Sunday, November 29, 2020

Facebook Controversy on Misleading Information Regarding the Election (2016-2020)

Facebook Taking Action Against Misinformation and Fixing Past Mistakes 

    Facebook, created and developed by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become one of the world’s biggest social media giants. However, exceptional growth does not come without backlash. Over the years, Facebook has had many lawsuits and allegations pressed against them and how they continue to operate within the world of social networking, social media, and the vast spread of news information. When it comes to the United States specifically, the comprehensive, widespread news of false information regarding the elections has taken a toll on the company's ethics and standing. This specifically happened during the 2016 election regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal regarding Facebook’s policy to protect its data. Facebook has the ability with its algorithms and data knowledge of users to know almost everything about them. Since more of this has come to face over the years through documentaries and new articles, more people have begun to notice the effects. Once the realization was brought to light during the 2016 election, Facebook eventually admitted to its wrongs and decided to step up the data protection and how things would move forward when it came to the next election. They had published an article regarding how they plan to do this, which developed a whole new mainframe regarding the election. They even opened “The Elections Operations Center” to oversee the postings and add the additions to each post concerning the election. Overall there are still some flaws within the system they created, and some things can pass by. Even with those flaws, Facebook always does its best to provide everyone with an equal opportunity for the election, and they are continuing to stop the spread of misinformation.

Case Controversy 

    Facebook, one of the major social media giants, has had some backlash over the years regarding how it handles the United States elections. This controversy majorly stemmed from the 2016 United States Elections, where everyone was caught off guard regarding information put out onto social media. At the same time, all social media networks and applications continue to grow. Facebook continues to grow heavily throughout the years, reaching over “223.03 million users” (Clement, J.)  only in the United States. The main issue brought to light is how do you manage what over 233.03 million users are doing every millisecond of the day? Individuals are posting, sharing, watching videos that are sometimes live, and liking posts, especially when it comes to such a sensitive topic as the election.

Timeline of Facebook's Events

    While there have been issues within the past with Facebook and another company Cambridge Analytica back during the 2016 elections, they did admit to their wrongdoings. They were adamant about correcting their mistakes from the past. The overview of the scandal back in 2016 was that Facebook was that the personal data of Facebook users was breached and violated by consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Facebook, Inc. will pay a record-breaking $5 billion penalty, and submit to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy” (FTC) The fine was paid, and this is when Facebook set out to fix the wrongdoings in from the past. While there's always work to do and constant challenges present themselves with the evolving world, it has been proven through Facebook's efforts that they are trying to do what they believe is best for the individuals who use the platform. While also protecting the first amendment rights of Americans. The issue is shutting down the false information presented and determining whether it is indeed false or not. 

    Amongst all the other social media applications such as Twitter and Snapchat, Facebook is the only one that has put together a comprehensive plan across the applications it owns. Facebook also owns Instagram, so it is not listed as a different social media application above. Facebook developed a very in-depth comprehensive plan for the 2020 election, including but not limited to the displaying of information labels on posts about the election. Facebook stated, “In 2018, we launched our Elections Operations Center ahead of the US midterm elections…Through it, we bring together subject matter experts from across the company – including from our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, operations and legal teams – for real-time monitoring so that we can address potential abuse flowing across our network.” (Rosen, Guy)

Preview of what Facebook/ Instagram users saw during the 2020 Election.

This was proven during the few before the 2020 election; the warnings were posted on any posts pertaining to the election. Even during the election, Facebook and Instagram provided continuous updates, even before the news did. Please see the figures above and below for how this is displayed on their applications. Facebook has proven that it is trying to reduce the misinformation that can present itself within an election period. 

Preview of what Facebook/ Instagram users saw during the 2020 Election. 

