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“Gun-based ad technology”: Facebook’s Moneymaker gets a critical look


Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, said the archive and other changes would “help prevent misuse of the company’s advertising tools.”

“It is no longer possible to secretly advertise on Facebook,” Leathern said in a statement.

However, critics, including some civil rights experts and researchers, say Facebook’s recent efforts have done little to disable microtargeting as the engine of voter manipulation. For example, the company’s new political advertising archive does not contain any information on the criteria used to target voters.

In the United States, a Senate bill known as the Honest Ads Act would require online services to provide descriptions of every audience targeted by a political ad. The bill, introduced by Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both Democrats, and Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona, is still on the committee.

Some experts warn that limiting microtargeting too much could have negative consequences. They say it could limit the political information given to first-time voters or newcomers, who are already low-priority for many campaigns.

“If we overcorrect too much and take away the opportunity to reach people who may be less involved in politics, we also lose the ability to get them excited about participating in politics,” says Daniel Kreiss, associate professor at the from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on political microtargeting.

The problem, say critics of microtargeting, is that even a small amount of money could potentially have a large negative impact.

For example, to stir up fear in Latinos, the Internet Research Agency used Facebook last year to target an ad to users interested in Mexico, Latin American hip-hop, and the Chicano movement. The ad showed a caricature of immigrants standing in front of a barbed wire border with a “No Trespassing” sign. “We didn’t come to steal your jobs,” they said, “we came to make a living.”

The Russian group paid 10.6 rubles – about 16 cents – for the Facebook ad, which was viewed 283 times. But the targeting was so successful that the selected group distributed the ad, which eventually got 16,000 reactions and 95,000 shares.


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