Facebook, Google, and Twitter Under Political Pressure Due to Russia-linked Political Ads
Facebook, Google, and Twitter are under political pressure due to Russia-linked social media ads that reshaped US politics during the last Presidential election. Facebook disclosed on September 6 that fake Russian accounts purchased ads valued $100,000 on Facebook to influence US presidential elections. According to Facebook’s disclosure, 10 million people saw the “divisive,” Russia-linked ads.
Facebook officials said that around 3000 advertisements were created through fake accounts which were controlled by a pro-Kremlin Russian company called the Internet Research Agency. The ads did not target any specific candidate but rather focused on divisive political and social issues, such as gay rights or immigration, and were especially aimed at battleground states.
Due to Facebook’s statement provoking further debate in Washington D.C. about Russian influences on the Presidential election, the company decided to turn over Russian-linked ads to the Congress. “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Mark Zuckerberg said in his video statement. On the other hand, he continues to defend Facebook’s importance as “a force for good in the democracy, promoting billions of online discussions, linking voters to candidates and helping two million Americans register to vote.”
Facebook is not the only company that is concerned with this disclosure’s possible impacts on social media usage. Twitter has been keeping its head down while Facebook was dealing with political pressure, because the political developments around Russian interference raise a fearful possibility for social media companies: government regulation. Social media sites rely on advertisements for revenue, and this revenue may be affected if the federal government began regulating their content.
Following the congressional preparations to regulate political ads on Facebook, the company sent its most powerful figure, Sheryl Sandberg, after Zuckerberg to Washington D.C. for damage control. Social media companies, especially Facebook, due to increasing coverage over its disclosure, are preparing to fight a possible regulation on their advertisement policies with lobbying and new PR activities.
As a matter of fact, Senate Democrats are already preparing a bill that will require companies like Google and Facebook to disclose their political ads expenditure, similar to the requirements for televisions shows and newspapers. Facebook had fought similar regulations in 2011 against Federal Election Commission. The main issue then was that social media companies allowed users to create and pay for their ads in a self-advertising fashion.
FEC wanted these companies to require disclosure on political ads, but companies argued that the ads are too small and have limited characters for such disclosures. This time, the fight is much more political given that foreign political ads may have reshaped U.S. politics and undermined its democratic integrity.