Civil rights activists meet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discuss fact-checking political ads

Ahead of the US presidential election in November 2020, Facebook’s policy has also been slammed by Democratic candidates


Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton said he had a “no-holds-barred meeting” with Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Inc CEO’s home on Monday over the company’s decision not to fact-check ads and other content from politicians.

The meeting, which Sharpton said lasted nearly two hours at Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto house, included multiple civil rights activists and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“We told him that we feel that the exemption for politicians could be used to suppress voting, give wrong messaging and could suppress census taking,” Sharpton told Reuters in a phone interview on Monday after the meeting.

“He listened,” said Sharpton, who had sent Zuckerberg a letter to request the meeting. “He made no firm commitments of change but he seemed open,” he added.

According to a report in Washington Post, Sharpton said that he was now hopeful about the fact that Facebook was open to discussing this issue.

Civil rights activists meet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discuss fact-checking political ads

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to convince US Congress that his company should be allowed to undermine the global financial system.

This dinner with civil rights activists almost seems like damage control, after Zuckerberg wasn't able to convince US lawmakers about why misinformation in political ads was allowed on the platform. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled Zuckerberg on the extent to which false information could be allowed in a political ad. When Cortez asked if she could run a fake news campaign targeting Republicans stating that they voted for her Green New Deal — a proposal by Ocasio-Cortez that outlines a plan for addressing economic inequality and climate change issues — Zuckerberg tried to skirt the question with vague replies about the answer being dependent on 'many factors'.

When Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that it was a simple yes/no answer, Zuckerberg responded that it would 'probably' be OK to spread fake news in that manner.

Zuckerberg told Congress last month Facebook would take down content from politicians that could risk voter or census suppression. Sharpton said, however, he thought that a wide array of content from politicians could indirectly cause such suppression.

Ahead of the US presidential election in November 2020, Facebook’s policy has also been slammed by Democratic candidates and was recently criticised by some of its employees in an internal letter.

Twitter Inc’s decision last week to ban all political advertising has also heightened scrutiny of its larger rival’s stance.

Facebook said in a statement it was grateful that the civil rights leaders took the time to attend the dinner with Zuckerberg and Sandberg.

“They discussed a range of important issues and we look forward to continuing these conversations,” the statement said.

Among the groups present were NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund, Color of Change and Muslim Advocates. This was the first instance of civil rights group engaging directly with Facebook high commands including Zuckerberg and Sandberg.

One of the participants, Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates told WaPo that civil rights was a new space for Zuckerberg. "I’m heartened by his appreciation for the harms the platform has caused and can cause, and the responsibility to prevent those harms. In the election and voter suppression space is where there’s some room to understand how the platform is affecting these rights and principles that we all hold dear."

Zuckerberg defended the policy in an earnings call last week, saying Facebook did not want to stifle political speech. He also estimated that ads from politicians would be less than 0.5 percent of revenue next year.

Sharpton, who had sent a letter to Zuckerberg requesting a meeting, said he would next ask for a meeting with Alphabet’s Google about its stance on the same issue. He said he also wanted to meet with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Critics of Facebook’s policy have run intentionally false ads to highlight the issue. These include ads from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign claiming Zuckerberg had endorsed President Donald Trump and a left-leaning group’s video claiming Republican Senator Lindsey Graham backed the Green New Deal climate proposal.

With inputs from Reuters