Big tech cannot police itself when it comes to misinformation

Regulatory third-party fact checking needed for political advertising

Facebook can’t be allowed to fact check political advertisements in house…even though we need them too.

Recently, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified to the United States Congress, ostensibly to discuss Libra — Facebook’s upcoming cryptocurrency. In reality, Zuckerberg faced questions on any and all of lawmakers concerns regarding the social media giant.

In a particular heated exchange, Zuckerberg was questioned by neophyte Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on how Facebook handles fact-checking political advertisements; which they basically do not.

Ocasio-Cortez used the example of a hypothetical ad that would say Republican lawmakers are in favour of the Congresswoman’s Green New Deal — a economic restructuring of the economy around the realities of climate change that members of the GOP are certainly not found of.

Zuckerberg’s response to the hypothetical inaccurate ad was that they would not fact check the false statements because it is important that Facebook users see when politicians are lying or presenting doctored facts.

In essence, Facebook will not fact check misleading paid-for advertising from politicians— an obvious concern for western democracies given Facebook’s nearly ubiquitous reach into our culture.

Zuckerberg’s faith in the common person’s ability to see through misleading advertisements is touching but is out of touch with the realities of a political world with high stakes.

Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum will absolutely misrepresent the truth to gain power and it is on gatekeepers, like Facebook, to ensure they are all held to account for misleading citizens of a democratic state.

The problem with this is that the interests of a private business with shareholders to please do not necessarily line up with those of the public good. This is why it is untenable for lawmakers to expect Facebook — and other tech giants — to police themselves.

This means federal oversight and expert third-party fact-checkers— in Canada, the U.S. and anywhere Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and every other large tech companies operate — is necessary.

Yes, I understand that regulation is four-letter word ‘round these parts, but the economic, social and political power that tech giants wield is potentially devastating for a free society.

The question is what does regulation look like? Does it look like sweeping antitrust legislation that could come into effect to break up large tech companies — with the example being Facebook being broke up into separate companies for Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp, thus allowing both competition and perhaps a larger commitment to the truth? Or is it a more measured regulation that allows third parties to ensure fact-checking compliance?

The latter seems to have more merit, as entirely breaking up a company like Facebook would mean the products millions of people rely on could potentially be watered down and thus affect the financial outcomes of millions more than just Facebook employees.

In any case, it is clear that our democracy needs to be protected online and tech companies need to work with elected legislative bodies in order to protect citizens from lies and misinformation.

Todd Vaughan is the editor of the Lacombe Express.

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