Accuracy in Media

Facebook, which has been criticized for having an anti-conservative bias, may take solace in a memo obtained by The New York Times from a longtime Facebook executive.

In the memo, the executive told employees that the company has a moral duty not to use the power of the platform to tilt the scales against President Donald Trump during his re-election campaign.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division — who is a self-described liberal and maxed out Hillary Clinton donor — wrote on his internal Facebook page that he found himself wanting to use the company’s platform against Trump, but that doing so would eventually backfire.

“That brings me to the present moment, where we have maintained the same ad policies. It occurs to me that it very well may lead to the same result. As a committed liberal, I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand?

“I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment. Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.

“The philosopher John Rawls reasoned that the only moral way to decide something is to remove yourself entirely from the specifics of any one person involved, behind a so called “Veil of Ignorance.” That is the tool that leads me to believe in liberal government programs like universal healthcare, expanding housing programs, and promoting civil rights. It is also the tool that prevents me from limiting the reach of publications who have earned their audience, as distasteful as their content may be to me and even to the moral philosophy I hold so dear.”

Bosworth pushed back against the notion that Facebook was manipulated into helping Trump win in 2016 and praised the campaign for its savvy use of the platform.

“But Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.”
Bosworth also said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision.
He also commented on whether social media is as addictive as nicotine or some other substance.
“In these moments, people like to suggest that our consumers don’t really have free will. People compare social media to nicotine. I find that wildly offensive, not to me, but to addicts. I have seen family members struggle with alcoholism and classmates struggle with opioids. I know there is a battle for the terminology of addiction but I side firmly with the neuroscientists. Still, while Facebook may not be nicotine I think it is probably like sugar. Sugar is delicious and for most of us there is a special place for it in our lives. But like all things it benefits from moderation.”
Several Facebook employees disputed Bosworth’s analysis saying that politicians need to be held to the same standard as other Facebook users with one employee warning that if Facebook continued in its current approach they risked promoting populist leaders around the world.
The Trump campaign spent $12.5 million on Facebook in 2018 and probably spent a similar amount in 2019, far more than any of his Democratic opponents except for maybe Michael Bloomberg who joined the race late but has spent over $150 million on all forms of advertising and shows no sign of slowing down that pace.
Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision.

A Facebook spokeswoman provided a statement from Bosworth in which he said that the post “wasn’t written for public consumption,” but that he “hoped this post would encourage my co-workers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform.”

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