Facebook and Google are considering plans to limit micro-targeting for political advertisements, according to The Guardian, following widespread criticism over ad policies and their effect on the democratic process.
Micro-targeting allows advertisers to precisely target small segments of users, tailoring ads for each one. In political advertising, critics are concerned that politicians can use micro-targeting to promote different platforms to voters of different demographics.
Facebook has faced escalating criticism over its role in the political process, particularly since last year’s Cambridge Analytica revelations. And last month, the company said it would not fact-check ads from politicians, drawing another wave of criticism.
Late last month, a letter from hundreds of Facebook employees, to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, called for a new approach to political ads.
In the letter, employees warned:
“The risk with allowing this is that it’s hard for people in the electorate to participate in the ‘public scrutiny’ that we’re saying comes along with political speech. These ads are often so micro-targeted that the conversations on our platforms are much more siloed than on other platforms. Currently we restrict targeting for housing and education and credit verticals due to a history of discrimination. We should extend similar restrictions to political advertising.”
Twitter has announced plans to ban political ads altogether, putting even more pressure on Facebook. And with their announcement, CEO Jack Dorsey seemed to attack Facebook’s justifications for its ad policies:
“This isn’t about free expression. 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.”
The move was first reported Monday by NBC News, which cited anonymous sources. Facebook vice-president Nick Clegg confirmed the policy change in an interview with Politico on Thursday.
“We’re now working actively to reflect, in the face of all the criticisms, on what we should do to adjust our own posture on all this. We want to get this right,” Clegg said.
Facebook and Google had both been asked by advocacy organizations to ban political ads entirely in the UK, ahead of the general election.
But despite similar political ad policies, Google has only recently begun to receive the kind of criticism that has plagued Facebook.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, employees at Google say the company is also considering changes to its political ad policies, and speculated they may limit micro-targeting. Google’s advertising policies would apply to all of its platforms, including YouTube.
“It’s encouraging that online giants are starting to take their responsibilities seriously and recognising the need to act to stop the spread of disinformation,” said Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation. “But this can’t just be left to social media platforms to take action by themselves – our analogue electoral laws need to catch up with the digital age and ensure we build a fair, free and open future.”