'Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to [Galadriel] and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her.'
A top Facebook executive told colleagues in an lengthy memo last week that the company should do nothing to impede Donald Trump's reelection efforts or change its political advertising policies. His reasoning: a J.R.R. Tolkien character was once corrupted by misuse of power.
The screed — published Tuesday by the New York Times — was penned by Andrew Bosworth, a close confidant of Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and the head of the company's virtual and augmented reality division. Bosworth argued that while he did not personally like Trump, democracy depended on Facebook letting Trump's campaign continue to exploit the platform.
After acknowledging that Russia used both $100,000 in Facebook ads and misinformation campaigns to sow division in support of Trump in the 2016 campaign, Bosworth wrote that he believes Facebook was responsible for Trump's win. "He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period."
With the same Facebook political ad policies as in 2016, Bosworth continued, the 2020 election could have the same result.
Bosworth added that as a "committed liberal" he "desperately" wanted to take action to "avoid the same result" as in 2016, but said what stopped him was "thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment."
"Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial [sic] and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her," he wrote. "As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear."
Bosworth neglected to mention that Trump's campaign didn't just utilize Facebook to reach voters — Facebook actively helped them do so. The company assigned embedded employees to the Trump 2016 campaign to help them with their targeted advertising. According to Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, these pro-Trump Facebook staffers worked out of the Trump campaign offices several days a week. While the company offered some assistance to the Clinton campaign, it played a much smaller role there.
Additionally, contrary to Bosworth's claim that the policies remain unchanged, Facebook has actually taken steps to make its advertising rules more permissive, officially allowing Trump to lie to voters. As Popular Information's Judd Legum has reported, until September, the company purportedly had a policy prohibiting "false or misleading content" in its ads. That rule was quietly eliminated and Zuckerberg admitted that dishonest politicians like Trump are now free to lie in their Facebook ads.
Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about Bosworth's memo and the company's ad policies.
As Legum reported, Trump has repeatedly taken advantage of Facebook's permissiveness, posting demonstrably false campaign ads, improperly targeting users based on gender, and using bogus contests to gain donors.
Zuckerberg has argued that Facebook's laissez-faire approach is justified by the need for voters to make their own determinations about political figures' messaging. "It's really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments," he told CBS News last month.
Zuckerberg himself secretly joined Trump for dinner at the White House in October. Despite his stated support for transparency, he refused to reveal to the public what was discussed, "to respect that it was a private dinner with private discussion."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.