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CA political candidate to target Nancy Pelosi with false Facebook ad



  • A Californian political candidate says he plans to run false ads on Facebook to challenge its rules on political advertising.
  • In October, Facebook said it would allow politicians to lie freely in ads on the social network.
  • Shahid Buttar is running to unseat House speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2020 Democratic primary, and plans to run an ad containing a lie that Pelosi is donating her properties to homeless people.
  • Twitter decided this week to ban political advertising altogether, but Facebook is refusing to follow suit.

A left-wing California political candidate plans to run a deliberately false ad on Facebook targeting Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the latest challenge to Facebook’s intensely controversial rules on political advertising.

Over the last few weeks, Facebook has been at the center of heated debate over online political ads, after it made the decision in early October to allow politicians and political candidates to lie without repercussions in their political ads on the social network. Critics, including many Democratic politicians in the US, have argued this will result in the spread of dangerous disinformation, and have pointed to ads run by President Donald Trump that make unproven claims about Joe Biden.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended his company’s position as a matter of free speech, but pressure intensified on Wednesday after rival Twitter announced it would take the opposite approach and ban all political advertising.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey disputed that running political ads is a free speech issue, arguing that politicians can still post normally on the platform and as such are not being censored. “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach,” he tweeted. “And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”

Simultaneously, people have attempted to deliberately test the limits of Facebook’s policy — and the latest challenge comes from Shahid Buttar, a political activist who is hoping to unseat California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi in the upcoming March 2020 Democratic primary for the congressional district that includes San Francisco.

In a news-bulletin-style video ad, which is to run on Facebook starting on Friday and was shared with Business Insider in advance by Buttar’s campaign, Buttar claims that Pelosi has decided to donate her all California properties to house people experiencing homelessness. (This is not true.) 

It then segues to a warning that: “It’s never been easier for politicians to create fake news on Facebook,” and that “our democracy is at stake.”

An earlier challenge to Facebook’s hands-off approach to the veracity of political ads came from Californian political activist Adriel Hampton. He announced this week that he is running for governor of California in 2022, specifically so he can run fake political ads on Facebook — but Facebook said it would fact-check his ads anyway. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider at the time: “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.”

Buttar, however, won’t be so easy to dismiss as an unserious stunt candidate. He was running to unseat Pelosi prior to the furor around Facebook’s ads policy, has a legitimate campaign with staffers and policy positions, and has already raised $250,000 from more than 6,000 donors, he told Business Insider.

“We’re doing this because we want to see social media sites respect democracy instead of preying on it,” he said in an interview. He supports Twitter’s ban on ads from politicians and political parties, he added, but not its decision to include “issue ads” from other organizations on issues like climate change and healthcare.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook will allow Buttar to spread information he openly acknowledges is false — or if the social network will decide that politicians only have free rein to lie if they don’t announce in advance that they’re doing so.

His campaign is spending only a token amount on the ad — around $5 a day at first. “Several hundred” people will see it, his campaign manager said, and it will target Buttar’s supporters in the hopes they subsequently share it further.

Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at [email protected], Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.)

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