|Wednesday, May 22, 2019 NYTimes.com/David-Leonhardt|
Trump’s 2020 campaign has spent around $5 million on Facebook ads this year, which is roughly half as much as the 23 Democratic candidates combined have spent, as The Times’s Thomas Kaplan and Sarah Almukhtar reported yesterday. Trump is relying on Facebook partly for the obvious reasons: It’s the country’s largest social media network and an excellent way to reach voters directly. That’s why Joe Biden has also started spending heavily on Facebook. But Facebook has another specific advantage for Trump: The company has been lax about combating disinformation. Despite pledges by top executives to do better than in 2016, the company has repeatedly failed to enforce its own policies this year, allowing the Trump campaign to post false or misleading ads. The Trump campaign likes Facebook in part because it tolerates rule breaking. A big part of the problem is Facebook’s reliance on spotty algorithms — and its refusal to spend the resources needed to regulate ads effectively, as Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter, has written. Legum’s reporting has exposed multiple recent violations that Facebook has failed to catch, even though he is an independent journalist and Facebook is a multibillion-dollar company. “The Trump campaign appears to be counting on the fact that Facebook does not have actual people reviewing their ads before publication,” Legum wrote recently. “There is nothing to stop them from simply re-running the same false ad.” I don’t expect Facebook to be perfect, but I do expect more competence in this area than the company has shown so far. Related: Writing about the company’s privacy violations, my colleague Kara Swisherrecently said that Facebook has earned itself “fines, more investigations, smart laws, programs to help small innovative companies to thrive, whatever it takes.” Irony watch: Even as Trump benefits from Facebook’s sloppiness, he is criticizing Facebook for banning far-right figures, and he’s encouraging conservatives to share stories of being “censored” on social media.