Free expression and the real threat to our political climate

For social media platforms such as Facebook, getting people to read a story is more important than the story itself. Facebook claims in one of their latest policy statements that false comments by political leaders provide “valuable” topics for discussion – the company outright refuses to moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their political ads.
The willingness of Facebook to protect political ad campaigns that spread false information reveals the superficial and capitalistic nature of social media.

Rather than clearing the air around heated political issues, Facebook creates a culture that amplifies disinformation. According to the Facebook Newsroom, 1.63 billion people in October 2019 checked their Facebook feeds daily. That is over 20 percent of the world’s population. For those who use Facebook to browse the news, the company’s refusal to delete posts from politicians with false information is devastating.

If Facebook carries so much sway over the general public, then we must hold the company responsible to present truthful information to its readers. Truth becomes a moral duty when your voice reaches billions of people.

Politicians remain unscathed after violating Facebook’s policies against misinformation and violent speech, such as with recent advertisements from the Trump campaign. Everyone must be held accountable for their actions, including the people who hold positions of power within our government. Every hateful or misinformed post on social media perpetuates the problem of fake news.

We need to be able to trust our news sources. Social media platforms such as Facebook do not advertise themselves as news organizations, yet our news feeds are filled with responses to current political happenings. In April of this year, a Stanford study on the effect of social media on mental health determined that Facebook significantly contributes to the public’s awareness of current affairs.

We need to take a stance against slander. The chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, uses the broad term of “free expression” to defend politicians who use underhanded advertisements on social media to boost their campaigns.

Although Facebook claims to be a champion of free speech, the company defends politicians whose ads are based on fear mongering and deception. While free expression certainly demands inclusivity, politicians should not have the power to lash out at others on social media when Facebook’s security teams would remove such postings if they were written by anyone else.

When confronted last month about his stance on intentional misinformation, Zuckerburg dodged the question by pointing his finger at creative pursuits such as satire, exaggeration, and fiction writing. While not all of the information on Facebook is strictly factual, political advertisements on Facebook spin lies to attack other political candidates. Free speech does not have room for words spoken with the intention of harming others.

We live in a world saturated with social media. The endless scroll on our phones keeps us up-to-date on current events across the world. The circulation of misinformation undermines our efforts against fake news. Trusted social media platforms should not leave their readers wondering whether or not what they read is true.

Now, Facebook serves as a politicized environment that threatens to cast credible news sources into doubt and gives special treatment to certain political parties. If social media companies want to empower their readers, maintain the integrity of their platform, then Facebook must take a stance against political leaders who spin lies across our news feeds.
The truth should not have to shout to be heard.
Amy Imdieke ’21 is from Northfield, Minn. Her majors are English and chemistry.