Commentary

Publishers Score Facebook Victory, But Possible Conflict Looms

Publishers scored a victory this week with Facebook’s move to stop including some of their advertising in its archive of political ads.

The decision is another sign that Facebook management is fine-tuning the procedures for handling political content after years of withering criticism. But the company is likely to face more hostility when it starts picking which publishers can be considered legitimate.

For months, news organizations bristled at the social network’s issue ads policy that lumped news articles about politics with political and advocacy ads. Facebook enacted the policy in the weeks after CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a public grilling on Capitol Hill about the company’s role in the 2016 presidential elections and its mishandling of user data.

Seven trade groups representing publishers and broadcasters, including The New York Times and 21st Century Fox in June sent a letter to Facebook criticizing its decision.

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Next year, the social network won’t require publishers that want to buy ads highlighting their articles on politics to go through its ad transparency process, the company said in a blog post Thursday.

The company’s current rules say ads promoting political content, including news about politics and elections, are put in a public archive for as long as seven years. The repository has information about who paid for a political ad and demographic data for the ad’s viewers.

Facebook split the archive into two sections this year, including one for ads promoting political candidates and issues, and one for ads promoting news stories about politics. The social network put publishers in a separate news section, based on their membership in industry associations.

The social network is still putting the final touches on the criteria for determining which media organizations will be exempt from its political ad rules next year, Rob Leathem, director of product management, Facebook, said in his blog post.

That still means Facebook has to determine which media organizations are credible. Entrenched media giants will benefit from those decisions, while media startups and smaller publishers may find themselves facing greater hurdles to satisfy the conditions of legitimacy.

If the new policy is another way to censor political speech and stifle debate, Facebook risks alienating even more people who rightfully don’t trust the company or its mission of “connecting people.”

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