Face­book’s face-off

The Citizen (KZN) - - News - San Fran­cisco

– Face­book Inc an­nounced lim­ited changes on Thurs­day to its ap­proach to po­lit­i­cal ads, in­clud­ing al­low­ing users to turn off ad-tar­get­ing tools, but de­fied crit­ics’ de­mands that it bar politi­cians from us­ing its ads sys­tem to spread lies.

Ahead of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber, the so­cial net­work has vowed to curb po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion of its plat­form.

Face­book failed to counter Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and al­lowed mis­use of user data by de­funct po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm Cambridge An­a­lyt­ica. Now, it faces in­tense crit­i­cism of its rel­a­tively hands-off ads poli­cies, es­pe­cially af­ter ex­empt­ing politi­cians’ ads from fact-check­ing stan­dards ap­plied to other con­tent.

Face­book said it and its photo-shar­ing app In­sta­gram would soon have a tool en­abling in­di­vid­ual users to choose to see fewer po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sue ads, and will make more ad au­di­ence data pub­licly avail­able.

In con­trast, Twit­ter Inc banned po­lit­i­cal ads in Oc­to­ber, while Al­pha­bet Inc’s Google said it would stop let­ting ad­ver­tis­ers tar­get elec­tion ads us­ing data such as voter records and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions. Spo­tify, Pin­ter­est and TikTok have also is­sued bans.

A spokesper­son for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re-elec­tion cam­paign, which has spent more on Face­book ads than any other can­di­date, said Face­book’s ap­proach to po­lit­i­cal mes­sages was bet­ter as it “en­cour­ages more Amer­i­cans to be in­volved in the process”. But US Se­na­tor El­iz­a­beth War­ren, a Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, con­demned it for “let­ting po­lit­i­cal fig­ures lie to you”.

In a blog post, Face­book’s di­rec­tor of prod­uct man­age­ment Rob Leath­ern said they con­sid­ered im­pos­ing lim­its like Google’s, but de­cided against it as most ads run by US pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates tar­geted au­di­ences larger than 250 000 peo­ple. He said Face­book’s po­lices are based “on the prin­ci­ple peo­ple should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them”.

Vi­vian Schiller, a news ex­ec­u­tive, took is­sue with Leath­ern, say­ing: “Al­low­ing the tar­get­ing of po­lit­i­cal mes­sages to nar­row sliv­ers of the elec­torate is the op­po­site of en­abling pub­lic de­bate. It’s akin to shad­ow­box­ing.”

She said once Face­book users shared ads on their feeds, the “paid post” la­belling and fund­ing dis­clo­sure van­ished.

The changes fol­lowed a New York Times re­port this week of an in­ter­nal memo by se­nior Face­book ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Bos­worth, who told em­ploy­ees the com­pany had a duty not to tilt the scales against US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. Bos­worth sub­se­quently made his post pub­lic. He said he be­lieved Face­book was re­spon­si­ble for Trump’s elec­tion in 2016, not be­cause of mis­in­for­ma­tion or Trump’s work with Cambridge An­a­lyt­ica, but be­cause the Trump cam­paign used Face­book’s ad­ver­tis­ing tools most ef­fec­tively. –

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