Face­book to let users opt out of see­ing po­lit­i­cal ads

Orlando Sentinel - - Business - By Mike Isaac

SAN FRAN­CISCO — For months, Face­book has weath­ered crit­i­cism for its will­ing­ness to show all types of po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing to its bil­lions of users, even if those ads con­tained lies.

Now the com­pany is chang­ing — sort of. This week, the so­cial net­work said it would al­low peo­ple in the United States to opt out of see­ing so­cial is­sue, elec­toral or po­lit­i­cal ads from can­di­dates or po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees in their Face­book or Instagram feeds. The abil­ity to hide those ads will be­gin with a small group of users in the com­ing weeks, be­fore rolling out to the rest of the United States and later to sev­eral other coun­tries.

“Ev­ery­one wants to see politi­cians held ac­count­able for what they say — and I know many peo­ple want us to moder­ate and re­move more of their con­tent,” Mark Zucker­berg, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Face­book, wrote in an op-ed in USA To­day on Tues­day. “For those of you who’ve al­ready made up your minds and just want the elec­tion to be over, we hear you — so we’re also in­tro­duc­ing the abil­ity to turn off see­ing po­lit­i­cal ads. We’ll still re­mind you to vote.”

The move al­lows Face­book to play both sides of a com­pli­cated de­bate about the role of po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing on so­cial me­dia be­fore the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. With the change, Face­book can con­tinue al­low­ing po­lit­i­cal ads to flow across its net­work, while also find­ing a way to re­duce the reach of those ads and to of­fer a con­ces­sion to crit­ics who have said the com­pany should do more to moder­ate nox­ious speech on its plat­form.

Zucker­berg has long said that Face­book would not po­lice and moder­ate po­lit­i­cal ads. That’s be­cause the com­pany does not want to limit the speech of can­di­dates, he has said, es­pe­cially in smaller elec­tions and those can­di­dates who do not have the deep pock­ets of the ma­jor cam­paigns.

But crit­ics, in­clud­ing Joe Bi­den’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, have ar­gued that Face­book’s ap­proach has dan­ger­ous con­se­quences, with un­truth­ful po­lit­i­cal ads lead­ing to the spread­ing of disinforma­tion and po­ten­tial voter dis­en­fran­chise­ment. Some Repub­li­cans have ar­gued that Face­book should not act as an ar­biter of what can and can­not be posted in ads, and that the com­pany’s in­ter­ven­tion amounts to cen­sor­ship.

The Bi­den pres­i­den­tial cam­paign lashed out at Face­book over its hands-off pol­icy on po­lit­i­cal ads last Oc­to­ber af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign re­leased ads on the so­cial net­work that falsely claimed that Bi­den had of­fered to bribe Ukrainian of­fi­cials to drop an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his son. The Bi­den cam­paign has since called for the com­pany to fact-check ads from can­di­dates and their cam­paigns.

Face­book has pre­vi­ously mod­i­fied what some users can see with po­lit­i­cal ads. In Jan­uary, the com­pany said it would al­low peo­ple the op­tion to see fewer such ads. The update an­nounced Tues­day will let them opt out en­tirely.

Other so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies have taken a harder line on po­lit­i­cal ads. Last year, Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey said Twit­ter would ban all po­lit­i­cal ads be­cause they pre­sented chal­lenges to civic dis­course.

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