MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Facebook Had Every Right to Reject Elizabeth Warren's Crappy Ad

Nobody in the media should be supporting an elected official trying to control what speech online platforms allow.

Elizabeth WarrenAlex Edelman/SIPA/NewscomPresidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) seems to think her argument for "breaking up" large tech companies like Amazon and Facebook was bolstered earlier in the week when Facebook temporarily censored some of her advertisements.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, her disingenuous reaction (and the pandering of a compliant press) highlights how we should not permit powerful elected government officials—of all people—to set the rules of behavior for online media platforms, no matter how big they are.

To summarize, Warren attempted to purchase advertising on Facebook to promote her campaign to break up big tech, including Facebook. Three of her advertisements contained one of Facebook's logos. Those ads (but not her others—that's important to note) were rejected temporarily because Facebook has rules against using their logos in advertisements. The reasoning behind this is extremely logical—to avoid the possibility of confusing Facebook users over the difference between ads and "official" messages from Facebook itself.

So, to be blunt here, Warren's campaign screwed up with its ad design. It's all their own stupid fault for including the logo. But, no, Warren is spinning this as proof that Facebook is too powerful because it's able to "shut down debate" about Facebook:

Some observations here:

  • They rejected a small selection (three) of several ads. The others ran.
  • Each of the ads was limited in reach and cost less than $100, according to Politico.
  • The company rejected the ads because Warren's campaign violated a rule put in place to help prevent people from getting scammed by fake ads posing as Facebook messages (presumably a good rule).
  • There is a massive and healthy discussion all over the media landscape about whether Facebook is too powerful that does not apparently require Facebook to host $100 advertisements from Warren to facilitate. There is no monopoly here.
  • Warren's plans to break up big tech appear to include importing over the European Union's proposal for a huge copyright enforcement regime that will lead to massive amounts of censorship online. If this enforcement system were brought over to the United States, amusingly enough, an image recognition pre-screening tool ordered to be put into place by the government itself would have probably caused Facebook to reject Warren's ad for trademark violations. Meaning, a government program Warren appears to support would have censored her own ad.
  • Facebook has every constitutional right to reject ads that contain content it objects to or finds reprehensible or offensive. That wasn't why they rejected the ad temporarily, but regardless, nobody has a right to force Facebook to host their advertisements. (Somebody kindly tell this to Sen. Ted Cruz.)

So either Warren is being deliberately manipulative here (by downplaying that there was a reason for Facebook's decision and that it wasn't all of her advertisements) in order to bolster her argument, or she's too dense to understand the implications of her own arguments. Should The New York Times be required to run ads from President Donald Trump calling them "fake news" while using the newspaper's own logo?

In either case, this response actually emphasizes that Warren and her team lack either the ethical compass or the technological grasp of online platforms (and apparently trademarks as well) to be trusted to make any decisions at all about Facebook's business practices.

And yet, some media folks are lapping this up with a spoon, probably angered at how online platforms have disrupted the media's domination of advertising avenues. The "monopoly" is in the wrong people's hands! Here's a fascinating defense of Warren's overblown fears of "big tech" from Brian Feldman at New York Magazine arguing that the "accidental" removal is part of the problem:

Understanding this is the key to understanding why Big Tech is something to be concerned about. Even when it's assumed to be operating in good faith and attempting to be fair, Facebook still makes the wrong call. It does this many times every day. The threat of Big Tech is not some nefarious Big Brother scenario in which the Thought Police eradicate any dissent; it's that even when companies like Facebook are earnestly trying to do their jobs well, the scale at which they operate make its screw-ups and mistakes substantial.

But Facebook actually didn't make the "wrong call." They, in fact, decided to make an exception to their rule to pander to Warren. Note the invocation of "Big Brother" and "Thought Police" here. Those are terms to describe government policing of speech. Feldman presents this as an omnipresent fear but everybody seems to be oblivious to the fact that what Warren wants to do here is to intrude into these online platforms with the authority of government.

