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Biden Warns Facebook On Track To Repeat Mistakes Of 2016 Election

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is blasting Facebook for its refusal to fact-check political speech.
John J. Kim
Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is blasting Facebook for its refusal to fact-check political speech.

Joe Biden is demanding that Facebook crack down on false information, including from President Trump, adding his voice to escalating criticism over the social network's hands-off approach to political speech.

"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," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee tweeted on Thursday. "So far, Facebook has failed to enact any real reforms to stop the spread of disinformation on its platform. Time is running out."

Biden is urging his supporters to sign an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding the company "fix the problems in Facebook's platform that pose a threat to free and fair elections."

The letter calls on Facebook to reject political ads with false claims, apply its existing rules against threats and voting misinformation to all users, promote trustworthy content and promptly remove false information that goes viral.

Facebook has said it will not fact-check political ads — a departure from its usual policy of forbidding advertisers from making false claims — because it does not want to regulate political speech. That policy has been condemned by many critics and stands in contrast to Twitter, which has banned political ads entirely. The Biden campaign previously clashed with Facebook over an ad from the Trump campaign that contained false allegations about the Democratic candidate's dealings with Ukraine.

"There should be a two-week pre-election period during which all political advertisements must be fact-checked before they are permitted to run on Facebook," Biden's letter said.

Biden's salvo against Facebook comes after the social network decided not to remove a post from Trump about the recent protests over police brutality and racism.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts," the president wrote.

Critics said the post broke Facebook's rules against inciting violence. Twitter hid a tweet in which Trump said the same thing behind a warning label, saying it violated its rules against glorifying violence.

Facebook's stance has sparked a growing backlash from civil rights groups, congressional Democrats and even the company's own employees. But Zuckerberg has been unmoved, saying he does not believe the post broke Facebook's rules.

Biden's letter called for "clear rules — applied to everyone, including Donald Trump — that prohibit threatening behavior and lies about how to participate in the election."

In response to Biden, Facebook said: "We live in a democracy, where the elected officials decide the rules around campaigns."

It noted that while Biden is calling for more fact-checking, Trump recently signed an executive order that attempts to strip long-held legal protections from online platforms if they fact-check content or engage in other behavior seen as editorial.

"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," Facebook said. "There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.