Ever since a couple of Facebook ads from Russia convinced 63 million people to vote for Donald Trump, there has been a huge movement from the left to do “something” about political ads. With the 2020 election just around the corner, mainstream and social media have been attempting to batten down the hatches in order to
prevent Trump from getting reelected “protect our democracy” from foreign influence and “misinformation.”
A report from CBS News has found that Google and YouTube took down more than 300 pro-Trump video ads.
It seemed that the floodgates were opened when CNN chose not to air a Trump ad about Joe Biden, which they unilaterally (and incorrectly) decided was false and when Twitter announced it would not run any political ads, it seemed inevitable that Google/YouTube was going to be censoring
political Trump ads.
In response to concerns raised after the 2016 election cycle, Google and YouTube, like Facebook, keep a searchable archive of political ads that have run on the site.
60 Minutes reviewed the archive to learn more about President Trump’s problematic political ads. We found that over 300 video ads were taken down by Google and YouTube, mostly over the summer, for violating company policy. But the archive doesn’t detail what policy was violated. Was it copyright violation? A lie or extreme inaccuracy? Faulty grammar? Bad punctuation? It’s unclear. The ads determined to be offending are not available to be screened. We found very little transparency in the transparency report.
“As you know, conservatives think that you discriminate against them,” Stahl tells YouTube’s Wojcicki, who replies: “Well, first of all there are lots of very successful conservative creators on YouTube… Our systems, our algorithms, they don’t have any concept of understanding what’s a Democrat, what’s a Republican. They don’t have any concept of political bias built into them in any way. And we do hear this criticism from all sides. We also have people who come from more liberal backgrounds who complain about discrimination. And so I think that no matter who you are, we are trying to enforce our policies in a consistent way for everybody.”
After three years of Trump being falsely accused of colluding with Russia (and who can count how many other false attacks, especially from 2020 Democrats), I’d like to know how many of their ads have been removed for false information. That said, I don’t think it’s Google’s place to make that call.
Facts are facts, but the “truth,” especially in the realm of politics, is subjective, and becoming increasingly so. Two people can read the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky and reach two completely different conclusions. Those same people are likely to reach two different conclusions about Joe Biden’s admission that he pressured the Ukrainian government to fire their top prosecutor. There are people who think that Hillary Clinton legitimately won the 2016 election because she won the popular vote. There are people out there who still think Russia stole the election for Trump, despite all the evidence to the contrary. There are people who think Obama was good for the economy and could probably find some statistics to back up their claim, and there are others who could find statistics that show Obama was terrible for the economy. For crying out loud, there are people who actually believe Obama had a scandal-free presidency. Whatever the claim, there will be people who will argue its validity and others who will dismiss it as a fallacy. Not even Facebook, which has hardly been a bastion of free speech, is fancying itself to be the arbiter of truth in political advertising. As Mark Zuckerberg said, “I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true.”
Facebook’s record on political speech is not exactly perfect, but they got this right. One can’t help wonder whether censoring political ads is really about protecting the public from misinformation, or just information.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis