I read with shock the editorial in Haaretz (“A Free and Fair Election in the Digital Age: Can Israel Do It?” Dec. 29), baselessly claiming that Israel is too small for Facebook to care about election integrity. Nothing could be further from the truth. And speaking of fake news, nothing could be less based in facts.
The fact is that throughout the past three national election campaigns Facebook has worked tirelessly to protect election integrity in Israel, uphold local laws through strong cooperation with the Central Elections Committee and the Ministry of Justice, and even publicly encourage regulation to help update Israel’s antiquated election laws to incorporate the challenges brought by digital media and advertising.
Moreover, contrary to what the editorial claimed, revenue from political advertising in Israel is not a “money maker.”
I want to make Facebook’s position on this very clear. We believe that allowing political ads provides candidates with the opportunity to share their message with the public and, specifically, their constituents. From a business perspective, because these ads provide such little revenue, it would be much easier to ban something that has caused so much controversy and debate.
Moreover, it is hard to define where to draw the line as to what would even be considered a political ad. The editorial says “political information” – what does that mean? Is it only advertising from candidates and parties? What about ads on important social issues such as civil marriage or drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military?
Ads can be a very important part of giving power to voice – especially for candidates and groups that the mainstream media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message out to potential voters and the public.
We all know now more than ever in Israel just how important this is. While in the United States you have two major political parties that do not change, we are witnessing now a complete re-shift of the political landscape here. Parties that did not exist yesterday are becoming major elements in our election. These are politicians and parties that today do not even have a Facebook page. Political ads help new actors who are competing with incumbent parties and politicians that already have thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of followers. This is why we believe in providing transparency to the public regarding how campaigns are using these political ads in campaigns.
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This is why we have publicly supported regulation, and why we will continue to work closely with the Central Elections Committee to upload Israel’s current laws in this election cycle and why we will work with regulators and the Knesset to ensure election integrity on Facebook.
I do agree with Haaretz that Israel should not rely on Facebook or other internet companies to enforce Israeli law. That is why we believe any regulation in this field, such as the current proposal from Kahol Lavan, places the liability on the Israeli advertiser, whether it be a politician, political party, NGO or private person, to be transparent with the way in which they use their shekels.
Facebook worked hard back in March 2019 to bring our political advertising transparency tools to Israel and we will continue to work hard to have both products and policies that bring election integrity and transparency to the Israel public. We are proud of the work that we have done here in Israel – not because of revenues or numbers of users, but because we are dedicated to being a part of this country’s democracy, economy and society in the most positive way possible.
Jordana Cutler is Facebook Israel’s head of policy and Jewish Diaspora.