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Two more Facebook moderation stories. On one hand, they're moving to block 'deep fake' manipulated video, but on the other, they're holding firm on not fact-checking ads placed by political candidates (note that US broadcast media is mostly banned from fact-checking political ads), instead focusing on vetting who places the ads and on providing transparency on what ads have been run.

This seems to go against journalistic principles. (Not that a broadcaster is entirely about journalism.) My question is about where truth and integrity play into the decision-making process in an organisation that is making money.

My question is: Why is the US broadcast media mostly banned from fact-checking political advertising?

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    Where and by whom is this ban stipulated?
    – user27195
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 6:00
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    Who is “they” in your quote “...they’re holding firm on not fact-checking ads placed by political candidates...”? Who is (mostly) banning the broadcast media from undertaking the fact checks? The languages makes it sound like it is the US government that is doing the banning - if so, what’s the mechanism? Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 6:04
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    The quote is about facebook, but the question is about broadcast media. These are not the same thing. Facebook is not fact-checking political advertising so that its revenue is not impacted.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 8:57
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    To illustrate what broadcast media is allowed to do, I once saw a local news broadcast do a story exposing the lies in a local candidate's ad. Immediately following that segment was a commercial break where that exact ad aired (most likely just a coincidence). They can't censor the ad itself, but there's nothing preventing them from fact-checking it through other avenues.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 23:10
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    Which site is the quote from? Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 0:30

3 Answers 3


Nothing prevents or bans the broadcast media from Fact Checking political advertising. But broadcasts are prevented from censoring political campaigns.

The issue has recently been investigated by PolitiFact in the context of statements by Elizabeth Warren who stated that broadcast media was more robust on political advertising than Facebook. PolitiFact found they were not, and broadcasters would run a candidate's ad even if it contained false statements, based on federal law preventing censorship.

Section 315 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 states:

"If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provision of this section."

Broadcasters are bound by that act and therefore can’t reject a presidential candidate’s ad, even if contains false information. (The candidates do have to abide by disclosure rules to make it clear who paid for the ad.)

Facebook's position as described by Mark Zuckerberg under House questioning, essentially expands this to all political advertising.

This doesn't mean that broadcasters can't fact check the ads run on their own or other networks. It is just that fact checking organisations are mostly digitally focused. But there are organisations trying to change this.

To reach a wider audience, expand fact-checking to broadcast news.

Fact-checkers just need to collaborate with broadcast organizations for a few minutes each week to reach more people. As part of my fellowship I set up a partnership between the News & Observer and two National Public Radio affiliates in North Carolina.


As it is now, fact-checking reaches a small audience of well-informed people. To fight the growing problem of misinformation, fact-checkers must evolve their content by collaborating with broadcast media to reach a wider audience and continue to build trust among diverse audiences.

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    Aren't many ads run by PACs rather than candidates? Does that mean they can selective refuse to broadcast those, because they're not run by candidates?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 20:52
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    @gerrit that's true, the Politifact article says "The law does not apply to PACs or independent expenditure ads" and links to an instance of CNN rejecting a Trump ad containing demonstrably false Biden-Ukraine information.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 21:50
  • Comments deleted. Please keep the comments relevant to the answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 12:23
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    Might be worth mentioning that broadcast media is bound by rules that are not applied to print and digital mediums (and indeed would be considered a violation of the first amendment if they tried to), and why . Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 14:27
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    @paulj Licensing is just part of the rules that broadcast media is bound to that other media are not (and arguably cannot be). It does not constitute an explanation of that difference. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 19:52

The world is too complex and too many "facts" fall in a gray area. A famous saying is "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

"President Obama enjoyed 8 years of a declining deficit and steady standard of living increase."

Could be "proven" completely true, or false, based on how one might choose to measure the deficit and standard of living by adjusting for inflation, changes in forex rates, the basket of goods used to measure monthly expenses, the macro-implications of issuing debt in your own country's fiat currency, effect of undocumented workers on future wages and prices, etc. Adjusting for all these exogenous variables can be done completely arbitrarily so that one can reach whatever conclusion one wants.

And, I don't want to be pedantic, but I could say that the US has not fought any "wars" since 1945. "War" has a clear definition in the US Constitution. The last "war" was WW2. Korea? Vietnam? Iraq? From the perspective of the US homeland, those were not "wars" because minimal sacrifice was made on the home front and all the devastation was abroad and so, from US perspective, its a "gray area." Yet most Americans do consider them actual "wars." (yes. total bs. since ww2, the usa is always in a state of "war" somewhere as Eisenhower so presciently warned in his farewell address.)

For "fact checking", how precise should it be and who would decide (the censorship)?

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    the US has not fought any war since 1945 - no, all that means is that US has not followed its own rules regarding war for the better part of the past century. The US has certainly been involved in lots of wars. Just because your internal political machine is rotten, and you want to believe fantasy stories or bureaucratic excuses more than the truth, doesn't mean you can stand up and say you don't participate in wars anymore.
    – J...
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 14:18
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    @xLeitix Capital-T Truth may or may not be relative, but information certainly is. Would you unquestioningly believe the abstract of a study without checking the methodology? And we're talking about peer-reviewed science, how do you plan to scale that to sound-bite journalism? Skeptics.SE is populated by people who are generally of, well, a skeptical bent, and higher than average intelligence. How do you plan to scale that format to broadcast media and the general population? Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 15:14
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    While the entire answer is true to the facts being presented, it doesn't actually answer the question. The implication is certainly that it's difficult to fact-check political ads, which is valid, but the question is about why they aren't allowed to do so - not the impracticality of it.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 15:49
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    @xLeitix On the other hand, you can also find lots of very poorly supported answers on Skeptics.SE that were massively upvoted because they hit HNQ and agreed with the biases of a lot of the 101 rep people who clicked through from HNQ. And, to be completely honest, the biases of the moderators there have some influence on this, too, since the moderation is more active there. The standards of skepticism applied in moderation actions to answers that agree with the average bias of the moderators tends to be less than those that don't, even though I don't think that's intentional.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 16:57
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    @JaredSmith if that's the case, then the answer would be greatly improved by an explicit statement to that effect - as it reads right now, it's basically an argument against fact-checking of any kind, which may be relevant but doesn't work well as an answer to the specific question.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 19:03

Bias is difficult to filter and some times, the information is not correctly known. For instance, President Trump claimed in March of 2017 that his campaign had been spied on by the intelligence community (FBI, etc). This was widely lampooned as not true, included by personnel that we now know in fact did the surveillance. So, it wasn't known correctly. Many members of the media criticized it. So, if given the chance, they would have incorrectly censored it.

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    Welcome to Politics! Please try to add references to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 18:24
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    who else could brag about their needing to be investigated?
    – dandavis
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 20:17
  • @KevinMoore do you claim that Trump had evidence of, or valid grounds to believe in the spying, which he chose not to share at the time? If so, what reason do you believing this, and what reason do you give for him hiding the evidence. If not, then he was just making crap up, and censoring it would have been correct. If someone makes stuff up all the time, and is sometimes coincidentally correct, that doesn't make the coincidentally-true fabrication any more valid than the rest.
    – Brondahl
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 14:30

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