The "substantialness" of Facebook's mistakes absolutely pale in comparison to the disasters that occur when government officials screw up even when they have allegedly good intentions. People have been stuck in prison for decades due to a stupidly harsh drug war pushed by lawmakers and presidents who delusionally think this is going to save us all from addiction. We are still engaged in thoughtless, aimless military actions overseas that leave both American troops and foreign citizens dead because of powerful people like Warren "earnestly trying to do their jobs well."

I'll take Facebook's mistakes over a senator's anytime. That this is not the default position of everybody in the media in 2019 who has seen what has come of some of our most intrusive domestic and foreign policies is a mystery to me.

Bonus link: Reason's Peter Suderman explains how awful and economically illiterate Warren's tech plan is.

Photo Credit: Alex Edelman/SIPA/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Just Say'n||

    I don't think anyone is arguing whether or not Facebook had a "right" to censor those ads. The argument is whether or not it was "correct" in doing so while pretending to be a forum for open discourse. It's kind of like when people complained about the NFL barring players from kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL had a "right" to do so, but people still didn't think they were correct in doing so.

    And now I feel dirty defending Elizabeth Warren

  • Bubba Jones||

    Next time read the article.

  • Naaman Brown||

    Elizabeth Warren had no right to use Facebook's logo in her ad.
    Now I feel dirty for defending Facebook.

  • Austen Heller||

    The only Warren I know who played in the NFL was Warren Moon. Did Lizzie support the kneeling or knot? I am guessing that she would support the players because of their union and would be against the owners because of their slavery. Now at least there is the XFL so maybe there is hope.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm not sure what the bigger irony here is, that Facebook bas blocked regarding legislation that purports to be concerned with the non-transparent control by Big Tech in our daily online conversation, or the very legislator trying to buy ads promoting her idea on that very Big Tech platform.

  • BYODB||

    Definately the part where Warren is using the service to advertise her desire to destroy the service, at least in my book.

  • Eddy||

    "I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor"

    Yeah, I'm against government censorship too.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Maybe Warren should have had the Russians place the ad for her.

  • albo||

    I'd rather Facebook oversee my life like Big Brother than have Elizabeth Warren in charge of anything in this country.

  • Just Say'n||

    Pretty much one in the same.

  • albo||

    Warren's unpleasant stridency makes Hillary Clinton's seem like an afternoon chat over tea and lemon squares.

  • Johnimo||

    They're both pretty difficult to tolerate over the duration of an election cycle. Together, they make Trump's speaking abilities appear somewhat stellar. They're not stellar .... but in comparison ... I'm just saying.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    At least we can opt out of Facebook, but we can't seem to opt out of Elizabeth Warren.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Diane Reynolds (Paul.): "...we can't seem to opt out of Elizabeth Warren."

    Actually you CAN "opt out". It's called emigrating.

    Isn't that the standard libertarian line? If you din't like the laws in one locality you can always move some place else.

  • Johnimo||

    And, without having to "move someplace else" you can vote in the democratic primary or general election to make certain she doesn't get elected.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Johnimo: One vote isn't likely to make much difference to the outcome.

  • Austen Heller||

    At least we can still turn off FB. Lizzie? Not for a while yet.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Ok, I just read the greatest description of Politico ever: Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I'm glad Reason is here to respond in cases like this. I could make many comments but I'll stick to:

    Warren's plans to break up big tech appear to include importing over the European Union's proposal for a huge copyright enforcement regime that will lead to massive amounts of censorship online. If this enforcement system were brought over to the United States, amusingly enough, an image recognition pre-screening tool ordered to be put into place by the government itself would have probably caused Facebook to reject Warren's ad for trademark violations. Meaning, a government program Warren appears to support would have censored her own ad.

    In related news, USA Copyright Registration Number PAu 3-948-077

    Warning: Not Safe for Work/ Eat My Shorts ... ;)

  • MasterThief||

    I was initially gonna say that I don't like then censoring political ads even though they have the right. This is dumb to try running an ad on a platform about bringing the hammer of government down on that same platform. Definitely justified by fb

  • Fats of Fury||

    Hmmm. Facebook has been crashing today. Flickr is also acting strangely. I heard there were some power crashes on the east coast.

