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Lawmaker Says Facebook Refuses To Fact Check Ads

Facebook ad
Facebook refused to remove the erroneous ad (left). Republican officials later withdrew it and posted an apology.

An Illinois lawmaker is calling on Facebook to ensure political ads are fundamentally factual, after learning the social media giant has no such guidelines.

You could say State Senator Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, made this discovery the hard way.

"The biggest lesson for me over the past four weeks is that Facebook and digital media play by completely different set of rules than broadcast media, and here's the difference: There are no rules,” Manar says.

It happened when Republicans in Christian County purchased a Facebook ad incorrectly claiming Manar had voted “yes” on a bill bennefiting Exelon's nuclear power plants. Manar's campaign purchased an ad proving that he had voted against the bill, but Facebook removed Manar's ad, because it included a screenshot of the Republican ad.

Seth McMillan, chair of the Christian County Republican Party, eventually withdrew the ad and posted an apology. McMillan has announced he is running for Manar's seat, and he's accusing Manar of using the Facebook flap to divert attention from his voting record.

But Manar says his beef is not with McMillan but rather with Facebook. He is exploring whether there’s a way to subject Facebook to the same standards that apply to TV and radio broadcasters.

"There's federal regulations about how things that are blatant lies can and can't be broadcast, and there's a process for public officials to go through. In the case of Facebook, there's no process. Nor do they have any interest in having one,” Manar says.

Instead, Facebook bases its advertising rates on how many clicks an ad gets. Manar says that means the more provocative an ad is, the more money Facebook makes. Accuracy doesn't factor into the equation.

"When a multi-national company that's making billions of dollars tells public officials that it's not their job to make sure that the public has the correct information, that, to me, is about as un-American of an approach as I could imagine," he says. "If they believe in this country that we all live in, and they love it, and they cherish democracy that allows their company to flourish, then they ought to fix this mess."


After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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