Ex-Facebook head says company ‘profits partly by amplifying lies’
Facebook’s former head of Global Elections Integrity Ops left after six months on the job and now she’s speaking out about the problems she faced when trying to fix the company’s political ad problems.
In an op-ed in the on Monday, Yaël Eisenstat, who joined Facebook after working with the CIA and the White House, says she tried to sound the alarm at the company leading up to the 2016 election. Recently, Facebook said it would let politicians lie in ads in the name of “free expression.”
“I didn’t think I was going to change the company,” wrote Eisenstat. “But I wanted to help Facebook think through the very challenging questions of what role it plays in politics, in the United States and around the world, and the best way to ensure that it is not harming democracy.”
Eisenstat explained that while employed at Facebook, she saw firsthand how ad tools and features were misunderstood by users and how the company pushed back on any suggested moves to fix the problem.
She said that she believes that when the company approves political advertisers, and provides them with a checkmark and a “paid for” label, it adds credibility to the posts. In reality, Facebook and its partners don’t fact-check any of this content.
“The real problem is that Facebook profits partly by amplifying lies and selling dangerous targeting tools that allow political operatives to engage in a new level of information warfare. Its business model exploits our data to let advertisers custom-target people, show us each a different version of the truth and manipulate us with hyper-customized ads ads that, as of two weeks ago, can contain blatantly false and debunked information if they’re run by a political campaign,” she continued. “As long as Facebook prioritizes profit over healthy discourse, they can’t avoid damaging democracies.”
According to Eisenstat, many of her Facebook colleagues agreed with her push to fix some of these political advertising issues. They still do, according to a signed by hundreds of Facebook employees.
Facebook’s leadership, however, did not agree.
“Ultimately, I was not empowered to do the job I was hired to do, and I left within six months,” she says.
In addition to sharing her own experience at the company, Eisenstat makes the case as to why Facebook’s ad transparency tools don’t cut it.
“True transparency would include information about the tools that differentiate advertising on Facebook from traditional print and television, and in fact make it more dangerous: Can I see if a political advertiser used the custom audience tool, and if so, if my email address was uploaded? Can I see what look-alike audience advertisers are seeking? Can I see a true, verified name of the advertiser in the disclaimer? Can I see if and how your algorithms amplified the ad?” she writes. “If not, the claim that Facebook is simply providing a level playing field for free expression is a myth.”
Eisenstat doesn’t believe in an outright ban on political advertising, as companies like Twitter have instituted. However, she believes the time for the government to step in and regulate the social media platform is well overdue.