Facebook Should Absolutely Ban Or Regulate All Political Advertising

Two weeks ago, I asked in my column  why Facebook finds it so hard to “do the right thing." 

I explained that, even if Facebook’s income from political advertising in the U.S. would double, it would become 2% instead of 1%, and is therefore insignificant for its business. At the same time, its refusal to fact-check these ads seems to border on the ridiculous. Why would you WANT politicians to peddle plain, obvious and often even damaging fake truths? Why would you want to perpetuate the existence of false political ads and create an overall crappy user and advertiser experience? It's clearly not for the money, so why not completely ban the whole practice?

Kaila Colbin, one of my fellow (and much respected) Media Insiders, tried to provide an answer. Her argument: We should not wish for the abolition of all political advertising on Facebook because we would lose the good with the bad. In her words: “If Facebook bans ‘political’ ads, the community group fighting against a new coal mine is silenced, while the fossil fuel company advertising its ‘eco-fuels’ is allowed. The parents group arguing for gun control is silenced, while the gun company advertising its new weapons is allowed. …



You want to know why Facebook doesn’t do the obvious and ban all political advertising? It’s because everything is political -- especially our choices about who does and doesn’t get to pay to have their voices amplified.”

I get this argument. But I don’t necessarily agree.

First of all, if Facebook banned all political ads, we basically go back to a time of BFB (Before Facebook). Politics happened back then, but minus the self-amplifying echo chambers and the unchecked falsehoods (including those placed by foreign entities), shareable with one click. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Secondly, I don’t think there should be a ban for platforms or causes or companies, even if they peddle black coal. But these ads should be held to the same standards as, say, ads for Heineken or ChapStick.

Heineken can’t advertise that beer is good for you, and that by drinking beer your love life and attractiveness will grow exponentially. The only thing that will grow exponentially is your gut.

Likewise, ChapStick can’t advertise it's the cure for cancer or the common cold.

But politicians’ ads COULD say any kind of claptrap because Facebook tells us that it allows us to learn and understand our political candidates better. 

Elizabeth Warren famously placed ads on Facebook with false claims that Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump "to goad the social network to remove misinformation on political ads,"  according to The New York Times.

I continue to believe that Facebook should own up to being a responsible platform and regulate what gets advertised by politicians, parties and their interest groups. Either that, or just ban ads placed by and for candidates, their parties, their PACs or any other platform whose sole objective it is to support and promote a political candidate or party.

In this scenario, the NRA is free to advertise a membership drive, but not allowed to advertise that candidate A is going to abolish the Second Amendment when that is simply not true.

The world would become a better place. Perhaps there is a role here for the newly formed Global Alliance for Responsible Media, "which is working with digital media platforms to improve their environments 'with the goal of eliminating harmful online content and ensuring that bad actors have no access to advertiser funding,'" according to a Media Daily Newspost.

5 comments about "Facebook Should Absolutely Ban Or Regulate All Political Advertising".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 27, 2020 at 8:53 a.m.

    I doubt that one could enforce a regulation that forced FB---and only FB---- to ban all political ads without making the same rule for all major sellers of ad time----the TV networks, TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, other websites, etc. Such a move would probably not pass muster in the courts. So the question, then, is how do you define fake or objectionable political ads---not only for FB but for all media sellers? And who gets to determine what is "fake" or "objectionable"?

    That said, I think that FB has developed a serious "bad image" problem and, even if the demand that it drop---or censure----political ads seems unfair without applying the same rules to other media ad sellers, FB needs to do something and do it soon. Certainly, it can't be that hard to set up a special group of humans, aided by key word analysis of ad content to flag potentially "bad" ads and, when necessary, to refuse to display them. Surely, it can't be that hard to take representative past samples of such ads---to use as prototypes---so new ones which feature the same kind of objectionable content can be identified. Or is FB simply stonewalling---hoping that it will all go away after the next election? That could be a huge mistake.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 27, 2020 at 9:35 a.m.

    Who fact-checks the fact-checkers? Snopes, for example, is notoriously biased.

  3. Tom Tyler from GCTVTexas, January 27, 2020 at 6:02 p.m.

    Facebook, Google, Twitter and the rest of "social media" should be forced to recognize that the American people do not want or need, and will not tolerate, their censorship.
    If the big social media platforms continue to function in this manner, we will dismantle them via government action.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research replied, January 27, 2020 at 6:19 p.m.

    Biased to facts.

    Something Snopes (in its various guises) has upheld from inception to the current day with many forensic cross-checks validating them.

  5. Charles Harvey from Charles Harvey Creative, January 29, 2020 at 3:53 p.m.

    Facebook should end political ads (as twitter has done). No need to monitor ads when there are none. They should also not force an individual’s (musician, artist, dog lover society or whatever) page to ‘boost’ (pay for) a post for it to reach all followers who’ve asked to be reached. This was supposed to be free. Same for a page like ‘Standing Rock’ that’s followed by concerned citizens and is not a business and is not placing paid political ads. That way, people have the reach they should have, and political parties / pacs… cannot use money to sway elections unfairly. And this would also bring facebook in line with countries other than the US. European countries like France do not allow paid political advertising. Not on TV or any media. Each candidate is given equal time to speak, but not allowed to run ads. This is what needs to happen in the US. There should be no paid political ads at all. I know agencies make a load of money on it, but it shouldn’t exist anywhere.
    Same applies to the runaway ‘healthcare industry’ in the US. It has taken over the US economy over a few decades and destroys lives with private health insurance companies that shouldn’t exist… a whole system that no other major country has.
    Well, by now you can probably guess who I’ll be voting for… thanks for not charging me for expressing my personal opinion. (paste smiley here)

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