Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the social media platform doesn't run political ads 'for the money' but for 'political discourse'

Sheryl SandbergSheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, speaks at the 2018 Code conference.Greg Sandoval/Business Insider

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the social media platform doesn't run political ads for money, as it is a "very small part of our revenue," but because "we really believe they are part of political discourse," at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit.
  • The social media site has faced criticisms from 2020 Democratic candidates for running ads with misleading or unsubstantiated claims, sparking fear in politicians over disinformation being spread on the platform.
  • Facebook confirmed earlier this month that these ads were allowed to run because Facebook ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the social media platform doesn't run political advertisements for the money, but rather for the political discourse.

The social media site has faced criticisms from candidates - including 2020 Democratic candidates for running ads with misleading or unsubstantiated claims - sparking fear in politicians over disinformation being spread on the platform.

Sandberg spoke at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit on Tuesday, where she discussed Facebook's role in the political realm. She said in response to a question from journalist Katie Couric that the site doesn't run ads for money, as it is a "very small part of our revenue," acknowledging that the ads are also "very controversial."

"So one of the most controversial things out there right now is what ads do we take, what ads do others take, and do we fact check political ads?" she said in response to Couric. "And it is a hard conversation and emotions are running really high on this."

"So why are we doing this?" Sandberg posited. "It's not for the money. Let's start there. This is a very small part of our revenue."

"We take political ads because we really believe they are part of political discourse and that taking political ads means that people can speak," Sandberg said at the summit, per a video of the event. "If you look at this over time, the people who have the most benefited from being able to run ads are people who are not covered by the media so they can't get their message out otherwise, people who are challenging an in incumbent ... and people who have different points of view."

President Donald Trump reportedly spent $1.6 million on advertising on Facebook with misleading and debunked claims about former Vice President Joe Biden in relation to the whistleblower scandal in which both politicians are entangled. Facebook did take down one of Trump's ad, but only because he called Biden a "b---h," which violated the platform's policy on profanity.

Read more: Facebook is strengthening its rules for political ads ahead of the 2020 election, but there's a big loophole that has nothing to do with Facebook

The social media site confirmed earlier this month that these ads were allowed to run, because Facebook ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking. The platform's policies caught the ire of 2020 Democratic frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who ran a fake ad about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorsing Trump's re-election to raise awareness of misinformation spreading on the site.

"You're probably shocked," the ad read. "And you might be thinking, 'how could this possibly be true?'"

"Well, it's not. (Sorry.)"

At the summit, Sandberg also dismissed the notion that Facebook's algorithm displaying content that reinforces a user's belief. The COO said that 26% of the news a user sees on their newsfeed "will be from another point of view."

Facebook has been under scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators over how the platform was used to spread of disinformation during the 2016 campaign, user privacy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, antitrust issues, and its formation of a cryptocurrency. The Federal Trade Commission required Facebook to pay $5 billion as part of a settlement over privacy violations.

On Tuesday, 47 attorneys general are joining New York State Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into potential Facebook antitrust violations.

Sen. Warren has called for Facebook to be broken up. Sandberg was also asked about this issue.

"Well, we don't want Facebook to be broken up, because we think we're able to provide in great services across the board," she said in response.

Sandberg also said she was staying out of the primary, when asked if she would support Warren if she were the Democratic nominee for president in 2020: "I'm not in the primary right now … but I'm a very well-understood Democrat. I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I have spoken for many years about the desire for my daughter and yours to see a woman as president."
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