Facebook hired me in 2018 to help clean up their political advertising mess after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed them, yet again, to public scrutiny over their negligence in protecting democratic elections around the world. I was asked to build and head a new team responsible for creating and operationalizing policies to ensure that “bad actors” did not misuse Facebook’s advertising to manipulate elections. But it became clear that Facebook leadership wasn’t interested in any of my ideas, including a necessary level of fact-checking for lies about voting, if they threatened their relationships with political parties in power.
At the time, I was bogged down with explanations of why these ideas wouldn’t scale globally, how they would require too many resources, why they were wrong for the company. Looking back on it now, it is clear that my proposals all rubbed up against a decision that Facebook leadership had already made before hiring me, even if they hadn’t announced it yet—that they would not fact-check the person who had the most power to possibly regulate them: Donald Trump. In America and across the world, preserving their power trumped protecting democracy. My ideas were shut down, and I was cut out of high-level meetings ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm election. Even when my team built a plan to ensure we would not allow ads that engaged in voter suppression (more details in this article), I was told it was not a priority. Six months after arriving, I left.
Facebook have proven again and again that they cannot be trusted to self-regulate when doing so would either harm their business model or put them in the crossfire of the regimes in any given country. The company has never applied its policies evenly, while hiding behind the false notion of valuing free speech above all else. Creating a so-called Oversight Board and kicking it their biggest headache—the Trump decision—did nothing to change that.