House Dems Unsure of Facebook's Commitment to Election Security

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

Top House Energy & Commerce Committee Democrats are calling on Facebook to work with, not against, an effort to improve the accountability and transparency in political ads.

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E&C Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), joined by Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to make that plea.

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They were referring to a New York University research effort in which volunteers provide those researchers and journalists access to the political ads they are served on Facebook so they can investigate who is targeted by the ads and why. According to the legislators, Facebook contacted NYU demanding it stop the research by the end of next month, citing consumer privacy.

“The unfortunate timing of a letter from Facebook to the NYU Ad Observatory, which runs the Ad Observer tool, just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, raises concerns about Facebook’s commitment to election integrity,” they wrote.

The legislators say the NYU program has taken "concrete steps" to protect privacy and asked Facebook to work with them on any concerns, and suggested Facebook has a history of not wanting to work with researchers. Besides, they cited reports that the NYU ad project only uses data with the explicit permission of the volunteers.

Suggesting Facebook had lost the trust of the American people, they said that greater transparency about targeted political ads was the only way to get it back.

Facilitating election meddling is arguably Democrats' primary issue with Facebook, and one of the driving forces behind their support of revising social media's Section 230 immunity from civil liability for third-party content.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.