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Google is limiting the scope of political ad targeting

Facebook has adopted pretty loose political ad rules, Twitter has banned them completely and now Google has revealed it’ll be somewhere in the middle. The company has explained its new approach for election ads: campaigners can target by age, gender and location, but nothing more specific than that.

While we’ve never offered granular microtargeting of election ads, we believe there’s more we can do to further promote increased visibility of election ads,” wrote Scott Spencer, vice president of Product Management at Google Ads. 

“Political advertisers can, of course, continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy. This will align our approach to election ads with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and print, and result in election ads being more widely seen and available for public discussion.”

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These changes will take “some time” to implement, but Google has a timetable lined up, and it starts with the UK where the looming election has created a sense of urgency. It’ll be here “within a week” before hitting the rest of the EU by the end of 2019. Everywhere else will follow on January 6 2020.

Unlike Facebook, Google has also said it will take a stand on misleading ads and deepfakes. “It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim — whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died,” Spencer wrote. 

To make this explicit, the company is clarifying its ad policies and adding examples of things which are considered political no-nos, such as “misleading claims about the census process”, ads with “demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust” and the aforementioned deepfakes. 

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Perhaps aware that this could be biting off more than it can chew during election time, Spencer adds that “we recognise that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy” and that nobody can “sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim and insinuation.” As a result of this, Spencer optimistically states that he doesn’t expect Google to wield the ban hammer very often, but “will continue to do so for clear violations.”

This puts a bit more pressure on Facebook to act, but probably not enough for a clear change of course. After all, it took the shock election of Donald Trump and the sudden scrutiny of grubby online campaigning for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shift from his professed view that Facebook influencing an election was a “pretty crazy idea.”

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