Facebook has reaffirmed that it has no plans to limit political ads or microtargeting on its platform, despite public criticism that has led its rivals to take action, according to AP News.
The platform has been widely criticized since it announced in October that ads and other content from politicians and candidates would be exempt from fact-checking.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has frequently said the platform shouldn’t interfere with political speech, which should be subject to open public debate. But critics say the move will allow manipulation and lies that can’t easily be scrutinized by third-parties—especially with micro-targeting that allows advertisers to show different ads to highly specific audiences.
Microtargeting can limit ads to audiences based on details like public voter records and political affiliation, allowing politicians to make statements that only reach an audience that’s inclined to believe them. It exacerbates the increasingly siloed nature of debates on social media, and effectively hides the ads from outsiders that could challenge them.
In November, Google banned microtargeting for political ads, limiting targeting to broad categories like age and postal code, after Twitter banned political ads altogether the month before.
In a blog post on Thursday, Facebook announced plans to give users some control over what political ads they see, saying again that they won’t be subject to a ban or fact-checking. Users in many countries will now have an option to see “fewer political and social issue ads.”
The platform will also allow users to search its ad library using exact phrases, and filter results based on details like dates and regions targeted. But these moves to “expand transparency,” essentially leaving it up to users to avoid misleading content, are unlikely to satisfy critics.
According to the company, “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”
Facebook said that it considered limiting targeting for political ads, but received feedback from political groups on how targeting is crucial for putting ads in front of “key audiences.”
According to US Representative David Cicilline, chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee tasked with investigating Facebook’s business practices:
“Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with transparency and choice. This is about money. Specifically, the $6 billion that will be spent on political ads in 2020 that Facebook will use to continue increasing their profits at the expense of our democracy.”
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