows me that too many people are too fast to fall for disinformation.”
Lead Stories is one of six fact-checking organizations Facebook works with in the United States. When a link or Facebook post is deemed false by the fact-checkers, clarifiying information is added to it and it is “downranked” on Facebook, meaning it should be seen by less people.
“The goal of the meeting is to get constructive feedback and address questions from our partners. We welcome their input and look forward to the discussion next week,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business when asked for comment about Lead Stories’ intention.
The proposal comes amid growing backlash over Facebook’s policy regarding politicians’ ads.
Facebook’s current policy is to not fact-check political ads run by elected officials and candidates. (It will fact-check posts from PACs and other politial groups, however.) That policy has led to backlash from some of the company’s own employees, and Democrats who say the policy will most benefit President Trump, who has been known to share falsehoods. One Trump campaign ad in particular, about former Vice President Joe Biden, was a catalyst for the backlash.
Explaining his proposal, Duke said, “It would likely involve fact-check journalists researching and debunking but with the added process of a nongovernmental, nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel reviewing the results to determine if a candidate’s political ad should be flagged and banned.”
He acknowledged that deciding how the panel would be appointed and who would sit on it would be challenging.
“That process will be the toughest to develop. We need to think that part through but I believe even in today’s environment we can figure it out,” he said.
Duke said even if Facebook doesn’t adopt the proposal, Lead Stories plans to begin fact-checking some political ads independently, and may seek to set up the independent panel with other partners.
“Facebook is not the only company facing the fake ad challenge,” Duke said.
On Wednesday, Twitter (TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his company would ban political and issue ads from its platform entirely.
“Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes,” Dorsey tweeted as part of his announcement. “[P]aying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” he warned.
Facebook has defended its policy in part by noting that broadcasters are required by law to run TV ads from candidates, no matter what falsehoods those ads may contain. (Cable networks are not subject to the same law. CNN declined to run the Trump campaign ad that set off the current controversy.)
But Duke warned of the differences between television and online advertising.
“The way campaigns communicate with voters has dramatically changed with social platforms. The old way of an evening newscast reporting on why an ad just seen in the show is false does not work.”
“Also everybody saw the same ads,” he added. “Ads now are only seen by the voters who are targeted.” His comments echo those made by hundreds of Facebook employees in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg and other senior staff who warned of the dangers of targeted political advertising