Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook stands for freedom of speech, as stated in his speech at Georgetown last week. The social media giant, however, seems to be only an amplifier for whatever the Facebook algorithm deems worthy to be displayed on the News Feed post.
How does the algorithm really work? What is amplified? In a report by TechCrunch, two forms of content. Native content is optimized by the algorithm for engagement. This makes people spend more time on Facebook, therefore "in the company" of the other form of content which is amplified – paid advertising.
This is not a black and white affair. The algorithm doesn't practice this amplification absolutely. Facebook does work to stop things like hoaxes and medical misinformation from going viral, even if they have already been deemed "post worthy" by the algorithm. However, Zuckerberg has personally decided that Facebook will not attempt to stop paid political misinformation from going viral.
Many disagree with this decision, whilst many also agree with it. But is it really true that it somehow defends freedom of speech? If a political ad shows up on a News Feed that is obviously false, would anyone seriously consider a decision not to run the ad, considering its not being run as a violation of freedom of speech?
The Big Picture
The larger issue at play here is that Facebook thinks that, if their algorithm doesn't discriminate against any content, it is therefore fair. When Zuckerberg says he wants to give everyone a voice, what he is really saying is that Facebook give those selected by its algorithm a voice. The "opinion" of the algorithm, for better or worse, is calling the shots, functioning just like a censor.
Almost nobody condones hate speech, discrimination, warmongering or abuse of any kind, but Facebook allowing political ads regardless of content is basically an extension of how their algorithm optimizes engagement. Facebook's belief that, as long as they withhold judgement based on content, their ongoing, never-ending editing of what people see and don't see (censorship for better OR worse) is fair, can spread a lot of good information. But that doesn't stop extremes, conspiracy theories, histrionics, mistrust, suspicion and conflict across the globe.
Facebook's business model – optimizing for engagement – is not going to change so the social media platform can be a force of good. That would disturb the relentless assault of ads.