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Former Facebook Exec Criticizes Policies That Let Politicians Lie in Ads

November 9, 2019, 12:11 AM UTC

A former top Facebook executive disagrees with the social media company’s policy of accepting political ads that include lies.

Chris Cox, former chief product officer who left the company in March, said that he’s a big fan of fact checking. And while he generally agrees with Facebook continuing to run political ads, he believes those ads should be policed for accuracy, he said Friday at a conference in San Francisco hosted by Wired magazine.

“Political ads are their own animal,” Cox said. “The place you want to get to is to find a way to do some sort of fact checking on these that’s not so partisan.”

The problem is that political parties often have a difference in opinion on what exactly should be considered misinformation. Cox said one of the systems he worked on at Facebook, which is currently being vetted by academics, is to have an independent panel determine whether information in political ads is accurate. 

“It ends up being a pretty good system,” Cox said. 

In recent months, Facebook has doubled down on a policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads. Meanwhile, the company’s brags about its practice of labeling free user posts that are inaccurate and sometimes removing them.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the public should be able to see what politicians regardless of whether it’s true, couching it as freedom of speech. He doesn’t think Facebook, as a company, should be an arbiter of truth. 

Last week, under pressure, Twitter reversed course and banned all political ads on its service starting Nov. 22. The company said it’s still working out the details of the policy, which it expects to unveil Nov. 15.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted last week in announcing the ban.

But Cox’s concerns with political ads on Facebook go beyond fact checking. The former Facebook exec said he also is concerned with how the social network targets people with political ads, exposing various groups to ads that other people never see.

“The company should investigate and is investigating micro-targeting,” he said. “Because the thesis of this stuff is it should be out in the open.”

But that’s not what’s happening, Cox said. And Facebook’s ads library, a public repository of all the political ads on the service, isn’t always easy to navigate or understand. That’s because it doesn’t specify which versions of ads are shown to different groups of people.

“It’s tricky to get your arms around,” he said about the library. 

Cox also said he agrees with a lot of the points Facebook employees mentioned in a letter they sent to Zuckerberg last week. The letter focused on changes employees think Facebook should make to its ad policies—including restricting targeting for political ads and holding those ads to the same accuracy standards as regular ads.

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