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Flickers of right-wing bias have burst into unmistakable flames at Facebook this month, as the tech giant changed its rules to allow politicians to lie in ads - just in time for a new misleading ad from the Trump campaign attacking Hunter Biden.

Facebook Okays Political Lies

Judd Legum, the independent journalist who broke the free-for-all disinformation story, also uncovered "a clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purport to be independent but exclusively promote content from [alt-right] The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion." The network itself is not so unusual, but what was disturbing was that Facebook explicitly defended them as "real people" and refused to remove them despite the clear violation of their own rule against "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

Facebook is a huge beast, and it’s likely that one or another action will disturb someone. This level of top-down acceptance of disinformation campaigns, however, is not normal. False information is a problem on all large content platforms. That's why they have departments like the Integrity group at Facebook, whose job it is to sort out false and misleading ads. And that's why employees working in the integrity area, who care deeply about the difference between truth and intentional falsehood, whose work is now being intentionally disregarded, wrote a letter of protest:

"We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."

It's possible for a large corporation to at least attempt to act ethically—Twitter, when faced with the same landscape, recently chose to simply not air political ads at all.

It's possible for a large corporation to at least attempt to act ethically—Twitter, when faced with the same landscape, recently chose to simply not air political ads at all.

"it‘s not credible for us to say: “We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well...they can say whatever they want! "

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While Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, has made a principled stand, relying on the personal ethics of whoever happens to head a large corporation, may not be a long term strategy. As professor Siva Vaidhyanathan put it in a New York Times Op-Ed last week:

"these powerful, global companies have no need to pander to our complaints and no incentive to do business any other way. We can’t expect corporate leaders to do anything but lead their corporations. We can’t expect them to be honest with us, either. We must change their businesses for them so they stop undermining our democracies."

No roadmap exists yet, for exactly how to make this change.

George Polisner, founder of Civic Works, asks a simple question: why can't we the people make our own social network as a member-supported nonprofit? And he has put his money where his mouth is (or rather, his keyboard) and has self-funded Civ.Works, a privacy-protected social network with an option for a personalized civic action feed. Can a member-supported nonprofit compete head to head with investor and ad-driven behemoths? Or perhaps will Civ.Works be one of many smaller privacy-protected social networks that both cooperate and compete with each other in a social-media ecosystem?

The value of giants like Facebook comes largely from the users already on the platform, and not as much from any particular software or feature. So while the initial exodus of users may be difficult and require determination, it will become easier and more attractive the more people leave Facebook for platforms such as Civ.Works. Perhaps it's time to join the avant-garde?

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Golda Velez

Golda Velez is a board member of Civic Works and lead of the project to defend and support victims of authoritarian regimes and their families. An anti-fraud software engineer, she lives in Tucson with her family.