Joe Biden campaign urges Facebook to change approach to political speech

Biden's campaign wants Facebook to fact-check content and ads from politicians.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
3 min read

Facebook has been under fire for not doing enough to combat misinformation from politicians.

Angela Lang/CNET

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, urged Facebook on Thursday to change its mostly hands-off approach to political speech.

"Folks, we saw in 2016 what can happen when social media platforms are left unchecked and allow disinformation to run rampant. It puts the very integrity of our elections at risk. We simply cannot let it happen again in 2020," Biden said in a tweet.

In an open letter to Facebook shared on its website Thursday, the Biden campaign asks the social network to fact-check all political ads two weeks before they're allowed to run on Facebook. The campaign is also asking the social network to fact-check election content that goes viral and not amplify untrustworthy posts. 

The campaign wants clear rules that bar "threatening behavior and lies about how to participate in the election," the letter says. The campaign used the hashtag #MoveFastFixit to spread the message. 

The move shows that tensions between politicians and Facebook are continuing to escalate after the company recently took a different approach to political speech than rival social network Twitter did.

In May, Twitter added fact-checking labels to two tweets by President Donald Trump in which Trump claimed that mail-in election ballots would be "fraudulent." Clicking on Twitter's "Get the facts" label brings you to a page with tweets from news outlets that say mail-in ballots are rarely linked to voter fraud and that Trump's claims are "unsubstantiated."

Twitter also veiled a tweet from the president about protests in Minnesota, putting it behind a notice that says it violates the company's rules about "glorifying violence." But because it's in the public's interest to be aware of the president's statements, Twitter said, users can click a View button in the notice to go ahead and read the tweet.

Facebook didn't take any action against similar posts from Trump on its site, prompting pushback from its own employees.

Facebook doesn't send content from politicians to its third-party fact-checkers because, the company says, the speech is already heavily scrutinized. The social network does have rules against posting content that's aimed at deterring or preventing people from voting.

In response to Biden's letter, Facebook put the pressure on elected officials to create rules about campaign ads and content.

"Just as they have done with broadcast networks -- where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians' campaign ads -- the people's elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them. There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it," Facebook said in a statement. 

Conservatives have accused social networks of censoring conservative speech, but the companies have denied doing so. In May, Trump signed an executive order that asks the government to review a federal law that protects online companies from liability for content posted by users. The Center for Democracy and Technology filed a lawsuit against Trump, alleging the order violates the First Amendment.

Democrats, on the other hand, say that Facebook hasn't done enough to combat political misinformation, including from Trump. Last year, Biden's campaign asked Facebook to remove a Trump campaign that included a video that stated Biden had promised Ukraine $1 billion if officials in that country fired the prosecutor investigating a company affiliated with Biden's son. There's no evidence to support the claim, which has been debunked by fact-checking groups and media reports.