Ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2020, the world’s biggest social network has vowed to curb political manipulation of its platform.
Facebook failed to counter Russian interference in the 2016 election and allowed misuse of user data by defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Now, it faces intense criticism of its relatively hands-off ads policies, especially after exempting politicians’ ads from fact-checking standards applied to other content.
Facebook said it and its photo-sharing app Instagram will soon have a tool enabling individual users to choose to see fewer political and social issue ads, and will make more ad audience data publicly available.
In contrast, Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) banned political ads in October, while Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) said it would stop letting advertisers target election ads using data such as public voter records and general political affiliations. Online platforms Spotify (SPOT.N), Pinterest (PINS.N) and TikTok have also issued bans.
A spokesman for the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump, which has spent more on Facebook ads than any other candidate, said the company’s approach to political messages is better than those from Twitter and Google as it "encourages more Americans to be involved in the process."
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, condemned the company on Twitter for "standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you." She has called for Facebook’s breakup on antitrust grounds.
In a blog post, Facebook’s director of product management Rob Leathern said the company considered imposing limits like Google’s, but decided against them as internal data indicated most ads run by U.S. presidential candidates are broadly targeted, at audiences larger than 250,000 people.
Leathern wrote Facebook’s polices are based "on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all."
Facebook will roll out the expanded audience data features in the first quarter and plans to deploy the political ads control starting in the United States this summer, eventually expanding this setting to more locations.
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