    However, when it comes to this controversy’s opposing side, a recent CNN article spoke to how some misinformation is still presented. This article is based on activist researchers, claiming that “Facebook has failed to act on hundreds of posts that racked up millions of impressions and contain claims that the social media giant has previously identified as false or misleading.” (Fung, Brian) They claimed that these posts included false claims and information regarding President Donald Trump and the past Vice President Joe Biden. However, Facebook’s Guy Rosen, the VP of Integrity did refute this statement by saying that, “We remain the only company to partner with more than 70 fact-checking organizations, using AI to scale their fact-checks to millions of duplicate posts, and we are working to improve our ability to action on similar posts...There is no playbook for a program like ours, and we're constantly working to improve it.” (Fung, Brian) While Facebook does have a solid argument that they are one of the only companies to do this, they are still being questioned and pushed against in the media’s eyes. 

    Even without the election in general, Facebook has put up more priorities regarding false information.

Preview of what a Facebook/ Instagram user will see if they come across a post including false information.
Through an article published by Facebook by a few of its higher-up officials, they have stated numerous times how they plan to prevent the wrong information from being posted. The pictures show an example when a post includes incorrect information. In addition to the warning labels Facebook, “ For example, we reduce its distribution so fewer people see it — on Instagram, we remove it from Explore and hashtags, and on Facebook, we reduce its distribution in News Feed.” (Rosen, Guy, et al.) This is just another way that Facebook is working to protect its users, along with all of the other attributes mentioned before. 

Preview of what a Facebook/ Instagram user will see when they click on a post with false information.


    The stakeholders in this controversy are individuals who use Facebook; they represent many stakeholders since there are 233.03 million users in the United States. The employees of Facebook, the stockholders, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It would also directly affect Erin Egan, the Chief Privacy Officer & Policy, and Guy Rosen, the Vice President of Integrity. Many positions have been created to serve the employee’s and consumers’ betterment, which is why positions such as; Chief Privacy Officer and Vice President of Integrity were developed to help the consumers better and protect Facebook's integrity.


Over the years, Facebook has done its best to maintain profits while also being a social networking application and website. They have been able to make a profit through promotional ad campaigns and creating their advertising programs. This is all within the law as many different companies and people do digital advertising. With the usage of the Facebook platform, it is extraordinary the number of people another business can reach with Facebook Ad campaigns. However, there are many rules in place for someone to run an ad campaign on Facebook. Especially regarding the data and privacy policies. It’s simple if all the rules are not followed, then the ad will not be approved. This is one of the few ways Facebook makes money besides investors and stockholders in the company. Since Facebook is a free application to use, they had to broaden how they could generate revenues. The primary way besides some stockholders is the money they have in their Ad generation, which they are very strict with approving ads there is always a set amount of policies you have to adhere to and follow.


When it comes to Utilitarianism and Facebook, not everyone will be happy with what others post online. Which frankly is the beauty of freedom of speech. However, this truly isn’t something Facebook can control unless it goes against their regulations and the effects that it has on the community guidelines. The main goal of utilitarianism is to maximize happiness in yourself (Facebook) and in others – do so impartially. Facebook has cracked down on the misinformation and false information being posted, which increased its position. Therefore the employees are taken care of, which doesn't directly affect them unless they are users of the application, but then again, they understand the restraint Facebook is going through. When it comes to Facebook users, Facebook has put out apologies and responses to past issues and how they are working to improve them. Such as the references above with how they planned to work on false information posts and election information. 


Kantianism states that all rational decisions need to be ethical, and everyone should be treated rationally. In addition, when introducing the Formula of Humanity, which is to treat people as an end in themselves and not merely as a mere means. You should treat people as valuable and worthy of respect. Besides, you should never do things that inhibit people’s rationality, affecting their decision without them knowing. While with the news of misinformation back in 2016, individuals were affected by their data being shared, and that is not to be ignored; however, what needs to be noted is the clear and recent transparency of Facebook. Even back in 2016, they displayed all of their privacy policies and data on their website. In the past four years since then, they have made it even more evident on their website and posted several articles and messages from some of its higher-ranking officials. They have also taken action to protect the false information that users could be seeing, along with marketing information that pertains to the elections to make sure their users have full transparency. 

