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DeSantis asks Secretary of State to investigate Facebook

FILE - This March 29, 2018 file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq...
FILE - This March 29, 2018 file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square.(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 4:54 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - The governor has called on the Secretary of State to open an investigation into Facebook after a Wall Street Journal article suggested the company may have given preferential treatment to incumbent candidates in the 2020 election.

State Democrats are calling the move ‘political’.

The Wall Street Journal article found Facebook had ‘whitelisted’ 5.8 million accounts, providing them preferential treatment if they were accused of violating the company’s rules.

The article also states while most government officials were whitelisted, not all candidates were.

“It’s definitely problematic,” said Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani.

Eskamani is concerned about the alleged favoritism.

“It speaks to the larger conversation around big tech,” said Eskamani.

But the governor has gone further, calling on the Secretary of State to investigate.

In a statement, the Governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw explained the state wants to know whether the whitelisting could have benefited some candidates’ sponsored posts.

“The Secretary of State’s investigation would seek to determine whether Facebook’s actions amounted to undisclosed in-kind contributions to state and local campaigns in Florida,” said Pushaw.

An investigation like this is rare for the Division of Elections.

Usually alleged election law violations are pursued by prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The Secretary of State doesn’t do investigations,” said Eskamani.

Eskamani argued favoritism of incumbent candidates would have been more likely to benefit Republicans in Florida.

“The irony is that if this is a so-called investigation, then he needs to be investigating his own party for benefiting from some sort of exclusive service from Facebook, not actually Facebook,” said Eskamani.

The Governor’s Office made no mention of political party in its statement.

“If Facebook’s double standards amounted to interference in state and local races in Florida, then Floridians deserve to know the extent of that interference,” said Pushaw.

We also reached out to the Department of State for comment on this story, but did not hear back in time.

Full Statement from Pushaw:

The Wall Street Journal reviewed internal Facebook documents and reported that the tech giant’s “whitelist” – millions of users allowed to violate platform policies with impunity – included politicians. In the time period that the report covered, most government officials were whitelisted, but not all candidates were granted the same privilege. This means FB may have put its thumb on the scale to grant an unfair advantage to incumbents. In fact, it might still be happening.

We do not know where exactly this alleged electioneering occurred. The scope is known only to Facebook. That’s why Governor DeSantis ordered this investigation. If Facebook’s double standards amounted to interference in state and local races in Florida, then Floridians deserve to know the extent of that interference.

Moreover, it’s well established that Facebook places a monetary value on content and sells ads to politicians and campaigns. Those “sponsored posts” are required to be disclosed, and there are state rules and regulations around reporting campaign spending and contributions. The WSJ reporting raises the possibility that Facebook’s own policies secretly prioritized content from some politicians over others – in other words, donating free advertising to certain politicians without adhering to the disclosure requirements for campaign contributions.

To answer your question directly about which state laws may have been violated – the investigation will look broadly at possible violations of Florida’s existing election laws. For example, given the situation described above, the Secretary of State’s investigation would seek to determine whether Facebook’s actions amounted to undisclosed in-kind contributions to state and local campaigns in Florida.”

Copyright 2021 Capitol News Service. All rights reserved.