Facebook gave 4 reasons why it's ready to lose money and credibility to continue running political adverts

Flickr/American Life LeagueAnti-abortion campaigner Lila Rose bought Facebook ads around the Irish referendum.
  • Facebook has given four reasons why it is not going to ban political advertising anytime soon.
  • The company made the decision despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitting that it will make a loss on running ads around elections.
  • Policing ads will be “costly,” Facebook said, and they only represent a “single-digit percentage” of their almost $US40 billion ad business.
  • Political ads also continue to be a source of controversy, including during Ireland’s abortion referendum.

Facebook has spelled out why it’s not about to ban political advertising anytime soon, despite ads around elections losing the company money and stoking controversy.

In a blog post published on Thursday, Katie Harbath, global politics and government outreach director, and Public Policy Director Steve Satterfield said Facebook had “taken a hard look at political advertising” and decided that the “benefits outweighed the potential harm.”

They listed four reasons why:

  1. Banning political ads would “tilt the scales in favour of incumbent politicians and candidates with deep pockets.”
  2. Digital advertising is cheaper than print and TV equivalents, providing “less well-funded candidates” the opportunity to get messages out to potential voters.
  3. The digital ad model is particularly helpful in local elections.
  4. Facebook ads raise awareness about important challenges, helping “people across communities to fight for a common cause.”

Facebook insisted the decision has nothing to do with how much money it makes from political ads. The company said it was “not about revenue” because policing adverts is “going to be costly.”

So costly, in fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that the firm is “essentially going to be losing money on running political ads” because it is hiring “thousands” of people to verify them.

Facebook has never revealed how much money it makes from advertising around elections, but Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said last month it’s a “relatively small part” of its ad business.

He told British lawmakers that even at its peak during major elections “it is a low, single-digit percentage.” This puts it between $US400 million (£300 million) and $US3.6 billion of Facebook’s total 2017 ad revenue of nearly $US40 billion.

Political ads also present a huge credibility problem for Facebook amid ongoing fears about election meddling. In their blog, Harbath and Satterfield admitted that political ads on Facebook are “inherently controversial” – and this has been backed up by recent evidence.

Facebook had to ban foreign adverts during Ireland’s abortion referendum because US and Canadian campaign groups were trying to sway the vote. Facebook is rolling out the same tools used to identify these foreign ads to the US ahead of the midterm elections.

“We won’t always get it right. We know we’ll miss some ads and in other cases we’ll identify some we shouldn’t. We’ll keep working on the process and improve as we go,” Harbath and Satterfield said.

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