Facebook Reportedly Mulls Curbs On Microtargeted Political Ads

Facebook is considering limiting political campaigns' use of “microtargeting” tools, Nick Clegg, the company's head of global affairs, reportedly said this week.

“We’re working on a whole series of possible amendments and changes to our approach on political ads," Clegg said Thursday, according to Politico.

Clegg, a former deputy prime minister in the UK, also answered in the affirmative when asked whether the company could restrict microtargeting, which involves serving ads to people based on the combination of demographics, online behavior, voter registration records and other behavior.

Clegg's comments to Politico came shortly after NBC reported that Facebook may curb political campaigns' ability to use microtargeting.

For weeks, Facebook has been fending off criticism over its approach to political ads -- including its decision to allow political campaigns to lie in their ads. The current controversy began last month, when it emerged that President Donald Trump was using Facebook's platform to run an attack ad implying that former Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukraine government to fire its chief prosecutor for personal reasons. The ad falsely suggests that Biden wanted the prosecutor fired because he was investigating an energy company with ties to Biden's son. The Obama administration actually wanted the prosecutor fired for failing to investigate corruption among Ukraine's politicians, according to press reports.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a speech last month that the company considered prohibiting political ads, but decided that doing so could give incumbents an advantage.

Some employees criticized that stance in a letter to Zuckerberg, and urged the company to attempt to curb the spread of lies in ads. Among other measures, the employees say the company should prohibit political campaigns from using microtargeting techniques.

Federal Election Commission chair Ellen Weintraub also urged web companies to limit microtargeting of political ads, arguing that the technique enables campaigns to spread lies to specific audiences, while avoiding the scrutiny that would come from a broader audience.

"It is easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad," she wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

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