As the CEO of Facebook, I want to assure all of our shareholders that the company is taking the Russian meddling during the 2016 election very seriously. We acknowledge that the members of the Senate have expressed legitimate concerns about the way we dealt with the possibility of Russian election meddling. In the future, we intend to take measures to that will alleviate some of these concerns and ensure that our shareholders do not have to worry about any unexpected fallout from this unfortunate situation.
You may have heard that about 126 million Americans may have been exposed to content from Russian-linked Facebook accounts (Kelly, 2017). Here at Facebook, we are as shocked and upset by this statistic as the rest of the country. Therefore, we are committed to hiring and training over a thousand new workers to manually review political ad buys (Kang, Fandos, & Isaac, 2017). We realize that our algorithms are not yet sophisticated enough to catch all instances of false or illegitimate advertising (Kang et al., 2017), so we are willing to invest in the training of highly skilled reviewers to catch potential meddling. For our shareholders, this will pay off in the long run by ensuring that Facebook maintains its credibility among the American people.
At Facebook, we are also going to start being more transparent about the funding behind the political ads that are posted on our platform (White, 2017). That means buyers will be forced to confirm their identities before their ad is posted (Byers, 2017). Also, each election-related ad will have to be accompanied by a disclaimer that indicates who paid for it, That way, seeing a political ad on Facebook will be just like seeing a political ad on television: at the end, the voter will know who was behind the content, and they can judge the credibility of the purchaser for themselves.
Considering the problems that came up during the 2016 election, Senators and shareholders alike may wonder whether our efforts will be effective during the midterm elections of 2018, which will start ramping up over the next few months. Because Facebook is fully committed to the integrity of these elections, we have decided to put our new transparency measures to the test before the elections get in full swing. Specifically, we plan to add the new features to Facebook in Canada starting in November 2017 (Vomiero, 2017). That way, we can perfect our processes before the American elections the following year.
I also want to take this opportunity to publicly oppose the Honest Ads Act. Previously, Facebook has withheld our opinion on this subject (Kang et al., 2017), but we believe that the time has come for us to speak out. The Honest Ads Act is the proposal that some Senators have made to start regulating social media platforms in the same way as broadcast television companies when it comes to political ad funding transparency (Cooper, 2017). Specifically, the company would be required to maintain a public database of all the paid political advertising posted on the platform (Tau, 2017). The truth is, this legislation is simply not necessary. We have already agreed to voluntarily increase our transparency when it comes to political advertising (Romm & Wagner, 2017), so there is no need to waste time and effort passing unnecessary regulations.
Even more importantly, we at Facebook want to maintain a clear distinction between our platform and the broadcast media industry. Facebook should not be held to the same standards as broadcast media companies because our services our fundamentally different. We are not responsible for the content of our users: our position is that we simply provide a platform for millions of people all over the world to connect with each other and share their ideas. Even though we at Facebook are outraged that Russian meddlers abused our platform during the 2016 elections, we do not believe that this diminishes the value of our platform or puts it on the level of a broadcast media company.
Plus, the passage of the Honest Ads Act could set a dangerous precedent for future legislation. It could pave the way for future legislation that restricts our ability to grow and develop as the world’s top social media platform. For this reason, we want to assure our shareholders and users that we are prepared to fight this legislation to the end. We are fully committed to preventing future election meddling – without being forced to do so by the U.S. government. In fact, we may even be able to do so more effectively if we are not bound by the unnecessary restrictions of government oversight. As the CEO of Facebook, I acknowledge the concerns that the sponsors of the Honest Ads Act have about the 2016 Russian meddling in the election, but I respectfully disagree with the proposed solution.
I would also like to address some of the complaints that Senators recently made regarding the vagueness of some of the answers given by Facebook’s top lawyer, Colin Stretch, during the recent hearing on Capitol Hill (Borchers, 2017). For instance, Senator Kamala Harris expressed surprise that Facebook did not calculate how much money we made from legitimate advertising that ran alongside illegitimate Russian propaganda (Martin, 2017). In response, I can only say that Facebook is a forward-looking company. For the sake of our shareholders, we closely track our quarterly profits – which were up 79 percent from last year (Martin, 2017) – but we do not waste time making calculations that provide us with no usable data. Obviously, we do not plan to allow Russian propaganda again, so that calculation would provide is with no valuable information that we can use going forward.
Here at Facebook, our focus is on the future, not the past. We are dedicating our time and resources to protecting the interests of our shareholders and the freedoms of our users. That means implementing transparency measures that guarantee future election integrity, as well as opposing any regulatory measures that would treat Facebook as if it were part of an industry from which it is fundamentally separate. I look forward to embracing these goals and principles as I guide Facebook into a bright future.
- Borchers, C. (2017). Four takeaways from the Senate Intelligence hearing with Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/01/four-takeaways-from-the-senate-intelligence-hearing-with-facebook-twitter-and-google/?utm_term=.d8e002262230
- Byers, D. (2017). Facebook announces new ad transparency efforts. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/27/media/facebook-ad-transparency/index.html
- Cooper, M. (2017). Can Congress keep Russia off Facebook? Bill aims to force disclosure for political ads. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/can-congress-keep-russia-facebook-bill-aims-force-disclosure-political-ads-688930
- Kang, C., Fandos, N., & Isaac, M. (2017). Tech executives are contrite about election meddling, but make few promises on Capitol Hill. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/us/politics/facebook-twitter-google-hearings-congress.html
- Kelly, M.L. (2017). Representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google testify about Russia’s election influence. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/10/31/561246196/representatives-from-facebook-twitter-and-google-testify-about-russias-election-
- Martin, R. (2017). Sen. Kamala Harris on social media and Russian propaganda. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/11/02/561505689/sen-kamala-harris-on-social-media-and-russian-propaganda
- Romm, T. & Wagner, K. (2017). Facebook to strengthen transparency standards for political ads in wake of Russian election interference. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/27/facebook-is-taking-a-stricter-stance-on-political-advertising-ahead-of-its-testimony-to-the-u-s-congress-next-week.html
- Tau, B. (2017). Proposed ‘Honest Ads Act’ seeks more disclosure about online political ads. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposed-honest-ads-act-seeks-more-disclosure-about-online-political-ads-1508440260
- Vomiero, J. (2017). Facebook to test ad transparency features in Canada as scrutiny mounts. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3830457/facebook-test-political-ad-transparency-features-canada/
- White, J.B. (2017). Facebook to release more political advertising information amid claims of Russian interference in US election. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/facebook-political-ads-advertising-russia-election-inteference-congress-a8024091.html