  • MotörSteve||

    Me: Hillary Clinton is a disgusting, lying, reprehensible, sub-human piece of shit.

    Elizabeth Warren: Hold my beer.

  • ||

    Ugh. A spat between two insufferable and unlikable cretins in Zuckerberg and Warren.

    "But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor. "

    You don't want a marketplace. You've made that clear with your screeds and rants against capitalism.

    Go back to pretending to be an Indian you flakey fake.

  • ace_m82||

    "So either Warren is being deliberately manipulative here ...or she's too dense to understand the implications of her own arguments."

    Stupid or evil. It's one, or the other, or both. There are no other options.

  • Austen Heller||

    Like at least one too many poli's Lizzie is playing good cop/bad cop simultaneously.

  • Lord Blastington||

    Believe Warren is playing on the bad reputations that these Big Tech platforms like FB already have. FB dose have a reputation of censoring topics on their platform that is considered offensive.

    If we look at the First Amendment, it protects Freedom of Speech, but it also protects Free Association with Private Citizens and Private Organizations, and the purpose of the Constitution is to keep the State accountable. So by the Letter of the Constitution private platforms removing people and content is not a violation, however by the Spirit of the Constitution that is what should be debated. A valid argument can be made that Big Tech is shutting down dissent and are trying to control the culture, but at the same time there are worst implications if the State have that much power.

    Guess Big Tech censorship is just like Fake News, it's a very clear problem, but using direct State Interventions as some sort of solution dose have very dire implications to it.

  • Nardz||

    Facebook punked out like a little bitch.

  • Austen Heller||

    How about the govt legislate FB et al out of existence OR simply confiscate it? For, like, ahhh, the uhh uhh people. Like. That would solve Lizzie's tizzy and get that Oxy-Contin girl all wet too. An' then we'll have like world peace.

  • CE||

    ...this response actually emphasizes that Warren and her team lack either the ethical compass, or the technological grasp of online platforms (and apparently trademarks as well) to be trusted to make any decisions at all about Facebook's business practices.

    Fixed that for you.....

  • Mickey Rat||

    "You are required to sell us the rope we will hang you with."

  • AlmightyJB||

  • Stephen54321||

    Nobody in the media should be supporting an elected official trying to control what speech online platforms allow.

    So it's WRONG for elected officials to control "what speech online platforms allow" but it's RIGHT for those same platforms to themselves control what is said online?

    Or to phrase that another way, if it is WRONG for governments to engage in censorship of what people say or post online, why is it RIGHT for those same platforms to engage in such censoring themselves?

    By that yardstick, if a customer of an electricity supplier makes a comment on social media which that supplier disagrees with can that supplier disconnect the customer from the electricity grid in an effort to control what that customer says online?

    And if they legally can't, why then is that kind of control by a government of a corporation OK but the other sort is wrong?

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    Two concepts: right to opt out and monopoly on the use of force.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Horatio Cornblower: "right to opt out..."

    I look forward to you opting out of yout electricity supplier!

    In many places in America the same applies to ISPs. All too often it's Comcast or nobody, especially outside major cities.

    Something similar can be said of Google, Twitter, and Facebook. For all practical purposes there is no other choice. For example, where's the alternative to Twitter?

    That especially applies if you own a business or are a politician or a celebrity, or are simply trying to be one. You HAVE to have an account on Twitter AND on Facebook. Opting out is NOT an alternative.

    @Horatio Cornblower: "...and monopoly on the use of force."?

    You're forgetting the Second Amendment. If Americans have the right to BEAR arms then they necessarily also have the right to USE those arms if need be. Having the first aspect without the second would make the Second Amendment useless. Be like the government allowing Americans to own guns but not bullets.

    Or are you suggesting that the Second Amendment is meaningless and useless when the government is the opponent?

