Behind the scenes, Peter Thiel is pulling the strings on Facebook’s ads policies, a new report says.
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We now have an explanation for Facebook’s bizarre indecision on political ads: Peter Thiel.
Despite months of reports — usually attributed to unnamed company sources — that Facebook is considering some kind of pullback from its controversial rules that allow politicians to lie in paid ads, the reason the company hasn’t actually moved on the issue is because Peter Thiel doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
The Facebook board member, Cambridge Analytica funder, and Trump supporter “is extending his influence while the company’s board and senior ranks are in flux”to advertisements from politicians, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. He has argued that Mark Zuckerberg should stand by his earlier decision.
Thiel’s influence with Zuckerberg — the Palantir founder was Facebook’s first investor — is reportedly contributing to internal tensions at the company surrounding its political ad rules. The company said in September that it would not subject politicians to its community guidelines, even when they lie.
That decision has proved just as controversial within Facebook as outside of it. In October, a few hundred Facebook employees signed an open letter urging executives to rethink the policy.
“We strongly object to this policy as it stands,” they wrote. “It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”
Since then, there have been multiple reports that the company is considering limiting politicians’ ability to micro-target ads, which lets ad-buyers reach small, very specific demographic groups. Critics, like Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub, say that because most people will never see the micro-targeted ads, politicians are essentially free to spread whatever misinformation they want with few consequences.
The problem for Facebook, is that its leaders can’t seem to agree on where to draw the line — and Thiel’s influence apparently hasn’t helped.
“Many of the decisions we’re making at Facebook come with difficult trade-offs and we’re approaching them with careful rigor at all levels of the company, from the Board of Directors down,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re fortunate to have a Board with diverse experiences and perspectives so we can ensure debate that reflects a cross section of views.”
This is far from the first time Thiel has been a source of controversy for the company. Zuckerberg was forced to defend Thiel in 2016 after employees questioned the company’s association with the prominent Trump supporter.
Since then, Thiel has been part of Trump’s transition team and attended Zuckerberg’s private White House dinner.