Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg denied that the company’s forays into political ads have anything to do with financial gain at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Political ads have quickly become one of the most toxic parts of the Facebook advertising ecosystem, with the company and other major social media firms refusing to take down ads that openly lie about political opponents. Speaking with reporter Katie Couric, Sandberg said that “It’s not for the money, let’s start there. This is a very small part of our revenue.”
“... It’s very small, very small,” Sandberg added. “And it is very controversial. We’re not doing this for the money.”
Instead, she said, Facebook allowed the ads because they are part of some ambiguously defined but assuredly very high-minded discourse and insisted, against all evidence to the contrary, that it’s really small issues and candidates that benefit from its massive advertising machine.
“We take political ads because we really believe they are part of political discourse,” she added. “If you look at this over time, the people who have the most benefited from being able to run ads are people who are not covered by the media so they can’t get their message out.”
Sandberg also touted Facebook’s ad disclosure database as “really important because you can’t hide,” as “Anyone can go in the library and see any ad that any politician anywhere is running.” (In other words, others can clean up the mess they made.) She added that while if “something is hate or bullying, it comes down” from Facebook—something that’s quite debatable—if it’s fake, “We don’t take it off.”
Sandberg touched on Facebook’s broader disinformation problem: “... It is the price of free speech. That means there is going to be all the beauty and all the ugliness of humanity... We are going to fight to keep the bad off but keep the good going.” Someone should tell her about the gaping loopholes in Facebook’s systems that allow for dark money groups to run issue-based and political ads with little oversight just by placing proxy ad buyers or affiliate companies’ names in disclosures, something that is arguably more disconcerting than ads run directly by specific campaigns. Facebook has adamantly argued that it is making significant progress on this, but reports have not been encouraging.
The COO also trotted out a strange statistic arguing that Facebook does not work as an echo chamber, as is often alleged, per CNET. According to Sanberg, news that users encounter on Facebook “will be from another point of view” around 26 percent of the time, which means “It is unequivocally true that Facebook usage and uses of social media show you broader points of view, not narrower points of view.”