As Jack Dorsey announced his company Twitter would drop all political ads, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg doubled-down on his policy of refusing to fact-check politicians’ ads. “At times of social tension there has often been an urge to pull back on free expression . . . We will be best served over the long term by resisting this urge and defending free expression.”
Still, Zuckerberg failed to delineate between freedom of expression and freedom of paid amplification of that expression — which inherently favors the rich.
During today’s Q3 2019 earnings call where Facebook beat expectations and grew monthly users 2% to 2.45 billion, Zuckerberg spent his time defending the social network’s lenient political ad policy. You can read his full prepared statement here.
One clear objective was to dispel the idea that Facebook was motivated by greed to keep these ads. Zuckerberg explained “We estimate these ads from politicians will be less than 0.5% of our revenue next year.” For reference, Facebook earned $66 billion in the 12 months ending Q3 2019, so Facebook might earn around $330 million to $400 million in politician ads next year. [Update: It wasn’t clear if issue ads and PAC ads were counted in Facebook’s 0.5% figure, but now the company says that number is just for ads run directly by politicians.]
Zuckerberg also said that given Facebook removed 50 million hours per day of viral video watching from its platform to support well-being, which hurt ad viewership and the company’s share price, Facebook clearly doesn’t act solely in pursuit of profit.
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Facebook’s CEO also tried to bat down the theory that Facebook is allowing misinformation in political ads to cater to conservatives or avoid calls of bias from them. “Some people say that this is just all a cynical political calculation and that we’re acting in a way that we don’t really believe because we’re just trying to appease conservatives,” he said, responding that “frankly, if our goal was that we’re trying to make either side happy then we’re not doing a very good job because I’m pretty sure everyone is frustrated.”
Instead of banning political ads, Zuckerberg voiced support for increasing transparency about how ads look, how much is spent on them and where they’re run. “I believe that the better approach is to work to increase transparency. Ads on Facebook are already more transparent than anywhere else. We have a political ads archive so anyone can scrutinize every ad that’s run.”