ANALYSIS - Facebook's New Election Ad Regulations May Boost Biden

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 23rd September, 2020) Facebook's policy to remove misleading election-related information ahead of the November vote may benefit Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign, experts told Sputnik.

In early September, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that any posts using COVID-19 to discourage voters will be removed along with content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the November 3 election. The social media giant said the move is intended to "protect" the integrity of the election process.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned that mail-in ballots will lead to mass election fraud. Many believe the Democrats will benefit more from mail-in ballots because their constituents are more concerned about the pandemic. Twitter has labeled Trump's tweets about mail-in ballot fraud as disinformation on several occasions.

Eurasia Center Vice President Earl Rasmussen said Facebook's approach will likely not affect the candidates equally, noting that already there are efforts to block ads against mail-in ballots.

"It will be the Facebook god that will determine which ad is so called political or non-political," Rasmussen told Sputnik. "I would not be surprised if these measures favor the Biden camp more."

Such a policy may prevent some non-profit or private ads among other notifications, which Facebook may consider as politically oriented, he added.

"They obviously will be emphasizing a specific issue. What about 'Black Lives Matter' ads or for that matter 'Blue Lives Matter'? Is this not controlled media or some private company form of censorship? I think it is highly likely that numerous ads will occur and they will benefit one side or the other," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen also said Facebook's new policy will be difficult to implement. Facebook will be able to stop direct political ads, but reposts and other issue-related ads may be hard to detect.

Political commentator Bill Boerum also believes the Democrats may gain more advantages from Facebook's new policy.

"This year, responding to social justice concerns... young people and blacks may turn-out in higher proportions than their historical performance, thus likely benefiting the Democrats. Republicans could see the Facebook measures as a veiled effort to accomplish the latter," Boerum told Sputnik.

Republicans, including Trump, have been irate about how Twitter and Facebook have attached "fact-checking" labels to content deemed disinformation, accusing the companies of censorship.

Dan Lazare, a political commentator, told Sputnik he does not care how benign or well-intended Facebook claims to be, the result is a giant step toward censorship and political regimentation.

Lazare also said he disagrees with civil libertarians who may counter that none of this matters because Facebook is a private company.

"The fact is that Facebook is doing this under intense congressional pressure, which means that its actions are nothing more than government censorship one step removed," Lazare said. "Should phone companies regulate what people say over their lines? How about bartenders and restaurateurs? Should they keep an ear cocked in case one customer tells another something that's that's untrue or misleading?"

Lazare said the answer to bad speech is good speech in terms of what is posted on Facebook and other outlets.

"If someone is spreading bad ideas, then counter him or her by spreading good ideas of your own. Rather than relying on the government or some giant corporation - do it yourself. And it strikes me as supremely irrelevant whether bad ideas are spreading via Facebook [or] phone lines," Lazare said.

Boerum said some of these measures can be seen by some as private sector censorship, although this has been a challenge for media throughout history. The answer has been to clearly separate different types of content.

"Media is supposed to have a clear line between opinion on the editorial page and journalism and objective reporting," Boerum explained.

Rasmussen, in turn, urged people to express their concerns over the current situation.

"Facebook or any other social media company that provides a public communications platform or forum should not independently censor information or discussion," he said. "Yes, they are a private company but they are essentially providing a public service. One should be very disturbed to see actions that limit a given perspective especially if there is no hate crime, obscenity, or other derogatory public comments."

Lazare warned that the current situation is reminiscent of the "red scare" during the Cold War.

"Free speech hasn't been under this much of a threat since Joe McCarthy was running riot in the 1950s," Lazare concluded.