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    Many local and state governments grant monopoly rights to utility suppliers and ISPs. That's not an open market. In the cases of private utilities (do they exist?) in your hypothetical, you're dictating what somebody can do with their own property. It would be shitty of them to do and would probably hurt their business, but it would be within their rights. There are alternatives to the local electric company: solar and generators come immediately to mind. They're not as attractive IMO, but they exist. It's called going off-grid.

    Are you arguing that Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc be regulated as public utilities? What about internet chat rooms, Reddit, SnapChat? Just because the big social media services are dominate right now doesn't mean they always will be or that there are no alternatives. If you don't like Twitter's censorship, go to something else. The government doesn't prohibit that at this time. But government regulation of a service tends to prolong that service's dominance. Ever wonder why Facebook asked to be regulated by the fedgov? I'm pretty sure Reason had an article about that within the last year, but I don't want to look it up right now (busy).

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    I haven't forgotten about the Second Amendment, but if you want to go that route you'd better be ready to overthrow the whole government. Up until the time you do, the government has a legal monopoly on the use of force to execute law. The courts aren't going to side with an insurrectionous force and tell the fedgov to lay down arms.

    I'm a big supporter of the Second Amendment and it's purpose. I think if even a quarter of citizens took up arms the fedgov wouldn't stand a chance. But that's a dangerous and destructive road to travel, and only a last resort to changing the government.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Horatio Cornblower: "I haven't forgotten about the Second Amendment, but if you want to go that route you'd better be ready to overthrow the whole government."

    Tell that to the NRA!

    @Horatio Cornblower: "I think if even a quarter of citizens took up arms the fedgov wouldn't stand a chance. But that's a dangerous and destructive road to travel, and only a last resort to changing the government."

    I don't disagree with you. Yet your view is NOT what the NRA argues. Their view of the Second Amendment is that it is the one bulwark standing between freedom-loving Americans and a tyrannical government. In other words, their argument RELIES on the Second Amendment being used for "changing the government". Namely, by kicking out a tyrannical one through the use of armed force.

    It may be an unrealistic view but that hasn't stopped millions of Americans embracing it.

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    Who said anything about the NRA and how does your interpretation of their interpretation of 2A differ from what I said about the purpose of the Second Amendment?

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "Who said anything about the NRA...?"

    You didn't. But when you referred toin your previous post about me being "ready to overthrow the whole government" I was reminded of what the NRA had said on such matters--should a tyrannical government come along.

    Horatio Cornblower: "how does your interpretation of their interpretation of 2A differ from what I said about the purpose of the Second Amendment?"

    It differs in that the NRA appears to be all in favour of American gun-owners rising up and using their guns to rebel should a tyrannical government come along. It very likely will not end well for those who do rise up, but that appears to be their general rationale for why the 2nd Amendment is so essential.

    I can only repeat what I've read. If you want more info about their views, I suggest yoi take it up with them.

    BTW, you sound as if you haven't heard of that rationale of theirs. For a "big supporter of the Second Amendment" I'm surprised.

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "In the cases of private utilities (do they exist?)..."

    If by "private utilities" you mean privately owned utilities, yes they exist.

    Horatio Cornblower: "...you're dictating what somebody can do with their own property."

    Governments are doing that every day with a wide range of private property. For example, what do you think governments are doing when they decree (through regulations) that you cannot drive a car without a licence? Or if you have a blood alcohol level above a certain amount. Or if you aren't wearing a seatbelt. Or if you car is defective.

    Then there are all the regulations which control what you can build (and how you build it) on your own land.

    If you want yet another example, Donald Trump has just decreed that all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are to be grounded due to safety concerns. Those planes may be privately owned, but there are limits to what those owners can do with them.

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    I'm not arguing that government doesn't do those things. I'm arguing that they maybe they shouldn't.

    I feel like I'm wasting my time with you.

    Are you Hihn?

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "I'm arguing that...maybe they shouldn't"

    Then you failed to make that clear in what you wrote in your earlier post.

