Facebook made the unusual decision to push back directly on Elizabeth Warren and her criticism of the company, but its attempt to defend itself backfired spectacularly

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, at an event in New York in September. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Facebook allows politicians to run ads that are not subject to third-party fact-checking, and it drew ire after running Trump campaign ads that made false claims about Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.
  • To draw attention to this policy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic candidate, intentionally ran ads with misinformation on the platform.
  • Facebook over the weekend made the unusual choice to push back publicly on Warren’s criticism in a tweet directed at the candidate, but that strategy appears to have backfired.
  • Warren responded to Facebook on Twitter, telling the company: “You’re making my point here. It’s up to you whether you take money to promote lies.”
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Facebook appears to have a new strategy to deal with the criticism from one of its highest-profile critics, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate – but it doesn’t seem to have had the intended effect.

Days after Warren called out Facebook’s decision to allow political ads containing misinformation by running one of her own, Facebook made the unusual move of tagging her in a tweet about how broadcast stations across the country also aired an anti-impeachment Trump campaign ad containing misinformation about Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate.

The interaction is notable, as Facebook is not known for engaging directly with presidential candidates on public platforms.

Warren recently criticised Facebook’s policies that don’t allow politicians to swear on the platform but do allow them to run ads that don’t pass a third-party fact-check.

The ad Facebook referenced in its tweet – and currently allows on its platform – claimed that Biden “PROMISED Ukraine $US1 BILLION DOLLARS if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.”

Warren, seeing an opportunity after Facebook tagged her in the tweet, seized it.

“You’re making my point here,” she responded. “It’s up to you whether you take money to promote lies.”

Warren said the ad violated Facebook’s own misinformation policies prohibiting information debunked by fact-checkers.

Since 2016, Facebook has had a “newsworthiness exemption” allowing content that violates community standards if the company believes that “the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.” Notably, this exemption does not apply to swearing, and Facebook’s policies for ads aren’t as strict as those for the rest of its content. Facebook removed a Trump campaign ad that referred to Biden as a “b—-” because it violated profanity standards for ads on the platform.

In response to Warren’s and Facebook’s tweets, some Twitter users pointed out that Facebook compared itself to broadcast networks, which are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and legally liable for the content they air – something Facebook isn’t on the hook for.

Facebook’s tweet did not seem to garner the response it had hoped for. Many replied that Facebook’s comparing its practices to those of a broadcast network didn’t make sense, as it has painstakingly tried in recent years to tell the tech press and regulators that it isn’t a media company. Others said they wanted to delete Facebook.

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.