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Facebook should consider banning political advertising


SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook is considering banning political advertising on its network ahead of November parliamentary elections, according to two people who know the discussions after facing heavy pressure to allow hate speech and misinformation on its website.

The decision has not yet been finalized, said those speaking on condition of anonymity as the conversations are confidential and the company can continue with its current political advertising policy. Discussions about a potential ban on political advertising have been simmering since the end of last year, when insiders pondered the idea and asked political groups and candidates for feedback at the same time.

But the issue has come to the fore in recent weeks as the November elections approach and Facebook grapples with intensifying scrutiny of the content posted on its platform. The crux of the debate is whether banning political advertisements would help or harm “giving users a voice,” said people who know the discussions. Stopping ads could stifle speech for some groups, they said, though running political ads could also allow for more misinformation that could disenfranchise voters.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Bloomberg News had previously reported on the possible change in policy.

Should it come to a ban on political advertising, this would be a reversal for Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The social network has long made it possible for politicians and political parties to place advertisements on its network with practically no verification, even if these advertisements contained falsehoods or other misinformation.

Mr Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that he does not monitor politicians’ advertising, stating that the company is not an arbiter of the truth because he believes in freedom of expression. He also said removing political ads from the network could harm smaller, lower-ranking candidates who are less well funded than nationally prominent politicians. Political advertising makes up a negligible part of Facebook’s revenue, so any decision would not be based on financial considerations.

But this hands-free approach has generated a violent backlash against the social network. Lawmakers, civil rights groups and Facebook’s own employees have attacked it for smoldering hate speech and misinformation on its website. Last month, Biden’s presidential campaign announced it would urge its supporters to ask Facebook to strengthen its rules against misinformation. Recently, advertisers like Unilever and Coca-Cola stopped advertising on the platform in protest.

That was underscored this week with the release of a two-year review of Facebook’s policies. The review, conducted by civil rights experts and attorneys hand-picked by the company, concluded that Facebook wasn’t doing enough to protect people on the platform from discriminatory posts and ads. In particular, Facebook was too ready to let politicians run amok on the side.

“Increasing freedom of expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” they wrote. “If it means that powerful politicians don’t have to obey the same rules as everyone else, a hierarchy of speech is created that favors certain voices over less powerful voices.”

Mr Zuckerberg has maintained his position on freedom of expression even though other social media companies have taken more action against hate speech and inaccurate posts from politicians and their supporters. Twitter recently started labeling some of President Trump’s tweets as untrue or glorifying violence, while Snap has announced that it will stop promoting Mr Trump’s account on Snapchat because his speech could lead to violence. Twitch, the video game streaming site, has completely banned Mr. Trump’s account and the Internet forum Reddit banned a community of Mr. Trump’s supporters for harassment.

Last year, Twitter announced that it would ban all political ads as the viral spread of misinformation posed challenges to bourgeois discourse.

Vanita Gupta, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said it was positive that Facebook was rethinking its options, but that “what they need is a system that actually catches voter misinformation in real time.” She added, “Voter suppression is happening every day and their inaction will have a profound effect on the election.”

On Friday, some of the leading Democratic outskirts that spend a lot of money on Facebook said they had not spoken to the company about a possible ban on political advertising right before the election. A DNC spokesperson referred questions to a tweet from Nellwyn Thomas, DNC’s chief technology officer, who wrote on Friday: “We said it to @Google seven months ago and we will say it again to @Facebook: a blunt advertising ban is not a real solution for disinformation on your platform. “

Democratic officials have argued that blanket bans or restrictions on political advertising are not a sufficient way to stamp out disinformation, especially since this type of content can spread in closed Facebook groups. The ban on ads also restricts key digital tools that campaigns rely on for activities like attracting new donors and raising money for voting, they said.

Some Democrats added that the Trump campaign has a significant structural advantage on Facebook as it has built a community of more than 28.3 million followers. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the alleged Democratic presidential candidate, only has around 2.1 million followers on the social network. Eliminating the ability to pay for ads would give Mr. Trump far greater online reach than Mr. Biden, they said.

A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook is by far the preferred and most popular platform for campaigns. The Trump campaign has spent more than $ 55 million on Facebook since 2018, and the Biden campaign has spent more than $ 25 million.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco and Nick Corasaniti from New York.


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