    As to whether governments should or not, think about it: do you REALLY want to drink water from an unregulated supplier, and therefore may or may not contain contaminants like lead or arsenic? Or travel on a plane or car ungoverned by safety regulations? (If you don't mind airlines which appear to be ungoverbed by safety regulations might I suggest flying Aeroflot? Or any other Russian airline for that matter.)

    The laws and regulations on drunk driving, for example, are there to benefit the public. Are you suggesting car drivers should be free to travel partially or fully intoxicated?

    Or perhaps you prefer to use medicines which have not been properly tested?

    If you don't like such things there ARE places in the world you can go live where they don't have them. But they're generally in Third World countries.

    Horatio Cornblower: "I feel like I'm wasting my time with you."

    Because you have such a hard time winning arguments? :-)

    Horatio Cornblower: "Are you Hihn?"

    Nope.

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "Are you arguing that Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc be regulated as public utilities?"

    Yes. And it isn't just me.A number of other people have already voiced that very idea.

    Eventually, there will be sidespread pressure from users from both the Left and the Right to do so. Just how far that regulation will go remains to be seen. China is already going there; but of course that's a totalitarian state.

    The problem at the moment is that Twitter, Youtube, Facebook et al are making what are essentially arbitrary decisions when they boot people off or take down pages, among other things. There is no transparency of process (let alone DUE process), no formal appeals process. If fact there is way of arguing your own side at all. Twitter, Facebook etc not only make the rules (ie play legislator), they also play judge, jury, and executioner as well. That is NOT going to last. Any more than most countries still have a court system where the judges answer to an absolute monarch, who can confine you to a tower or take you head off on a whim--which is the way it once used to be in most places around the world.

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    Who. Gives. A. Fuck. They are private businesses, not the fucking government.

    Jesus Christ. Is your first knee jerk reaction to bring the force of government on anything you find abhorrent?

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "They are private businesses, not the fucking government.."

    So? They are also private business with an increasingly PUBLIC impact.

    Commercial airlines, motor car manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies are also private businesses, but that has not stopped them and their products and services being highly regulated. You may not like it, but unlike you most people want more than nostrums about caveat emptor. They would (for example) rather not ride a plane or a car which is likely to crash or spontaneously catch fire (I actually witnessed a car do that one time; the driver barely escaped with his life). Or take a pill which proves poisonous.

    Which is why most countries regulate such industries. So don't be surprised if that eventually happens to social media companies as well.

    Horatio Cornblower: "Is your first knee jerk reaction to bring the force of government on anything you find abhorrent?"

    Your presumptions are showing.

    Where did I claim I found Google, Twitter, et al "abhorrent"?

    All I did what was point out what is LIKELY to happen given present trends. Blsming the messager won't stop it from happening.

  • Stephen54321||

    Horatio Cornblower: "If you don't like Twitter's censorship, go to something else."

    Great! Name the alternative! Because the reality is there IS no alternative. Bing etc may be an alternatuve search engine for those who dislike Google, but there is no alternative Twitter.

    Horatio Cornblower: "But government regulation of a service tends to prolong that service's dominance."

    Really? So why is there no alternative Twitter?

    Or if you want other examples, consider the search engines and video sites. Nobody is regulating them (yet) either, and alternatives certainly do exist, yet none of those alternatives has the dominance of Google and Youtube.

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    I did name alternatives. Either you have reading comprehension problems or my response went against your narrative. You have a pretty short-sighted view of the market.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Horatio Cornblower: "I did name alternatives"

    (Sigh!) As in "internet chat rooms, Reddit, SnapChat"?

    OK, let's take them one by one.

    If by "internet chat rooms" you mean such sites as (say) e-chat.co, chat-avenue.com, or Tinder, these too are a specialised service which you have to join and log into even to view.

    In contrast, Twitter's tweets are (in general) publicly browsable and Google-able. Only if you want to post comment yourself do you need an account. Moreover, they are organised by user. (To link posts by topic, hashtags are used.)

    You can't do that with e-chat.co et al.

