- Facebook has the largest reach of any social network in the world, with over 2 billion users.
- The size of Facebook’s ad network has led to issues of fake news. And while the company has made efforts to fact-check some posts on the platform, Facebook has said that it would not fact-check political ads or alert users to falsehoods in the ads.
- Facebook’s decision to not moderate political advertising has been criticised by users, politicians, and even some of the company’s own employees.
- Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, remains steadfast that the decision is intended to support users’ direct access to political speech.
- But a new report in The Washington Post shows that cracks are beginning to develop in Zuckerberg’s stance: Facebook is considering labelling political ads as not fact-checked, according to the report.
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Facebook is the largest advertising platform in the world, with the power to reach over 2 billion users directly. That’s why the company’s decision to not fact-check political advertising, even when the ads contain falsehoods, has been so controversial.
The company decided to fact-check some posts after concerns of widespread fake news on the platform, but in September said it would not extend the same moderation to political advertising. Politicians have lambasted the company for it, as have some of Facebook’s own employees. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has remained steadfast in his argument that political advertising is equivalent to political speech. As recently as this week, Zuckerberg said in an interview with CBS This Morning cohost Gayle King, “In a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying so they can make their own judgments. I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
But a new report on Friday in the Washington Post reveals that Facebook is considering some major structural changes to how it shows political ads.
Specifically, Facebook is considering a label on political ads that spells out that they haven’t been fact-checked.
Discussions within Facebook appear to be ongoing, and the report says that a variety of ideas have been floated as the social media giant holds ongoing discussions with officials from both major political parties.
Beyond straight up labelling ads as not fact-checked, the company is also reportedly considering imposing a variety of limits on political ad campaigns – from limitations on total number of ads run to limitations on ad targeting.
Facebook has yet to announce any official changes to its political ad policy. “We are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads,” a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider.
Facebook isn’t the only major social media company facing the difficult question of how to deal with political advertising.
Twitter, for instance, chose to outright ban political ads.
“This isn’t about free expression,” Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey,said on Twitter in October, when he announced the network’s ad policy change. “This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”
Some politicians praised the move, including Hillary Clinton and former vice president Joe Biden, but President Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said that the move was “yet another attempt to silence conservatives.”
In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, the Democratic National Committee stated opposition to an outright ban on political ads on Facebook. “Banning political ads or severely inhibiting targeting capabilities on Facebook would not be in our party’s best interest nor in the best interest of promoting voter participation,” the letter said.
If Facebook were to ban political ads, it would run into another issue – one that Twitter is almost certain to face: deciding what is and isn’t “political” speech.
Zuckerberg highlighted as much during a speech he gave at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in October.
“Even if we wanted to ban political ads, it’s not clear where we’d draw the line,” he said in the speech. “There are many more ads about issues than there are directly about elections. Would we ban all ads about healthcare or immigration or women’s empowerment? If we banned candidates’ ads but not these, would that really make sense to give everyone else a voice in political debates except the candidates themselves?”
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