Facebook Tightens Political Advertising Rules Ahead Of US Election

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Rule change for political ads to make clear who paid for it, as social networking giant seeks to tighten rules ahead of US presidential election

Facebook has announced it will introduce more ‘control and transparency’ for political adverts, as it continues to resist pressure for a complete ban on political ads on its platform.

The social network also announced plans to boost voter turnout in US presidential elections slated for November this year.

The policy tweaks comes as Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg continues to face pressure. Earlier this month nearly three dozen former Facebook employees posted an open letter to him in protest at his decision not to act on controversial posts by US President Donald Trump.

Zuckerberg pressure

Days before that Zuckerberg and his management team had to defend their decision at a tense all-hands meeting after staff (including some senior managers) staged a virtual walk-out, and took to social media to rebuke their employer over the matter.

Zuckerberg had already faced criticism last year after he controversially decided Facebook would not fact-check political advertising on the platform.

Unlike Twitter, which in October last year opted to ban all political advertising on its platform, and then last month Twitter began applying (for the first time) a fact-checking disclaimer to two of the US President’s tweets, Facebook has adopted a much more hands-off approach.

Donald Trump responded to Twitter applying fact-checking labels to his posts by first threatening to close down all social networking firms, and then signing an executive order that also pulled federal advertising from those platforms.

Facebook for its part has since 2018 labelled political advertising in response to criticism over its role about Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.

Facebook also recently said it would label posts by Russian, Chinese and other state-controlled media organisations on its platforms.

Political ad labelling

But now Facebook has announced it is tightening its policies around political ads, to avoid a loophole.

Firstly, Facebook said it apply disclaimer labels to political ads shared by users on their own feeds. Since 2018 it had attached a “paid for by” disclaimer to political ads, but the label disappeared once people shared the ads to their own feeds.

Critics argued this undermined Facebook’s policy and allowed misinformation to continue spreading unchecked.

“Starting today for some people and rolling out to everyone in the US over the next few weeks, people will be able to turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organisations that have the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them,” said Facebook.

It said it was rolling out this option in the US to start, and it will aim to make it available in countries later.

“We’re also taking two additional steps to make political advertising more transparent,” said Facebook. “Previously, when someone shared a political or issue ad to their profile or posted it on a Page, the ‘Paid for by’ political disclaimer did not appear on shares, creating confusion about whether the share was an ad or not. Starting today, disclaimers will stay on any political or issue ad that is shared so people can see who is behind it and who paid for it.”

Facebook also said it is adding a new feature to the Ad Library, allowing users to track ad spending for US House and Senate races, in addition to spending for the candidates in the Presidential race.

Four Million Votes

Furthermore, Facebook also announced that it will try and encourage more people to vote in the upcoming election, with its goal to get an additional four million people registered to vote, via its Voting Information Center.

“With the US elections less than five months away, today Facebook is launching the largest voting information campaign in American history,” it said. “We’re building a new Voting Information Center that will give millions of people accurate information about voting, while also giving them the tools they need to register and make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

“Our goal is to help register 4 million voters this year using Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, and help them get to the polls so they can hold our leaders accountable,” it said.. “This goal is double the estimated 2 million people we helped register in both 2018 and 2016.”

It said that the Voting Information Center will also be a place where people can get information about registering to vote, or requesting an absentee or mail-in ballot, depending on the rules in their state.

It will start this summer by putting the Voting Information Center at the top of people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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