Critics Blast Facebook's Latest Punt On Political Ads

Facebook's new plan for political ads isn't going over much better than its old one.

On Thursday morning, the company said it would give users marginally more control by allowing them to limit the political ads that appear in their newsfeeds.

But Facebook will continue to allow politicians to lie about their opponents, and will continue to allow campaigns to use targeting tools to serve those ads to highly specific audiences.

“Outrageous. This is Facebook’s idea of change?” tweeted Sacha Baron Cohen, who criticized the company last year, in a highly publicized speech delivered at an Anti-Defamation League event. “Mark, the demagogues of the world thank you!”



Presidential candidate Joe Biden added: “Facebook continues to put their profits over the truth -- allowing politicians like Donald Trump to spend an unthinkable amount of money on paid disinformation. Our democracy is worse off for their failure to confront this.”

Biden has particular reason to be aggrieved, given that he is a victim of misinformation in a recent Facebook ad put out by President Donald Trump's campaign.

That ad falsely implied that when Biden was vice president, he pressured the Ukraine government to fire its chief prosecutor for personal reasons. The Obama administration actually wanted the prosecutor fired for failing to investigate corruption among Ukraine's politicians.

Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, tweeted that Facebook's plan “suggests the company has no idea how seriously it is hurting democracy.”

She added: “I strongly urge Facebook to go back to the drawing boards and come back with something much more robust. This will not do.”

Weintraub previously urged Facebook to limit politicians' ability to microtarget ads, arguing that the strategy enables campaigns to spread lies to specific audiences, while avoiding the scrutiny that would come from broader distribution.

"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 November in a Washington Post op-ed.

Facebook on Thursday also restated its support for the Honest Ads Act, a proposed bill that would subject large digital platforms to some of the same political ad disclosure requirements as television broadcasters.

The bill's sponsored were unimpressed.

“While I’m glad Facebook has reiterated its support for the Honest Ads Act and that it will come into fuller compliance with the ad transparency requirements it establishes, the core problem is an unwillingness to remove demonstrably false content in political advertising,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) tweeted.

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) chimed in that Facebook was “doubling down on a policy that hurts our democracy.”

She added: “It is wrong to take money from political campaigns in exchange for disseminating blatant lies to the American people.”

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