Though candidates started hitting the campaign trail last year, the arrival of 2020 marks the official start of election season. And where there’s a U.S. Presidential election, there’s ample opportunity for political ads, disinformation campaigns and other digital mischief.
In response to reports of election interference and fake news in the 2016 election, some of the biggest web platforms are changing the way they handle political ads. Twitter went as far as banning them altogether. Tap or click here to see how social media platforms are reacting to political ads in 2020.
But what about the biggest platform of them all? Facebook, now infamously connected to scandals like Cambridge Analytica, has announced it’s restricting microtargeting and letting users control how many ads they see — but are they really keeping their word about reducing these ads? Nope!
Newsflash: Facebook says one thing, does another
As part of its alleged effort to curb disinformation and political ads on Facebook, the company recently announced it would ban deepfake videos from its platform. While this is a step in the right direction, it ignores some of the biggest complaints users have about politics on the site.
Now, as part of a new policy, the company has announced it’s giving users the ability to filter political ads more effectively. Facebook posted a bulletin that outlines its new update as a preference panel in user ad settings. This will be unrolled to Facebook users by early summer of this year.
In the company’s words, this is a “common request” from users that has now been fulfilled.
So in the span of a few weeks, we get bans on deepfakes and reduced political ads. It sure seems like Facebook is on a better path, right? Well, they would be if they didn’t refuse to fact-check ads and fake news posts.
Fake news and microtargeting are still A-OK for Facebook
In the same bulletin, Facebook doubled down on its approach to fact-checking and microtargeting for ads. Although users will be able to restrict the amount of ads they see, campaigns can still rely on microtargeting methods to reach as many voters as possible.
Microtargeting, which relies heavily on personal Facebook data, is the same tactic that got Facebook in trouble with Cambridge Analytica. Tap or click here for more details on that scandal.
And as for fact-checking, Facebook decided debunking fake news is a free speech issue. Rather than taking charge of the issue itself, Facebook would prefer an industry-wide regulation take place at the government level.
… 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.Rob Leathern, Facebook Director of Product Management
To its credit, Facebook did pledge to remove ads that “violate the platforms rules.” This likely refers to any ads that incite violence or hatred, or ads that would promote the coordinated harassment of an individual online. At least, that’s what we hope.
But we wouldn’t hold our collective breath. According to an exclusive from Buzzfeed News, Facebook continues to allow misinformation about vaccines to propagate on the platform, despite an explicit ban on this kind of content.
While many of the ads do not contain outright disinformation, the accounts that post them often contain false or misleading medical “facts.” It just goes to show how well Facebook follows its own rules.
So, at this point in time it’s up to Facebook users to be the arbiters of truth. That’s one of the reasons learning how to spot disinformation and fake news is going to be so important in the coming decade. Tap or click here to take a test to see if you can spot fake news.