Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads

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Mike Isaac

c.2020 The New York Times Company

 

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Thursday that it would not make any major changes to its political advertising policies, which allow lies in ads, despite pressure from lawmakers who say the company is abdicating responsibility for what appears on its platform.

The decision, which company executives had telegraphed in recent months, is likely to harden criticism of Facebook’s political ad practices heading into this year’s presidential election.

The company also said it would not end so-called microtargeting for political ads, which lets campaigns home in on a sliver of Facebook’s users — a tactic that critics say is ideal for spreading divisive or misleading information.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms and conservatives who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that 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.”

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.