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Facebook ends political advertising ban


SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook said Wednesday it plans to lift the ban on political advertising across its network and resume a form of digital advertising that has been criticized for spreading misinformation and falsehoods and igniting voters.

According to a copy of an email sent to political advertisers viewed by the New York Times, the social network said it would allow advertisers to purchase new ads on “social issues, elections or politics” starting Thursday. These advertisers are required to run a series of identity checks before they are authorized to serve the ads, the company said.

“We introduced this temporary ban after the November 2020 elections to avoid confusion or abuse after election day,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We heard a lot of feedback and learned more about political and electoral advertising during this election cycle. So we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work on our service to see where further changes might be appropriate. “

Political advertising on Facebook has long been faced with questions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would be largely reluctant to speak on the site – including political advertisements – unless it would directly harm the public or individuals and said he “doesn’t want to be”. the arbiter of truth. “

But after the 2016 presidential election, the company and intelligence agencies discovered that Russians had used Facebook ads to sow dissatisfaction among Americans. Former President Donald J. Trump also used Facebook’s political ads to reinforce allegations of an “invasion” of the Mexican border in 2019, among other things.

Facebook banned political advertising late last year to ward off misinformation and threats of violence surrounding the presidential election in November. In September, the company announced it would ban new political ads for the week leading up to election day and take quick action against posts that tried to prevent people from voting. In October, Facebook then expanded this action by stating that it would ban all political and thematic advertising after polling stations were closed indefinitely on November 3rd.

The company eventually took action against groups and sites that were distributing certain types of misinformation, such as: It has spent billions of dollars stamping out foreign influence campaigns and other forms of interference from malicious government agencies and other bad actors.

In December, Facebook lifted the ban to allow some advertisers to run ads on Georgia’s political issues and running for the January Senate runoff in the state. But otherwise the ban remained in force for the remaining 49 states.

Views on how political advertising should be treated on Facebook are downright mixed. Politicians, who are often little known, can use Facebook to raise their profile and raise awareness of their campaigns.

“Political advertising is not a bad thing in itself,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and author of a book about the impact of Facebook on democracy. “They do an essential service by directly representing the concerns or positions of the candidate.”

He added, “If you ban all campaign ads on the most accessible and affordable platform, you tend the balance to candidates who can afford radio and television.”

New York Democrat MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also said political advertising on Facebook can be a critical component of the Democrats’ digital campaigning strategies.

Some political ad buyers welcomed the lifting of the ad ban.

“The advertising ban was something Facebook did to appease the public for the misinformation that was being spread through the platform,” said Eileen Pollet, digital campaign strategist and founder of Ravenna Strategies. “But it hurt really good actors, while bad actors had a completely free hand. And now, especially since the election, the ban has really hurt nonprofits and local organizations. “

Facebook has long tried to thread the needle between a forceful moderation of its guidelines and a lighter note. Mr Zuckerberg has for years defended politicians’ right to say what they want on Facebook, but that changed last year when concerns about potential violence related to the November elections increased.

In January, Facebook banned Mr. Trump from using his account and posting on the platform after delegitimizing election results on social media and instigating a violent uprising among his supporters that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Facebook said Mr. Trump’s suspension was “indefinite”. The decision is now under review by the Facebook Oversight Board, a company-formed third party comprised of journalists, academics, and others who are making some of the company’s delicate decisions on how to enforce the content policy. A decision should be made in the next few months.

On Thursday, political advertisers on Facebook can submit new ads or activate existing, already approved political ads, the company said. Each ad comes with a small disclaimer stating that it was “paid for” by a political organization. For those buying new ads, it can take up to a week to complete the identity authorization and ad verification process, according to Facebook.


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