    As for SnapChat, as far as I know it is only available via snartphone apps (and even then only Google and Apple phones can be used). You canNOT login without the app, and thus via (say) a webbrowser

    In other words, it too is a specialised service with a specialised clientele, with posts that are not (AFAIK) browsible or Google-able.

    Which brings us to Reddit, which is the closest analog to Twitter on your list. It's browsible and Google-able. Plus it's user base (approx. 330 million) is comparable to Twitter's.

    However, if by "alternative" one means a COMPETITOR, then Reddit and Twitter are as different as chalk and cheese. The two serve different markets and different purposes. It is also noticable that news and comment articles freely reference Twitter's tweets all the time. Far, far fewer link to reddit messages.

  • Sevo||

    "So it's WRONG for elected officials to control "what speech online platforms allow" but it's RIGHT for those same platforms to themselves control what is said online?"

    I'm guessing you really are that imbecilic.

  • Stephen54321||

    @Sevo: You don't say WHY that extract of mine you quoted is "that imbecilic", so I'm guessing you have no idea. You just enjoy insulting people.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Christ, what a cunt.

  • patskelley||

    FB could have ran an anti E. Warren ad and placed it beside her anti facebook ad. What could she complain about then?

  • darkflame||

    Fuck this bitch, go back to your insane asylum.

  • Dez||

    I don't agree!
    WE, you and I, as individuals have that right.
    NO ONE else has the right to make that decision for me!
    I admit that some will believe just about anything.
    Let's shut down the sun because it's to hot, to bright, to scary.
    That is no reason to let anyone else your lord and master ....

  • mpercy||

    "So either Warren is being deliberately manipulative here (by downplaying that there was a reason for Facebook's decision and that it wasn't all of her advertisements) in order to bolster her argument, or she's too dense to understand the implications of her own arguments."

    Isn't it BOTH?

  • vek||

    I'll take option C please: They both fuck off and I never have to see or hear about either of them ever again!

    The kind of censorship Facebook etc does is utter bullshit, and potentially very destructive for the future of this country, and the world. However letting political hacks have actual power over them is equally scary.

    IMO the only possible form of regulation that could be warranted would be something as simple, and un-gamable by pols as "No public forum on the internet may ban any speech that is legal speech."

    And that's it. They could perhaps throw in a bone for the prudes by carving out nudity and extreme violence in imagery or something... But something like that is really the only acceptable way to go about it, because any specific rules leaves it open to partisan hackery.

  • Man from Earth||

    I hate having to defend Facebook's decision, but in this particular case it was about Warren using the Facebook Logo in a private advertisement. They are totally justified. However, the question of censorship should still be addressed. Once Warren opens up this can of worms, I suspect she will not like what she finds.

  • Man from Earth||

    I hate having to defend Facebook's decision, but in this particular case it was about Warren using the Facebook Logo in a private advertisement. They are totally justified. However, the question of censorship should still be addressed. Once Warren opens up this can of worms, I suspect she will not like what she finds.

  • rsingler||

    You had me. I was on board. Scott Shackford, I thought, wow- REASON does it again with another great article! Then I got to this line (which is clearly more of an addendum): "Facebook has every constitutional right to reject ads that contain content it objects to or finds reprehensible or offensive. That wasn't why they rejected the ad temporarily, but regardless, nobody has a right to force Facebook to host their advertisements." This quote is clearly a sidebar to the article's driving arguments, which is fine. But where do you draw the line at major internet corporations censoring freedom of speech? Your statement does not reflect the values at Reason to explore difficult conversations even if people find them offensive. I'm annoyed that anyone expecting freedom of speech gets painted as a fanatical, right wing ding-bat beating the drum against "politically correct" censorship. I for one simply believe in freedom of speech. The law was designed to protect many of the so-called "offensive" conversations NOT simply inoffensive chit chat about butterflies (but even that is probably offensive to someone). Abuse of the Facebook logo was very insightful, so thank you for that! But this article touches on a major issue in America- that people like you think it's ok to grant extremely broad powers for mid-level bureaucrats, machine learning, or the perennially "offended", to censor people in the new common squares of the internet.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online