Facebook Decides not to Ban Political Advertisements

Tiana Mohebi / January 9th, 2020

You can expect to see political ads and campaigns on your Facebook timeline.
(Pixabay)

Facebook has announced through a blog post on Thursday morning that they will not ban political ads on their website.

In the blog post, Facebook states they don’t believe private companies should be able to make decisions about political ads. They say political ads can run on their site as long as the standard rules are met (i.e. no hate speech, intimidation or harmful content).

“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, Director of Product Management at Facebook

Some of Facebook’s top competitors have taken a different approach to the topic. Twitter has banned political ads completely, while Google has taken steps to make ad targeting more difficult for political advertisers.

Anil Hira, Political Sciences Professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), believes liability issues and revenue are a couple potential reasons why Facebook is deciding not to ban political ads. He says that by not banning or even minimizing political ads, Facebook is staying on the safe side in terms of liability.

“Once they accept some responsibility, they must be very concerned about stepping into that chasm of legal liability… They don’t want to have take responsibility for vetting whether something is true or false.” – Anil Hira, SFU Political Sciences Professor

As for revenue, advertisements are a huge source of revenue for the social media giant. According to Facebook’s 2019 Financial Highlights Report, approximately $16.6 Billion dollars were generated through advertising just between April to June last year.

With billions of advertising dollars coming in annually, Hira believes that at the end of the day, Facebook’s decision regarding the ads is on par with their goal to keep their large audience hooked.

HOW COULD THEIR DECISION AFFECT USERS?

After nearly 16 years in the market and billions of active users, there’s no doubt Facebook is a legitimate social media platform. But does legitimacy necessarily equal credibility?

Hira says it’s nearly impossible to separate false information from the truth in social media environments, which makes it tricky for users who look to platforms like Facebook for legitimate facts.

“It’s a kind of a buyer beware situation where people have to adjust to this technology and realize that Facebook is not a credible source of information.” – Anil Hira, SFU Political Sciences Professor

Paul Quirk, Political Sciences Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), would agree. He says the average Facebook user can easily be susceptible to believing political advertisements on their timeline speak truth.

“Facebook users are very likely to believe what they see in ads on the site, especially if the ad agrees with their own political positions.” – Paul Quirk, UBC Political Sciences Professor

FACEBOOK’S AD LIBRARY

Facebook’s blog post explains new features they have added to their public archive tool “Ad Library”, which was launched in May 2018 and allows users to see current and past political ads from politicians and campaigns.

They have now updated the Ad Library to expand transparency and give the public more access to the behind-the-scenes of political advertising.

Facebook users can now:

  • See the target audience size for ads regarding political and social issues
  • Search for specific ads in the Ad Library using exact phrases, dates and regions
  • Have the option to see less political ads on their timeline (also applies to Instagram, since Facebook bought out Instagram back in 2012)

Facebook has also announced that they will allow users to choose how advertisers can reach them with a “Custom Audiences” control by the end of January.

Facebook is expanding user controls and transparency on their “Ad Library” tool.
(Facebook / Official Website)