Recent policy changes on Facebook and Twitter spark controversy

Local Republicans and Democrats express their thoughts on political advertising

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020

Photo by Submitted Photo

In mid-October, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren bought an outwardly false political advertisement on Facebook as a criticism of Facebook’s policy of running political ads without fact-checking them.

Recent policy decisions made by Twitter and Facebook regarding political advertising have resulted in opposing views from local Republicans and Democrats. 

Representatives of the Chippewa and Eau Claire County Republican parties said Facebook’s decision to run political advertisements without fact-checking them was one the company had the right to make. The chair of the UW-Eau Claire College Democrats said he supported Twitter’s decision to ban political ads altogether. 

Efforts to reach representatives of the Democratic party in Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties brought no responses. 

On Oct. 30, Twitter announced that it would implement a ban on all political advertising on the social media platform.

According to The New York Times, this decision put a “spotlight on the power and veracity of online advertising and ramping up pressure on Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, to reverse his hands-off stance.” 

Zuckerberg appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Oct. 23 to defend his decision to run political ads on Facebook without fact-checking them after receiving backlash from Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.

To test Facebook’s policy, Warren reportedly bought an ad on the social media platform claiming Zuckerberg and Facebook were endorsing President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

According to The New York Times, this outwardly-false claim was made on purpose in order to prove a point that Facebook had become a “disinformation-for-profit machine.”

David Sanders, chair of the Chippewa County Republican Party, said in a phone interview that it is within Facebook’s right to run campaign ads without fact-checking them.

“It’s a private company,” Sanders said. “They can pick and choose how to run their business.”

Sanders said Facebook’s decision ultimately allows the social media platform to avoid showcasing any bias.  

Because of the reach Facebook has as a media tool, Sanders said the Chippewa County Republican Party uses Facebook for messaging and informative purposes. 

Sanders said the party may potentially use the platform for campaigning during the 2020 elections in order to get information out to voters quickly and efficiently. Sanders said it is up to those voters to do the fact-checking, not Facebook.

“People should be responsible to understand what they’re reading,” Sanders said. 

Ultimately, Sanders said the party does not want to tell people who to vote for; they just want to be as informative as possible. However, Sanders said the party does not use Twitter. 

Brian Westrate, communications and media director of the Eau Claire County Republican Party, said in a phone interview that he shared similar views. 

“I think it’s important for people to acknowledge that these are privately-held companies in a free market system,” Westrate said. “Let the people do the fact-checking.”

Westrate said most of the political advertising occurring on these platforms do not make factual claims, regardless. What qualifies as “factual” can vary from source to source, he said.

Westrate also pointed out that television and radio platforms, similarly, do not fact-check the political ads they run. Political advertising, he said, is a part of American history — and traditionally, fact-checking does not occur. 

According to Westrate, the Eau Claire County Republican Party uses Facebook as a social media platform but not Twitter.

Jake Malzacher, chair of the UW-Eau Claire College Democrats, said in an interview that he is more supportive of Twitter’s decision not to run political ads.

Malzacher said Facebook’s decision not to fact-check is dangerous in today’s political climate, as this enables people to be misled.

“They’re enabling the spread of disinformation to the American public, and we saw that play a really big role in the 2016 election,” Malzacher said. “It’s crucial that that doesn’t play a role for the next year’s election.”


Malzacher said, as a platform with a wide reach, it is Facebook’s responsibility and duty to ensure the information they’re profiting off of is accurate and factual. He said he supported Twitter’s stance that candidates should earn their social media following, not pay for it.

While Malzacher said Facebook should be putting the good of the country over its own profits, he also pointed out that major media platforms need to fact-check political ads because candidates should not be promoting or presenting false information to the public to gain support.

“It’s just important that people stay informed and that they can have access to reliable, fact-based information,” Malzacher said. “Especially when there are constant lies coming out of this administration.”

According to Malzacher, the UW-Eau Claire College Democrats use both Twitter and Facebook, but they do not campaign or buy ads.

Fuerstenberg can be reached at [email protected].