Rep. Cleaver Leads Congressional Call For Facebook to Strengthen Policies In Order to Limit Violence and Paid Political Disinformation
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, United States Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), joined by 17 colleagues in the House of Representatives, delivered a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the tech company to revise its policies governing the incitement of violence and political micro-targeting on its platform. Rep. Cleaver and his colleagues are also seeking more information on Facebook’s current policies governing these issues, how they reached these policy decisions, and how they intend to enforce the lackadaisical policies going forward.
“Facebook’s hands-off approach and failure to take responsibility for the disinformation and violent rhetoric that gets trafficked on their website—that they profit from every day—is doing considerable damage to democracies around the world and even their staff has had enough,” said Congressman Cleaver. “The First Amendment is a sacred right that every American possesses, but it does not give politicians and nefarious actors the right to spread violence, lies and misleading claims on a public platform to individuals who are especially susceptible to disinformation.”
In the letter, Congressman Cleaver wrote:
“On May 29, 2020, In your function as CEO, you articulated Facebook’s determination not to remove a post which other social media platforms, and a large number of Facebook employees, agreed incited violence and directly violated Facebook’s ‘Community Standards.’ Further, we understand that hundreds of your employees, uncomfortable with your inaction, organized a walkout on Monday June 1, 2020. We share their disappointment with your response. This highlights a possible negligent obfuscation of responsibility to your team, your shareholders, and your users. It also underscores a likely pattern of practice in failing to appropriately balance free speech against public safety and the general welfare of users. This failing is also reflected in Facebook’s practices around microtargeting and misinformation.”
Last month, following several Presidential posts regarding false claims about mail-in voting and stating “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the social media platform Twitter added warning labels to several tweets from the President that were either inaccurate or had the potential to incite violence. However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the decision to not do anything about the same misleading and violent messages on his company’s platform despite their clear violation of the “Community Standards.”
Over 400 Facebook employees stages a walk out over the company’s violation of its own standards and on Monday, June 8, 2020, a number of content moderators at Facebook expressed their solidarity in the walkout saying, “we would walk out with you—if Facebook would allow it.” They noted their frustration as the employees responsible for enforcing Facebook’s policy position. These employees said, “We can’t walk out, but we cannot stay silent.”
While Twitter, Google, and Snap have become more stringent in their policies on disinformation and violent rhetoric in recent years, Facebook has held firm in its position that the company has no responsibility to inform their users of political disinformation or shield them from the President’s incitement of violence on the company’s platform. Facebook announced earlier this year they would not ban political advertisements and would not begin the practice of fact-checking political advertisements, which can be micro-targeted to reach increasingly smaller, more specific groups of like-minded individuals. Considering Facebook is the world’s largest social media conglomerate, with over 1 billion users globally, this allows for the drastic dissemination of disinformation with frightening ramifications for democracies around the world.
In the letter, Rep. Cleaver addresses this issue:
“Micro-targeting empowers advertisers to exploit such division by 1) allowing them to profile and target users who are most sensitive to particular identity threats, 2) enabling targeted messages to travel in an environment with few checks, 3) allowing targeted ads to land in media spaces where their claims and messages are less likely to be challenged, and 4) interfacing on a platform that is designed in ways to favor the spread of information triggering quick and emotionally intensive responses…We are of the belief that Facebook’s failure to limit political micro-targeting already works to the favor of those who pay your company to run hyper-partisan and divisive advertisements regardless of their factual accuracy.”
“Facebook can no longer shirk responsibility for allowing this kind of manipulation to take place on their platform. Congressmen Cleaver continued. “The time has come for Facebook to, at the bare minimum, live up to the standards they themselves have put forward. If they cannot—or will not—make the changes necessary to this keep this modern-day public square from becoming blatant disinformation, manipulation and violent incitement, I believe Congress will need to step in.”
You can find Rep. Cleaver’s letter with a list of cosigners here.
Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee; Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy; member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress; member of the Committee on Homeland Security; and a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. For more information, please contact Matt Helfant at 202-590-0175 or Matthew.Helfant@mail.house.gov A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.