The question of how Facebook and Google make and justify decisions regarding permissible political content and targeting on their platforms is increasingly important.
In this talk, Dr. Kreiss will present findings from interviews with 17 former social media firm employees and political practitioners and emails exchanged between Facebook government and elections staffers and two campaigns, a U.S. gubernatorial (2017) and presidential campaign (2016). He will show how while Facebook and Google resist being arbiters of political discourse, they actively vet content on their platforms. These platforms differ with respect to how and what decisions they make in the context of political speech and within each company there are active and ongoing debates among staffers about them. These debates at times take place in consultation with political practitioners and often occur in the context of external events. Dr. Kreiss will show how at both firms policies regarding speech evolve through these internal debates, appeals by practitioners, and outside pressure.
Finally, he will reveal how both Facebook and Google make decisions in often opaque ways, according to policies that are not transparent, and without clear justifications to campaigns or the public as to how they are applied or enforced. In particular, he argues that both companies struggle with determining their role when ‘facts’ are contested in politics, and even when they are not they resist an editorial role. Even more, both companies have a clear set of values that are inherently political, but they sit alongside a strategically complex and deniable way of asserting them. And, finally, both firms speak the language of ‘information’ but utterly fail to grapple with the fact that their platforms fuel and amplify the identity clashes at the heart of political life.