Virtue Theory 

Virtue theory is based on the four cardinal virtues; courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. While Facebook has genuinely displayed the courage to right their wrongdoings and to set the record straight on all accounts, they also continue to bounce back and right the wrongs which were unforeseen. When it comes to the virtue of honesty; to some, Facebook indeed might not have been honest at all points in time, while they have genuinely been entirely unaware or not of privacy issues before they were brought to the light; they did admit to being in the wrong, and they did make corrections from past mistakes. When it comes to temperance, Facebook has been quite patient and realistic when setting up privacy policies and verifying misinformation and false information. They have admitted that there is no playbook for what they are doing; they are listening to the users of the applications and making improvements as they continue. I believe that Facebook does display a majority of these virtues with a possible half and a half on the honesty virtue. We will never honestly know if Facebook knew it was an issue and left it unresolved or if they were unaware and the public brought it into their eyes. However, the social media giant understands the matters presented to the public and wants to fix them. 

Justified Ethics Evaluation 

In my personal opinion, I genuinely believe that Facebook was not in the wrong. Yes, I can fully admit that I think Facebook did some things that seemed somewhat strange or inappropriate. However, I believe that Facebook has done everything in its power to restore the structure of its privacy policies, protect people from misinformation, and to rectify the majority of the false information that has been posted. There is not a manual for the internet, social networking, or social media. How are individuals supposed to react to the ever-evolving world of the internet, let alone the companies operating within that space? Privacy issues happen every day in every company; hackers and other things are known for these issues. This is why when Facebook stepped back and rethought how to restructure things back in 2016, they did it to plan for involvement in the future. They brought on new positions, created a whole new development team, and created the Elections Operations Center specifically regarding the United States Election. They developed ways to identify false information through Facebook to warn the users about the inaccurate information. When it came to the election, they set up a whole system in the backend; that fact-checked information posted a warning on posts about the election. Overall I believe that to a majority over defaults that Facebook follows the ethical theories in play. 

Company Action Plan 

        The current issue with Facebook is the abnormalities of the world we are currently living in today. Twenty years ago, individuals wouldn’t have been worrying about the false information being posted or misinformation about an election. However, with the current world we live in, this has become a problematic pressing issue. Social media, in itself, is still a new dynamic with continually changing attributes. This is a first-generation problem for the companies in this dynamic, and one that no one has the answers to without trial and error. While it is frustrating that for false information to be remedied, it has to happen first, they eventually will, and it is a step in the right direction. Especially in Facebook’s realm, many other social media companies have not taken the initiative they have. While in the belief that Facebook has created the right building stones to continue protecting people's privacy while also saving them from false information. I do believe a few more steps can be taken. Such as surveying Facebook users to see if they are currently liking how misinformation is being addressed in the application. They are adding in additional staff to monitor the postings on the application. Besides, I believe holding an open forum or doing a live virtual event where users can ask questions and bring things to Facebook's attention, instead of the issues just building up without Facebook knowing. I believe a new way to uphold some of the proposed amendments would be for there to be a changed mission statement. One would be; To provide people with the power and individualism to come together on a platform to communicate with their friends, family and make connections. While also protecting privacy and protecting people from false information and misinformation sometimes put out into the world. Facebook would further expand its newly developed Elections Operations Center and develop newer operations and a new department for when false information is identified; they can promote how they diffused the issue. I believe they should also create an updated chart of a monitoring system, where Facebook users can see how many posts and organizations have been identified in releasing false information. As said before, I believe that they should start a program to hear out the users and acknowledge their problems, which would help Facebook understand and rectify some things that they may be missing. This would not only establish a greater strength with individuals' trust in Facebook, but it would also show them that on top of all the things Facebook does to protect its users. Facebook is willing to go one step further in ensuring everyone's happiness, trust, transparency, and ease of use when using Facebook.


Clement, J. “Facebook Users in U.S.” Statista, 19 Oct. 2020, 

“FTC Imposes $5 Billion Penalty and Sweeping New Privacy Restrictions on Facebook.” Federal Trade Commission, 28 Apr. 2020,  

Fung, Brian. “Facebook Can't Catch Misinformation It's Already Identified as False, Activist Group Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Oct. 2020, 

Rosen, Guy. “Preparing for Election Day.” About Facebook, 8 Oct. 2020, 

Rosen, Guy, et al. Helping to Protect the 2020 US Elections, 21 Oct. 2019,

Written By: MaryKate Caron

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