Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used a call typically reserved for detailing financial results to defend the company’s decision to keep running political ads on its platform.
Zuckerberg adamantly upheld the policy during the first several minutes of an earnings call with analysts on Wednesday. His comments come as intense scrutiny is directed at Silicon Valley’s handling of political ads. Facebook and other social media companies have faced criticism for letting politicians run false ads.
Just as Facebook was releasing its earnings, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company would stop accepting political ads. Dorsey tweeted that Twitter believes “political message reach should be earned, not bought.”
On Wednesday’s call, Zuckerberg said he’s given the issue of whether to continue to run political ads a lot of thought, and “on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue,” he said. “Ads can be an important part of voice — especially for candidates and advocacy groups that the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates.”
Zuckerberg said, in a democracy, corporations shouldn’t decide what messages to block and highlighted political ads about women’s empowerment issues and climate change as examples of ads that might be blocked in a ban.
He said transparency around these ads is more important than banning them outright and said “ads on Facebook are already more transparent than anywhere else.” He noted that the platform already provides access to a political ad campaign archive that provides information about an ad’s funding and who is behind it.
Zuckerberg said Facebook remains nonpartisan and that, from a business perspective, this decision is harder than picking a side. But he noted that the decision to continue to host ads from politicians isn’t a question of money, saying Facebook estimates that less than 0.5% of Facebook’s revenue next year would come from such ads.
Zuckerberg’s defense of Facebook’s ad policy comes shortly after a San Francisco man tried to call out the company’s controversial no-fact check policy by running intentionally false political ads in his campaign to become Governor of California. Facebook barred him from doing so, saying that because he made it clear he registered as a candidate to get around Facebook’s policies, his content and ads would continue to be subject to third-party fact-checking. The man told CNN Business he’s now considering legal action.
While the first section of the call was devoted to addressing the company’s political ad policy, Facebook executives went on to discuss the company’s third quarter earnings, which beat analyst expectations.
During the quarter, daily active users increased by 9% and revenue grew 29% from the year prior, reaching $17.7 billion.
Stock was up nearly 5% in after-hours trading.
Roughly 2.8 billion people use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger each month, the company reported.