Facebook is extremely unwilling to ensure the content of political ads is factual, but will now let you turn them off.
The social network has faced intense criticism over its refusal to remove ads from the Trump campaign that contain false information, but will hope new controls will appease many advocates for action.
Starting today in the US, Facebook and Instagram users will be able to place a blanket block on all “Paid for by” ads for “all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organisations.”
That’s a significant shift in policy from the company, especially given the 2020 US elections are a matter of months from now and there’s a lot of money to be made from political apps between now and then. However, it does nothing to ensure the content of advertisements is any more truthful.
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On Facebook, users will be able to select “hide this app and see fewer about social issues, elections and politics in the future” by selecting drop down menu from the ad itself. From the ad preferences settings menu, users can select Ad Topics > Social Issues, Elections or Politics and choose “See fewer ads about this topic”.
It’s a very similar process for ads on Instagram.
While the option is only going to be available in the United States initially, Facebook says it does plan on bringing the new controls to other countries in due course.
Elsewhere, Facebook is also attempting to make ads more transparent by listing ad spending for US House and Senate races, while ensuring the “Paid for by” disclaimer continues to appear on ads after they’ve been shared.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has been at odds with many Facebook employees over the refusal to remove ads making false claims, has today written on the matter in a piece for USA Today. However, today’s development essentially gives politicians like Trump, whose campaign has consistently made inaccurate claims in its advertising, a free pass to continue telling lies.
Zuckerberg says: “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. We have rules against speech that will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is exempt from them. But accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say.
“Ultimately, I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves. That’s why I think we should maintain as open a platform as possible, accompanied by ambitious efforts to boost voter participation.”