Google and Facebook 'may ban' micro-targeted political adverts

Chris Riotta
The Google logo adorns the outside of their NYC office Google Building 8510 at 85 10th Ave on June 3, 2019 in New York City: Getty

Facebook and Google remain open to the idea of banning microtargeted political advertisements on their platforms, according to new reports.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, previously said in a controversial announcement last month his social media site would allow politicians to spread political ads featuring false or misleading statements.

Despite refusing to buckle under public pressure following that announcement, NBC News reported on Tuesday the CEO has considered “limiting the ability of candidates to target narrow groups of users,” otherwise known as microtargeting, according to three high-level sources with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Wall Street Journal also reported on Wednesday that Google was also considering changes to its policies on political advertisements, suggesting those changes “could be related to what type of audience targeting the company allows ad buyers to place”.

In an October letter, employees at Facebook urged the company’s CEO to extend policies restricting “targeting for housing and education and credit verticals due to a history of discrimination” towards political advertising.

“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,” the employees wrote. “These ads are often so microtargeted that the conversations on our platforms are much more siloed than on other platforms.”

Mr Zuckerberg has also spoken out about microtargeting, saying in a speech last month at Georgetown University: “From a business perspective, the controversy certainly isn’t worth the small part of our business they make up.”

The Facebook CEO added: “But political ads are an important part of voice, especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise.”

The CEO’s decision to allow manipulative political advertising on Facebook received swift pushback from critics and industry leaders, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who announced shortly after his platform would ban political advertising outright.

Ellen Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission, has stepped into the debate with a call for the tech giants to allow political advertising but “stop the practice of microtargeting those ads.”

In an Op-Ed published last week in the Washington Post, the chairwoman wrote: “The microtargeting of political ads may be undermining the united character of our United States.”

The microtargeting of political ads would assist in “deterring disinformation campaigns, restoring transparency and protecting the robust marketplace of ideas”, Ms Weintraub wrote.

Still, Facebook has no current plans to change the company’s policies surrounding political ads, NBC News reported.

And while Google has held internal meetings to discuss possible changes to the company’s policies on political advertising, Wall Street Journal reported that “its unclear what the changes will be”.

Read more

Facebook decry Mark Zuckerberg’s move allowing deceptive political ads