Policing Politics: Facebook and a Politician’s Right to Free Speech

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: May 22, 2020
Length: 14 pages
Product ID#: 4-083-120

Core Disciplines: Communications, Ethics, Information - Technology & Management, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, boasted a worldwide reach with over 140 million companies using the Facebook app, 100 billion messages shared every day, and 70 international offices. With such reach and efficient ability to communicate to people instantly, the company had the potential to be used to sabotage the validity of information consumed daily and even threaten American democracy.

This case is about the challenging business decisions that Facebook experienced in response to government and organizations’ pressure for more regulations. Government pressure to regulate Facebook’s political ads grew prevalent after it became public knowledge that foreign governments (particularly Russia’s) manipulated social media to influence the 2016 elections. Russian political actors used a comprehensive set of tools to infiltrate public debates, hack confidential emails of campaign staff, and systematically manipulate Facebook and Twitter to spread misinformation to specific demographics of voters. While Russian operatives strategically targeted their false messages, Facebook and Twitter did not have sufficient mechanisms to prevent the impact of fake news.

Students will explore the role of social media companies in regulating political speech and the potential for the spread of misinformation.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Understand the balance between public and private interests.
  • Debate the role of social media companies in a democratic republic.
  • Evaluate a social media company’s strategic options in response to political pressure.