Facebook’s Own Goal

It has been more than two weeks since Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will no longer accept political ads, and yet Facebook still apparently thinks that it has a future running Trumped-up political ads.

The truth is Facebook has no future if it continues to run these ads.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed their discomfort with Facebook’s role in our 2016 election and its ongoing presence in our political life, and Facebook is often included in discussions about breaking up tech monopolies. Given the prevailing sentiment on Capitol Hill, one would think that Mark Zuckerberg would read the tea leaves and drop a category that only represents 0.5% of Facebook’s total revenue.

But Zuckerberg is unrepentant. Because he insists that Facebook is a “platform,” he doesn’t think his company should bear any responsibility for political ads on Facebook that are patently false.

Facebook’s CEO is undoubtedly worried that he will undermine Facebook’s positioning as a platform if he abandons these ads, thereby forcing the company to take responsibility for its content. The thought of having to hire vast numbers of editors to monitor Facebook posts and accepting the legal risk of these posts must be keeping him up at night.

Also, he could be concerned that he will be conceding that Facebook is a malevolent force in American political life if he zeroes out political advertising on Facebook.

But Zuckerberg is sticking his finger in the eye of legislators every second that he continues to accept advertising from political tricksters and shadowy foreign proxies.

Facebook has had a good run. Although it has had to pay its share of fines for violating user privacy, it has largely escaped significant government oversight in its quest to “move fast and break things.”

But that time is past. Now, Zuckerberg should fold a bad hand and protect his stack.

Through backing away, Facebook still has time to engender some goodwill in advance of the 2020 elections. It could enhance its standing even further by taking a strong public stand against political fraudsters. (For an organization that has its own counter-terrorism team, this shouldn’t be a stretch.)

Yes, it will be giving up some short-term cash, but it will be making an investment in the future, an investment that could pay much greater dividends than serving as a dumb pipe for political mischief-makers.