Facebook doubles down on political advertising - Activate World

Facebook doubles down on political advertising

Facebook is holding fast to its political advertising approach. The social media giant will continue its controversial political advertising policies, such as allowing politicians to lie in ads they buy on Facebook or not restricting campaigns’ ability to target groups of voters with their ads. This puts Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, in opposition to some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Lunchtime questions:

  • Mark Zuckerberg says his company’s political advertising policy is about “free expression.” Does the company have a moral responsibility to monitor and remove political ads that are untrue and manipulate voters?
  • In October, Facebook employees sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg objecting to the policy as it stands and saying it represented “a threat to what FB stands for.” Should politicians be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users?
  • The Washington Post reported that Facebook was pressured last fall by the Trump campaign not to restrict advertising opportunities. What are Facebook’s policies ensuring that it will treat Democrats and Republicans equally in the 2020 elections?


  • The Trump campaign has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform and supports Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeted ads or set fact-checking standards.
  • “Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.
  • Many Democratic groups that have pushed for more regulation of Facebook when it comes to fact-checking ads. They also are opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features, which many campaigns rely on for fund-raising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers.


Political advertising highlights Facebook’s role in society, and the company is being squeezed between liberal critics who advocate for increased policing of its multiple social media platforms andconservatives, who say their views are being unfairly censored.

On Thursday, the company announced minor changes that it said would give users a measure of control over the ads they see. The changes still permit politicians to make false claims and preserve the powerful yet controversial tools that have long helped Democrats and Republicans deliver messaging to narrowly segmented audiences.

Some critics, including former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, had hoped that the company would at least limit “microtargeting” of political messages to very small groups of Facebook users. They argued that targeting — a key to the rest of Facebook’s enormously profitable advertising business — lets politicians present misleading messages to small but important blocks of voters, without much ability for others to track that messaging.

Under its new policies, Facebook said it would give users a choice to see fewer ads about political candidates and social issues, using a tool under development that it plans to roll out in the summer. Users can also choose to stop seeing ads from particular campaigns and other entities, including businesses that target them using custom lists of data, such as their email addresses. 

The company also announced it would provide more information in its public archive about the total number of people targeted in an ad campaign. Finally, it is updating its Ad Library feature, previously criticized as “effectively useless,” to make it easier to search and filter results.

Facebook should have followed actions by Twitter and other platforms on restricting political ads. Given the lack of ability to monitor and remove untrue ads, Facebook is putting the election process at risk. While they are putting the tools for citizens to see fewer ads, the better action now is for users to delete their Facebook accounts. Facebook needs to be held accountable for disrupting the American election process. 

Sources:  The New York Times, The Washington PostVox/Recode

Photo by Nghia Nguyen on Unsplash