Science & Tech

Hundreds of Facebook Employees Decry Zuckerberg’s Free Speech Stance in Letter

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 11, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Facebook employees published an internal letter several weeks ago that criticizes CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to allow politicians and other public officials to purchase ads that include false information.

Quoting former Facebook chief product officer turned critic Chris Cox, the employees make the case that Zuckerberg’s prioritization of free speech will empower authoritarians, writing “we know the effects of social media are not neutral.”

“Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing,” the letter reads. “Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”

The New York Times first reported Monday on the letter, which has circulated on Facebook Workplace, an internal company messaging platform, and has accrued over 250 signatures.

“Facebook’s culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic,” Bertie Thomson, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”

In recent weeks, Zuckerberg has mounted a public defense of adherence to free speech principles in response to the criticism that the platform should take a more pro-active role in censoring political disinformation.

“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told the Washington Post earlier this month. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. In general, in a democracy, I think that people should be able to hear for themselves what politicians are saying.”

The letter proposes a number of improvements to the current policy, including holding political ads to the same criteria as standard ads while highlighting the difference between the two, restricting targeting by political ads, and spending caps for individuals who publish political ads.

“We are proud of the work that the integrity teams have done, and we don’t want to see that undermined by policy. Over the coming months, we’ll continue this conversation, and we look forward to working towards solutions together. This is still our company,” the letter closes.

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