Face­book again re­fuses to ban po­lit­i­cal ads, even false ones

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Bar­bara Ortutay and Mae Anderson

SAN FRAN­CISCO — De­spite es­ca­lat­ing pres­sure ahead of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Face­book reaf­firmed its free­wheel­ing pol­icy on po­lit­i­cal ads Thurs­day, say­ing it won’t ban them, won’t fact-check them and won’t limit how they can be tar­geted to spe­cific groups of peo­ple.

In­stead, Face­book said it will of­fer users slightly more con­trol over how many po­lit­i­cal ads they see and make its on­line li­brary of po­lit­i­cal ads eas­ier to browse.

These steps ap­pear un­likely to as­suage crit­ics — in­clud­ing politi­cians, ac­tivists, tech com­peti­tors and some of the com­pany’s own rank-and-file em­ploy­ees — who say that Face­book has too much power and that so­cial me­dia is warp­ing democ­racy and un­der­min­ing elec­tions.

And Face­book’s stance stands in con­trast to what its ri­vals are do­ing. Google has de­cided to limit tar­get­ing of po­lit­i­cal ads, while Twit­ter is ban­ning them out­right.

“To­day’s an­nounce­ment is more win­dow dress­ing around their de­ci­sion to al­low paid mis­in­for­ma­tion,” said Bill Russo, a cam­paign spokesman for Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den.

So­cial me­dia com­pa­nies have been try­ing to tackle mis­in­for­ma­tion since it was learned that Rus­sians bankrolled thou­sands of fake po­lit­i­cal ads dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions to sow dis­cord among Amer­i­cans.

The fears go be­yond for­eign in­ter­fer­ence. In re­cent months, Face­book, Twit­ter and Google re­fused to re­move a mis­lead­ing video ad from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign that tar­geted Bi­den.

Face­book has re­peat­edly in­sisted it won’t fact-check po­lit­i­cal ads. CEO Mark Zucker­berg has ar­gued that “po­lit­i­cal speech is im­por­tant” and that Face­book doesn’t want to in­ter­fere with it.

Crit­ics say that stance gives politi­cians a li­cense to lie.

Face­book said in a blog post Thurs­day that it was guided by the prin­ci­ple that “peo­ple should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scru­ti­nized and de­bated in pub­lic.”

Face­book also called for govern­ment reg­u­la­tion of po­lit­i­cal ads, say­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies should not be the ones to make rules about them.

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