The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

The US presidential elections are coming soon and candidates are working harder and harder to get people’s votes.

Candidates use advertising as a tool to attract voters by targeting political ads at people based on their demographics and other data collected about them. Social media companies allow ad companies to gather this information and target their ads to specific key audiences.

Out of all the huge social media platforms participating, Facebook is known for the spread of misinformation and fake news, but what they recently did is outrageous and many people are now questioning whether they should still use the app or not. 

Facebook announced that they won’t be fact-checking the ads run by presidential candidates. This decision means that candidates can publish lies, fake information and rumors without being held accountable for it and Facebook won’t block those ads.  

The decision sparked controversy and questions by users and Congress personnel. 

In recent testimony before Congress, Mark Zuckerberg was asked by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a U.S representative, whether he will ban lies from political ads or not. His answer was, “Congresswoman, I think lying is bad and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad.”

 His answer was insufficient, to say the least, and didn’t answer the main question, “Will you or will you not ban lies in political ads?” 

We know lying is bad and that a person shouldn’t lie. 

Facebook announced that they won’t be fact-checking the ads run by presidential candidates.

Elizabeth Warren, a U.S presidential candidate, was outraged with the decision and decided to use it against Facebook. She released an ad saying that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook endorsed Donald Trump for re-election. She then followed the fake announcement saying that it was fake news but because Facebook is not fact-checking anymore, she was able to run such an ad. Warren wanted to show people how dangerous Facebook’s new policy can be.  

Facebook has been accused before of having a big effect on the 2016 elections because of the big influence it has on voters. 

In 2016, Facebook launched the “I voted” sticker to encourage other people who didn’t vote to do so when they see their friends post the sticker. This proved successful as the voting rates increased by 340,000 people. That’s a relatively large number of voters that were solely influenced by peer pressure caused by Facebook.

In recent months, Facebook’s dilemma around the spread of fake news and lies has only grown. People were already worried about their privacy and use of their demographics, info, and data by ad companies. Now they also have to worry about being exposed to incorrect information and lies, because Facebook only cares about selling user’s information for money.

On the other hand, Twitter has recently announced that they will totally ban political ads of presidential candidates on their platform to prevent the spread of fake news and any chances of affecting the elections in any way. 

People and users were happy with the decision Twitter made and how they handled the situation. 

Between Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, users have to be very careful about verifying news before sharing or retweeting and verify the trustworthiness of the news source.

Only time will tell as to whether the safety and lives of users will come before potential revenue.

Facebook is responsible for taking down fake accounts and un-journalistic news pages, but we now live in an age where clicks are all that matters for these companies because they earn money.

The user can help make a change by reporting any fake or suspicious news, but until Facebook changes their policies to be more transparent and honest, some people have chosen to completely opt-out from Facebook as a form of protesting against them.

Only time will tell as to whether the safety and lives of users will come before potential revenue.

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  • Maram is a senior at Rutgers University earning her bachelor's in Journalism and Media. Her first love was reading and writing as she found in them her comfort zone and escape from the world. Maram's interests are children's media, advocacy, public relations, reporting and anything that she can use her voice in. She is also in pursuit of her Master's degree in Communication and Media wishing to use her education and knowledge to serve her community and underrepresented people.