Facebook mulls political ad ban in lead-up to USA elections

Elias Hubbard
July 11, 2020

Still, there are concerns that an ad blackout may hurt "get out the vote" campaigns, or limit a candidate's ability to respond widely to breaking news or new information.

Why it matters: The tech giant has been facing intense scrutiny for allowing politicians and advocacy groups to micro-target political ads on its platform, and for not fact-checking the ads.

Should Facebook impose a temporary moratorium on political advertising, it would mark a striking departure from its policy, announced past year, to allow such a freewheeling approach to campaign-related speech that politicians were free to lie without fear of being subject to the company's network of fact-checkers.

On Friday, some of the top Democratic outside groups that are major spenders on Facebook said they had not discussed with the company any potential banning of political ads closer to the election. Hundreds of advertisers are now boycotting Facebook's marketing products as part of a protest against its policies.

Ad blackouts before elections are common in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, where Facebook's global head of policy, Nick Clegg, was once deputy prime minister.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. "Who does that sound like?" It was among a series of ideas that Facebook ultimately decided against adopting in January, when it announced it would instead allow users to have more control over the political ads they view.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Biden's digital director Rob Flaherty pointed to the issue of misinformation in unpaid content on the site.

Nell Thomas, chief technology officer for the Democratic National Committee, was also skeptical. Last month, the Biden presidential campaign said it would begin urging its supporters to demand that Facebook strengthen its rules against misinformation. "A blunt ads ban is not a real solution to disinformation on your platform".

"This would be an egregious stifling of political speech, and is particularly wrong if Facebook allows news organizations to continue to run their biased ads while campaign speech is silenced", Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. The Trump campaign has spent more than $55 million on Facebook since 2018, and the Biden campaign has spent more than $25 million. In contrast, Facebook generated more than $17 billion in its latest quarter. Discussions on potentially banning political ads have simmered since late a year ago, they said, as insiders weighed the idea while reaching out to political groups and candidates for feedback.

Google's YouTube has already sold ad space on its homepage to the Trump campaign for the days leading up to November's election - a deal that ensures Trump will be highly visible on the video service when people start to vote. The audit, conducted by civil rights experts and lawyers who were hand-picked by the company, concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people on the platform from discriminatory posts and ads.

Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth, a longtime Zuckerberg confidante, wrote in an internal company blog post last winter that Facebook's ad policies, if left unchanged, would likely lead to Trump's reelection because his campaign used the platform so effectively in 2016 and would do so again.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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