MATT NELSON AND ELISA BATISTA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Facebook seems to be flailing in hot water these days for selling the personal data of more than 87 million US residents to now-defunct private marketing firm Cambridge Analytica. The firm in turn shared it with the Trump campaign and allegedly with Russians who used it for voter suppression campaigns.
We are also now well aware of the 3,000 political ads purchased by Russian operatives on fake Facebook political pages. And we've witnessed CEO Mark Zuckerberg try to convince Congress and Facebook users that the world's most popular social media platform takes the integrity of its product seriously and its responsibility for doing its part to uphold democracy with dead earnestness.
Regardless, more than 2 billion monthly users on all points of the political spectrum remain on Facebook because it has become such an effective tool for building communities, organizing events, and, yes, galvanizing users into political action.
So the company's answer to the question of how to mitigate the threat of Russian influence is at the very least puzzling as it corrodes the very ideal of enhancing and protecting democracy which it seeks to engender.
Facebook recently announced that it would begin requiring purchasers of political ads to provide their Social Security Numbers along with valid photo ID or passport information, effectively preventing undocumented US residents -- including more than 800,000 DREAMers -- from purchasing ads they might otherwise use to advocate on behalf of immigrant rights and other issues important to their constituencies. Under this policy, political ad purchasers must upload a photo of their picture ID (either a US passport or US driver's license) and enter the last four digits of their Social Security Number, meaning only US citizens may purchase Facebook political ads.
This new requirement would not only squash the First Amendment rights of non-US citizen grassroots activists and undermine our democracy, but it would also open up ad purchasers to identity theft and other breaches of privacy.
We know of no other media outlet requires a driver's license or passport, and Social Security Number to purchase an ad, which makes Facebook's policy an outlier. And considering Facebook's troubling history of security breaches of users' data, all Facebook users should be wary.
Facebook's definition of a political ad broadly includes "national issues of public importance" such as the following (a list the company says is "evolving"): "abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values."
The ranks of marketers, advertisers and, yes, immigrant activists are full of both documented and undocumented residents alike. Naturally, some find their livelihood through ad buying. Singling out non-US citizens fundamentally undermines free speech and democracy.
Industry trade groups have consistently listed Facebook as the largest and most important social media platform for marketers, and why not? Facebook has revolutionized the world's approach to just about everything, including political organizing. As any activist who has had to maintain a listserv or fax list in earlier decades will tell you, it's a lot easier to get 50 people to a rally with a Facebook invitation than with a flyer taped to a kiosk on the street.
The new ad-buying policy may not protect or even support democracy, but it could help make a bad problem even worse, with the perfect storm in which Facebook requires ad buyers' most prized personal information, which is in turn hacked and used criminally, or, even more cynically, is sold again by Facebook to the highest bidder.
Facebook must reverse its dangerous policy, or stop selling political ads altogether until it can fully secure the data it collects and adequately protect users' information from attack.
This new ad policy is an affront to our values and democracy at a critical time when we are watching the Trump administration erode our civil rights. Every day, we see our friends indiscriminately snatched from the streets and families ripped apart; we see immigrant rights organizers being detained without legal representation.
Today, purchasing an ad on Facebook is an important tool in every organizer's toolkit and immigrant communities must organize like they never have before. It is crucial that DREAMers and other Latinx organizers continue to have full access to Facebook's capabilities to get their messaging out to the public.
Campaign link: Presente.org/BastaFB #BastaFacebook
Presente.org is the nation’s largest online Latinx organizing group; advancing social justice with technology, media, and culture. Matt Nelson is the group’s Executive Director and Elisa Batista is Presente’s Communications Director.