(New York, NY) – PEN America said today that Facebook should reject manifestly false political advertisements on the platform, citing concerns about the impact such false ads could have on the 2020 election. CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement:

“Facebook is mistaken if it believes that running manifestly deceitful political ads on the network serves the cause of free speech or protects against censorship. We urge Facebook to reexamine its approach and decline to run political ads that are demonstrably untrue. While the company should adopt a liberal approach to ordinary posts that may be false or misleading, a higher-level duty attaches when Facebook is in a business relationship with an advertiser, selling access to its user base. Falsifications in commercial ads are illegal, online or off. 

“In the case of political ads, whereas broadcasters are compelled to carry virtually any advertisement a candidate for office may put out, social media platforms are not bound by that rule. They have discretion to decline ads and should recognize that the rationale behind prohibiting broadcasters from doing so does not hold online. The essence of broadcast is that it reaches a wide audience, allowing for false information to be exposed and rebutted. Online, by contrast, ads can be targeted narrowly to only the most receptive audiences, who may never learn that they contain lies. Even for broadcast, ads that are run by third parties such as PACS can be refused based on their content.  

“The democracy-distorting power of micro-targeted deceptive messages was evident in the 2016 US presidential election and the campaign for Brexit in the United Kingdom. We recognize that the boundary between political hyperbole and downright falsehood can blur, but Facebook draws precisely that type of content-based distinction thousands of times per day. American democracy cannot afford a second successive US election that is deeply polluted by false information spread on online platforms.”

Read more about combatting disinformation in our report “Faking the News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892