Dear Mark Zuckerberg,
Well, here we are again, sharing our outrage about your company’s seriously flawed system of monitoring “political” advertisements on your platform.
We both know why we’re putting quotes around the word, “political.” We’ve been over this before – back in January, in fact, when we wrote you to complain about your company’s unfortunate policy of forcing our group to register as a “political organization.” You told us that if we didn’t register, we couldn’t get certain boosted posts past your army of bots and third-party moderators.
You gave us reasons that were hardly clear or consistent as to why you believed our advertised posts were “political” – even though we are absolutely non-partisan, and our core issues of copyright and creative livelihoods are as apolitical as it gets. Tough beans, you said – unless CreativeFuture registered as a “political organization,” our boosted posts would be summarily rejected.
“Facebook’s decision to err on the side of over-labeling content as ‘political’ has led to many organizations being asked to classify as something they are not,” we wrote back in January, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is Facebook’s process for authorizing groups to “run ads about social issues, elections or politics” – it’s become even more ludicrously byzantine and suppressive than it already was.
We found this out the hard way recently, when yet again you flagged and blocked our effort to boost one of our posts because you judged it “political.” The post was a link thanking Sen. Thom Tillis for an op-ed he published about modernizing the U.S. Copyright Office.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” wrote Tillis. “It isn’t an ideological issue. Everyone, from rights holders to the general public, deserves an efficient and effective [Copyright] Office.”
Hardly a controversial stance there – and yet, perhaps because the piece we linked to was written by a US. Senator, it was flagged as political and rejected. At least, that’s our best guest – because you won’t tell us.
Until that moment, we persisted in our belief that since we are non-partisan, we weren’t going to let Facebook force us to register as a “political organization.” But we decided we had to play along. We simply could not continue to have important messaging about the creative economy, and how it is threatened, stymied because someone at Facebook, for some reason, kept banning them as “political.”.
We made the difficult choice to register. And wow, what a can of worms that opened.
We quickly found ourselves mired in Facebook’s new, nearly 20-step authorization process that runs the gamut from multi-pronged online verification to letters required to be sent via the U.S. Postal Service. (The Postal Service, Mark!!! What kind of tech visionary are you?)
In short, your new rules required us to prove unequivocally that a real, human, American face will be scheduling our “political” ads. Our social media administrator had to first upload his U.S. driver’s license to Facebook. Then he had to upload another, separate image of himself to facially match with the picture on the license. He then had to answer a series of customized personal questions – much like a credit card application – to further prove that he was who he said he was. Finally, he had to wait nearly a week for a confirmation code to arrive via snail mail, so that his mailing address could be authenticated.
Really, Mark – what are we doing here? It’s easier to sign up to run for political office in some places than it is to sign up to run non-partisan ads on Facebook. We get why you’re expanding your requirements; your lax policies on this kind of thing in the past allowed a lot of bad people to manipulate the system, posing as legitimate political entities and using divisive misinformation tactics to shape public opinion in profound and terrifying ways. Your company has enabled corruption that hasn’t just misled individuals en masse, but has eroded collective faith in elections, institutions, and democracy itself.
We suppose super-aggressive authentication geared toward political advertisers is one way to start cleaning up those problems, but we can’t help but think it’s also kind of missing the forest for the trees. Sure, toxic political manipulation via paid-for posts is a problem, but it’s also just one tree in a forest of millions of other bad-faith Facebook users from around the planet who spew toxic garbage in uncountable quantities entirely for free – through their newsfeed updates and comments – to try to influence the American political process.
So, if you really care about misinformation, why stop with so-called “political organizations” (including ones like ours which don’t even call ourselves political!). Why not subject all users, whether representing a political organization or not, to the same 20-step, mail-order authorization process? Now that would eliminate some toxic garbage!
First of all, it would instantly eradicate the literal billions of fake accounts that plague Facebook – many of which are automated to foment hatred and division wherever they post.
Second, it would cut down on hatred and division sewn by real people, many of whom would be less inclined to piss other people off if they were required to reveal their true selves. It’d be kind of like arguing with people in real life, where you tend to be a whole lot more civil when you have to look each other directly in the eye.
We already know what you’re going to say: “This proposal would betray our mission of connecting the world,” or some such. “We want everyone to be able to participate, even those who, say, lack identifying documentation such as a driver’s license or passport, or don’t have a verifiable address.”
To which we say, “Fine. Fair enough.” How about this: Everyone gets to look on Facebook, but those who wish to actually engage publicly with others must get some kind of review to make sure they’re real, and who they say they are.
You may know that a version of this plan was recently implemented on the film site Rotten Tomatoes, where trolls had developed a nasty habit of assembling and posting disingenuous reviews and scores to harm the success of films they disagreed with on political grounds, sometimes before the film was even available for public viewing. To combat this hateful practice, Rotten Tomatoes launched “verified ratings and reviews,” a new policy that gives preference to users who can prove that they have purchased a ticket to a given film before they can post a public review of it.
On your platform, Mark, authorized users wouldn’t even need to have an actual movie ticket – they’d just have to prove to you that they have an actual face. Is that so much to ask from a website called… Facebook? In fact, it’s not an ask at all, because the best part of this plan, besides the fact that it would liberate the world from so much soul-sucking online trolling, is that it would actually benefit Facebook.
Think about it: all-inclusive authorization would make your billions+ fake account problem vanish instantly. Sure, the tradeoff is that a few million real accounts might jump ship here and there as well, for any number of reasons. But that’s not actually a tradeoff for Facebook when your company could finally tell its advertisers, “Not only can we, as always, help you target your sponsorship to an extremely specific group of users who will respond to it the most favorably, but now we can prove to you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every single one of these users actually exists!”
Mark, you know better than we do that part of the fallout from the litany of recent scandals Facebook has endured is an erosion of advertiser trust. It turns out advertisers are wary of relying on data from a social media platform known for its egregious privacy violations. They also weren’t too pleased when, in 2018, it was discovered your company knowingly inflated their video metrics. There are few things a marketing executive likes less than wasting their budget on ad spots that aren’t actually being viewed – and exposing that spot, potentially, to millions or billions of fake accounts seems about as wasteful as it gets.
We can’t think of a better way to reinvigorate your advertisers’ trust than the promise of 100% authenticity on the receiving end of their campaigns. What’s more, as the only social media platform able to deliver on such a promise, you would be able to charge a premium for advertisements. Hyper-targeted placement plus maximum spend efficiency is a marketer’s dream come true. Only Facebook would have the power to deliver it – and all you would have to do is extend an authorization process you already have in place… to everyone already on your platform.
Extend the authorization process, Mark! Make your platform more secure and safe and pleasant for everyone. And here’s another idea – instead of hassling non-partisan, non-profit advocacy organizations like ours who are committed to stopping piracy, why not require Facebook users who use your platform to promote illegal downloads and streaming and boxes to verify their identities? We bet that people would be a lot less likely to commit crimes on Facebook if they couldn’t hide behind their computers! How about doing more to stop piracy, and less to stop groups like ours who are dedicated to stopping piracy?
And please, make it so we never have to write a letter about this topic again – it’s exhausting. Really. It’s exhausting.