Mark Zuckerberg Doubles Down On Controversial Political Ads Policy As Twitter Ends Sales

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on his decision to allow politicians to make false claims in Facebook advertisements during the company’s third-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, couching the controversial policy as an alternative to political censorship.

“In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for public companies to censor policies or the news,” he told investors and journalists.

“From a business perspective, the controversy that this creates far outweighs the very small percentage of our business that this makes up,” Zuckerberg added. “These ads from politicians will be less than 0.5% of our revenue next year.”

It was Zuckerberg’s latest effort to explain his contested policy that paid ads by political campaigns would be exempt from the social network’s fact-checking mechanism, which allows users to flag false statements for review by third-party fact-checkers, who may then recommend ad advertisement be removed or a post be seen less frequently.

Minutes ahead of that call, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took a much different stance, announcing that Twitter planned stop selling political ads. Taking aim at Zuckerberg, who has often framed his company’s stance as supporting free speech, Dorsey tweeted, “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach.”

Zuckerberg has been uncharacteristically outspoken this month, making several public appearances and using every opportunity to defend his decision to allow false claims in political ads on Facebook.

The 35-year-old founder repeatedly defended his company’s political ads policy this month during a Georgetown University speech, an employee Q&A session and a congressional hearing. He argued that it’s not the place of technology companies to determine what is true and what is false.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also defended the political ads policy earlier this month saying, “It’s not for the money, let’s start there. …This is a very small part of our revenue.”

The political ads policy became heavily debated after the company let President Donald Trump run an advertisement with false claims about his political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Of course, all of this debate about political ads has brought even more attention to Facebook from regulators. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Monday asking him to reverse the policy that allows elected officials to run false ads on the platform.

Hundreds of Facebook employees have also signed a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg and other company executives last week that denounces the political ads policy and called it “a threat to what Facebook stands for,” according to the New York Times.

Facebook shares rose more than 3% in after-hours trading, following earnings and revenue numbers that beat Wall Street expectations. Facebook reported an adjusted earnings per share of $2.12 (vs. $1.91 per share forecast by Refinitiv). It also reported revenue rose 29% to $17.65 billion (vs. $17.37 billion forecast by Refinitiv).

Zuckerberg, on the Facebook call, said he expected the upcoming election year to be tough. “This is complex stuff. Anyone who says the answers are simple hasn’t thought about the nuances.”

Update 10/30/19 (5:55 p.m. ET): This post was updated to include quotes from Facebook’s earnings call and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement.

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ORIGINAL STORY

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gets yet another chance to address the heated debate over how the company handles political ads on the platform—and defend his decision that allows politicians to make false claims in Facebook advertisements.

The company reported its third-quarter earnings after the close of trading on Wednesday. Executives are then holding a call with investors and the press at 5 p.m. ET. Ahead of that call, Twitter CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter would stop selling political ads. Taking aim at Zuckerberg, who has framed his company’s stance as supporting freedom of speech, Dorsey tweeted, “this isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach.”

Zuckerberg has been uncharacteristically outspoken this month, making several public appearances and using every opportunity to defend his decision to allow false claims in political ads on Facebook.

“I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true.”

– Mark Zuckerberg

The issue became heavily debated after the company let President Donald Trump run an advertisement with false claims about his political rival Joe Biden.

Zuckerberg repeatedly defended the political ads policy this month during a Georgetown University speech, an employee Q&A session and a congressional hearing. He argued that it’s not the place of technology companies to determine what is true and what is false.

His thoughts were best summed up in a quote delivered during his Georgetown University speech, when he said, “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also defended the political ads policy earlier this month saying, “It’s not for the money, let’s start there. This is a very small part of our revenue.”

Of course, all of this debate about political ads has brought even more attention to Facebook from regulators. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Monday asking him to reverse the policy that allows elected officials to run false ads on the platform.

Hundreds of Facebook employees also signed a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg last week that denounces the political ads policy and called it “a threat to what Facebook stands for,” according to the New York Times.

Facebook shares rose more than 3% in after-hours trading, following earnings and revenue numbers that beat Wall Street expectations. Facebook reported an adjusted earnings per share of $2.12 (vs. $1.91 per share forecast by Refinitiv). It also reported revenue rose 29% to $17.65 billion (vs. $17.37 billion forecast by Refinitiv).

Update 10/30/19 2 pm ET: to reflect Dorsey’s comments and Facebook’s results.