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Facebook will allow political ads that contain lies, shifting onus onto users to avoid them

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook has said it will not block political ads that contain lies, or restrict targeted advertising, ahead of the US 2020 election.

The Silicon Valley social media giant has faced pressure to change its policies, like fellow goliaths Google and Twitter have done. But, rather than adding limits to political advertisers, it has implemented an opt-out capability for users themselves.

The news raises questions as to what role big tech companies such as Facebook play in the new era of political discourse — and the power of influence they have.

So, while it’s understandable Facebook may not be able to fact-check every single political ad it runs, this suggests it is choosing to turn a blind eye rather than even attempt a solution.

On the other hand, this is Facebook. It’s not as if it lacks resources.

Instead, the social media giant has passed the responsibility onto its users. Somehow, the onus is now on the individuals these campaigns are trying to influence, or even manipulate, to take preventative measures.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies, which is why we are arguing for regulation that would apply across the industry,” Facebook’s director of product management Rob Leathern said in a statement.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies. 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.”

Last year, Twitter announced it was banning all political advertising from its platform. Currently, its political content policy page says this is “based on our belief that political message reach should be earned, not bought”.

Google has also limited targeting of political ads.

The whole debacle raises questions as to where tech companies — particularly social media tech companies — should draw a line when it comes to political discourse, and where they should put user wellbeing before ad dollars.

Facebook has also been in the firing line this week after a story reportedly ran on Teen Vogue singing the social media site’s praises for ensuring the integrity of the election.

Though it appeared to be sponsored content, it was not labelled as such. A line later appeared saying the post was indeed sponsored, but the whole thing was deleted not long afterwards.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].