Facebook breaks from Twitter and Google with permissive political ads policy
Facebook has updated its political ads policy, and the update was: No major changes to how politicians can target ads this election season. Facebook had considered taking steps like Twitter and Google to eliminate political advertising tactics that some considered harmful, but the company decided against such drastic changes despite the pressure.
On Thursday, Facebook announced its political ads decision in a blog post. “Unlike Google, we have chosen not to limit targeting of these ads,” said Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management. “We considered doing so, but through extensive outreach and consultations we heard about the importance of these tools for reaching key audiences from a wide range of NGOs, non-profits, political groups and campaigns, including both Republican and Democratic committees in the U.S.”
Last year, Twitter banned political advertising, while still allowing some leeway for special-interest advocacy. Google tweaked its political advertising rules by banning certain types of targeting. Google now prohibits campaigns from using voter lists to hyper-target individuals in search ads, on YouTube and through its ad network that reached third-party websites.
Sophisticated targeting has been a staple of digital campaigners looking to motivate voters and excite donors. The tactic, however, was exposed as potentially dangerous in 2016, when platforms were flooded with targeted disinformation campaigns. Facebook’s decision on Thursday led to renewed criticism, even from former employees.
Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, said on Twitter that he was disappointed in the policy on targeted ads and fact-checking political ads. Facebook has been hesitant to vet claims made in political ads, saying it does not want to be the arbiter of what’s truthful during elections. Democratic candidates for president, like Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, have been critical of Facebook for not removing misleading ads.
“Not a smart move for the company,” Stamos wrote on Twitter. “Targeting limits and a minimal standard on claims about opponents would represent a defensible, non-partisan and helpful position.”
There has been new political ads legislation pushed in Congress that could make policies across platforms more uniform. For instance, the Honest Ads Act would place restrictions on political ads that are similar to how TV ads are regulated.
“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Facebook’s Leathern wrote in the blog post. “We have based ours on 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 did make some changes to political advertising. Users will be able to block political advertisers from using their contact information to target them on Facebook. Also, Facebook updated its ad library, a repository where all political and issue-based ads are disclosed for purposes of transparency. The library will show more details about how the advertiser targeted the ad and how wide the potential audience was for each message.