Facebook declined to remove a video ad paid for by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that falsely accuses former Vice President Joe Biden of trying to influence policy in Ukraine to benefit his son’s business dealings.
In a letter obtained by Fortune that was sent to the Biden campaign, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s public policy director of global elections, says Facebook’s decision to let the ad remain is “grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and belief that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”
She continued: “Thus, when a politician speaks or makes an ad, we do not send it to third party fact checkers,” she says. The letter from Facebook to the Biden campaign was first reported by the New York Times.
The video ad accuses Biden of using his position as vice president to influence decisions in Ukraine that would benefit a Ukrainian gas company for which his son, Hunter Biden, served as a board member. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
The Trump campaign is also running the video on YouTube and Twitter. A spokesperson for the Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it planned to ask those companies to remove the video.
If a politician shares a viral hoax that has been debunked, Harbath says Facebook will demote that content from being widely shared. This also includes rejecting the inclusion of hoaxes in ads.
In call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, President Trump asked the leader to investigate Biden and his son, according to a summary released by the White House.
Trump told the Ukrainian president the U.S. “has been very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily.”
The phone call has sparked an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump unfairly used his power to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival.
Despite a lack of evidence involving Trump’s accusations against the Bidens, Harbath says politicians are still allowed to share their own claims, “even if the substance of that claim has been debunked elsewhere.”
“If the claim is made directly by a politician on their Page, in an ad or on their website, it is considered direct speech and ineligible for our third-party fact checking program,” she says in the letter.
The Trump campaign has spent more than $5 million on Facebook ads over the past three months, according to Facebook. The Biden Campaign has spent $700,000 during the same period.
On Twitter, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been the most vocal critical of big tech, called out Facebook for allowing the Trump campaign to spend millions of dollars running ads that are “obviously untrue.”
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who said in May that he supports breaking up Facebook, responded in a tweet: “I have a feeling that many people in tech will see Warren’s thread implying FB empowers Trump over Warren as unfair,” he says. “But Mark, by deciding to allow outright lies in political ads to travel on Facebook, is embracing the philosophy behind Trumpism and thereby tipping the scales.”
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