– 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. –