'Social Network' Writer Says Facebook is 'Assaulting Truth,' Blasts Mark Zuckerberg for Not Banning Political Ads

The Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Social Network has accused Mark Zuckerberg of "assaulting truth" by allowing political ads with false information on Facebook.

Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the story of the founding years of Facebook with a script based on a 2009 book called The Accidental Billionaires, weighed in on the debate that is raging about the influence of political ads in a letter published in The New York Times on Thursday.

The letter comes as the 35-year-old billionaire CEO has been forced to defend his website's choice to not fact-check claims made in political ads.

Twitter's sudden decision to scrap political messaging altogether has only fueled criticism of Facebook

"Right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son," Sorkin wrote, referencing a false ad that surfaced on Facebook earlier this month that was traced to an independent political action committee (Super PAC).

"Every square inch of that is a lie and it's under your logo," Sorkin's open letter continued. "That's not defending free speech, Mark, that's assaulting truth."

Zuckerberg's stance on the matter has proven to be controversial in political circles, especially in the context of the 2016 presidential election when a variety of social media websites and tech firms, including Facebook, were exploited to spread misinformation to the masses.

But backlash has not been limited to the halls of power. Criticism has also been brewing in-house, with hundreds of employees raising concerns about political ad policies in their own open letter to the CEO, published by The New York Times on Monday.

"Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing," staffers wrote. "Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands."

In an October 17 speech at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said he believed that people, not technology companies, should decide what is credible information.

"We don't fact-check political ads," he said. "We don't do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying."

"If content is newsworthy, we also won't take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards. I know many people disagree, but, in general, I don't think it's right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy," Zuckerberg added.

Zuckerberg added that banning political ads would have a negative impact on other topics like healthcare and immigration, saying: "It's not clear where we'd draw the line."

Facebook policy is that only politicians are exempt from the fact-checkers, which still scrutinize fake claims made by political organizations, users or groups.

That was the reason given for its removal of a paid ad which claimed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham supported the Green New Deal climate change proposals, posted as a stunt by a political activist to test the policies. A second attempt to post the ad after registering as a politician later failed, proving that the website's boundaries are still far from clear.

For now, the CEO is standing his ground, even after some headline-grabbing clashes with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who both highlighted how the system could potentially be abused to spread fake news.

"So, you won't take down lies or you will take down lies? I think that's just a pretty simple yes or no."

Complete exchange between @RepAOC @AOC and Mark Zuckerberg at today's House Financial Services Cmte hearing.

Full video here: https://t.co/heT7Psnlp1 pic.twitter.com/0iiWtfU5gQ

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 23, 2019

In an earnings call Wednesday, Zuckerberg again defended Facebook's policy by saying the site will make less than 0.5 percent of revenue next year from political advertising and noted that rival platforms, including Google, also run similar ads, CNBC reported.

The same day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey publicly announced that political ads would be banished from his website, which was also used for election meddling in 2016.

"This isn't about free expression. This is about paying for reach. 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," Dorsey tweeted.

But Zuckerberg indicated he would not be following suit, at least not yet.

"Although I've considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I'll continue to do so, on balance so far I've thought we should continue," he said Wednesday.

We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…🧵

— jack (@jack) October 30, 2019

In his letter, Sorkin noted that political advertising has the potential to reach millions of eyes, whether they contain truth or lies, and appealed for change from Zuckerberg.

He wrote: "I hope your C.O.O. walks into your office... and says, 'How can we do this to tens of millions of kids? Are we really going to run an ad that claims Kamala Harris ran dog fights out of the basement of a pizza place while Elizabeth Warren destroyed evidence that climate change is a hoax and the deep state sold meth to Rashida Tlaib and Colin Kaepernick?'"

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Rayburn House Office Building after testifying for six hours on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty