Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Fake News’ Facebook Ad Was Clever, Effective–and a Terrible Idea



Justice Louis Brandeis’s opinion from Whitney v. California (1927) is precisely the sort of thing a first-year law student might quote during a debate about free speech: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Brandeis’s formulation is a basic 4/4 backbeat over which generations of free speech arguments have been sung (in good faith and bad). Which is probably why Elizabeth Warren, an emeritus law professor, decided that the remedy for fake news is… more fake news.”You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?’,” it continued. “Well, it’s not. (Sorry.) But what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform–and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”Whichever Millennial on Warren’s campaign staff came up with that one was definitely clever: The ad, which was probably seen by hundreds of thousands of voters and millions more when the ruse was revealed and dissected by news organizations, was an effective way to draw attention to Facebook’s refusal to verify political ads on its platform. But the patently false ad was also a dirty trick, one that surely fooled some users in much the way the infamous 2016 “report” headlined ‘Pope Francis Shocks World. Endorses Donald Trump for President’ did. According to one study, 8 percent of Obama supporters thought that spurious claim made on a fake news site and spread via Facebook was “probably” true.  That both pieces of propaganda–and what else can you call these steaming piles of partisan hokum?–aped the language of news only made their falseness more pernicious. But, in our itchy Twitter finger era, who hasn’t formed a “complete” opinion about an article based entirely on its headline? Who among us hasn’t shared a piece of content with a friend or family member–and cringed later, when we get around to actually reading it?This is why our elections are increasingly being defined by weaponized falsehoods disguised as news, Warren’s clever little clickbait is something we do not need. There are enough trolls out there.Cast your mind back to the 2018 midterm elections–lo, those 4,000 news cycles ago–when many folks we had no reason to distrust embedded voter registration links into tweets supposedly linking to juicy celebrity gossip like “Kim Kardashian finally decided to divorce Kanye West” or “Tom Hardy’s dick pic leaked. You’re welcome.” If you followed the shortened links in those gotta-click teasers you got… vote.gov, the official voter registration page. (You’re welcome.)That ruse was politically neutral (registering voters before an election is a bipartisan pursuit after all) and perhaps even well-meaning. But it further muddied an already slimy election season. (Remember Roy Moore? If not:  don’t.) It added to the general air of cynicism and one-downsmanship that define life in our extremely online moment. Warren’s stunt–again, let’s call it what it is, trolling–does call attention to Facebook’s badly conceived policies around political ads. It also pushes another unit of falsehood into our feeds. Yeah, if you read past the headline, you might learn something about the extremely powerful, barely accountable social network where you’re spending so much of your day. But who the hell has time to do that? 



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