The head of Joe Biden's election campaign has written a scathing letter to Facebook accusing the social network of backsliding. As reported by Axios, campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon says that the platform remains “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation,” and is still allowing high-profile figures to mislead voters. Dillon focuses on a posting from Donald J. Trump Jr., largest son of the current president, who said that opposition parties would “add millions of fraudulent ballots” to “overturn the election.” Trump Jr. then, in the same video, invited members of the public to form an “army for Trump’s election security.”
On September 3rd, Facebook announced new measures to tackle misinformation in the run-up to the 2020 US elections. That included a ban on political ads in the final week of the campaign and labelling posts that seek to “delegitimize the outcome” or “discuss the legitimacy of voting methods.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the platform would “remove misinformation about voting,” and take steps to “reduce the chances of violence and unrest.” Naturally, the Biden campaign believes that a video urging a volunteer army to prevent a non-existent election fraud ticks several of these boxes.
Dillon adds that the campaign, as well as several other organizations, raised concerns over the post, but Facebook chose not to remove it. When the campaign contacted Facebook for an explanation as to why the video was not removed, the letter adds, the platform neglected to provide any additional detail. The only amendment the platform made was to add a content label, which Dillon says was “buried on the top right corner of the screen where many viewers will miss it.”
“When we asked for a written explanation of how assertions that millions of votes will be fraudulent, that millions of others will be “cancelled,” and that the solution was to “enlist” in an “army for Trump’s election security,” could possibly be consistent with your policies that prohibit all of these claims, you provided none.” Jen O'Malley Dillon
“No company that considers itself a force for good in democracy,” writes Dillon “would allow this dangerous claptrap to be spread to millions of people.” The letter goes on to cite additional posts, including from Trump Sr., that appear to delegitimize the outcome of the election or sow misinformation around the voting process. In addition, Dillon highlights the fact that the “hyperpartisan propaganda organ [...] the Daily Wire is Facebook's top web publisher” as more evidence of Facebook's laxity.
The letter ends by suggesting that Facebook’s decision making is either biased in favor, or is being influenced by the current administration. Facebook’s critics often imply that Zuckerberg and/or VP Global Policy Joel Kaplan are holding their thumb on the scale to benefit one side. The Wall Street Journal and Buzzfeed have painted Kaplan as a figure who has carved out policy exemptions for right-leaning voices that would otherwise have been removed for rule-breaking.
And earlier this month, The Verge reported that Zuckerberg refused to let Kaplan engage with employees who are critical of his role. The CEO said that he believes Kaplan to be “very rigorous and principled in his thinking,” and said any criticism of the executive was “troubling.” The Verge previously published comment from Zuckerberg saying that Facebook would “fight” any attempts at regulation should (then would-be Democratic candidate) Senator Elizabeth Warren become president.
Biden and Facebook are hardly on good terms right now, given that back in August it was found that Instagram was down-ranking Biden-related hashtags. Back in January, VP Biden said that Facebook was knowingly spreading falsehoods, and has said, if elected, he would look to reform the broad protections afforded to the site under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996.
The first presidential debate airs tonight, kicking off the most intensive period of the US elections in the run-up to November 3rd. Both campaigns will be looking to Facebook both to get their message out, and blunt that of the opposition while scrutinizing Facebook’s role in all of this. The escalation on behalf of the Biden campaign may help counter the pressure right-wing groups have placed on these platforms, a policy that the New York Times described as “working the ref.”