Dozens of activists chalked the sidewalk and chanted outside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Mission District townhouse Monday to protest false advertising by political campaigns on the site.
“In 2016 Facebook was used to manipulate voters and suppress voter turnout,” said Andrea Buffa, a spokesperson for the “Don’t Let Facebook ZUCK UP Our Democracy” coalition. “A lot of times (we’re) not sure how we can have an impact on national elections unless we go to another state, but in this case we can have an impact because this company is right in our backyard.”
The coalition of activist groups opposes Facebook’s policy allowing false advertisements paid for by politicians to stay posted on the company’s platforms. On Monday, the local group rallied in San Francisco while a second group in Palo Alto protested with a handheld billboard on a U.S. Highway 101 overpass, according to coalition representatives.
The coalition hopes that by collaborating with the company’s advertisers and investors, they can pressure Zuckerberg to reverse the policy.
Two days prior, at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Zuckerberg called for tighter regulation of social media companies, saying he believed they should be regulated “somewhere in between” news media and telecoms.
His comments came months after he reaffirmed his political advertising policy on CBS This Morning in October.
“What I believe is that in a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying so they can make their own judgments,” he told the program’s co-host Gayle King.
In the three months before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the most popular fake news articles about the election generated more shares, reactions and comments on Facebook than the most popular articles at major news outlets, according to a 2016 analysis by Buzzfeed News founding editor Craig Silverman.
“They’re monetizing propaganda,” summed up Abam Fischer, who campaigns for the regulation of big tech companies, to the crowd outside Zuckerberg’s townhouse.
Facebook sold nearly $20 million in advertising to the campaign of President Donald Trump last year, according to a Guardian analysis published in January.
Fischer also said that paid speech is regulated differently than free speech, a sentiment echoed and signed by hundreds of Facebook employees in a letter addressed to Zuckerberg also in October. The letter states that Facebook’s decision to not regulate political posts allows politicians to weaponize Facebook by targeting people who trust content posted by political figures.
The policy has been juxtaposed with that of other media giants: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his platform would no longer run political ads last October; Fox News and CNN have declined to run specific advertisements for President Donald Trump’s campaign; and Google and Youtube took down more than 300 video advertisements supporting Trump, according to a CBS 60 Minutes analysis last year.
Sasha Cuttler, who works at the Nurse Advice Line for the Department of Public Health, spoke to the crowd about the harms of the spread of misinformation as the RN Chair of SEIU Local 1021.
“They have been able to do things such as promote the idea that vaccines don’t work,” said Cuttler, who has also advocated to remove Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital. “They’ve been able to promote the idea that people should not be taking PrEP to prevent HIV transmission. They’ve been able to take away the names from trans people and put people in danger whose names have been changed because they’re getting away from domestic violence.“
The spread of false political advertising has been exacerbated by a common practice among social media companies known as microtargeting, where companies direct advertisements exclusively to specific audiences, according to Tracy Rosenberg, an organizer of the rally and the executive director of the nonprofit Media Alliance. The practice has drawn scrutiny for acting as an echo chamber for social media users and reinforcing biases.
“I think that kind of micro targeting is exactly the opposite of free speech and democratic dialogue,” Rosenberg said. “It is creating enormous stress in the civic dialogue process.”
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct Sasha Cutler’s current place of employment.