Facebook Reinstates Political Ads Pause In Georgia, As Critics Slam It For Allowing False Ads

Facebook announced that it will resume suspension of political, elections and social issue ads in Georgia following the conclusion of the state’s Jan. 5 runoff elections for its two Senate seats.

Facebook implemented a temporary nationwide political ad ban following the national election on Nov. 3, but lifted that in Georgia starting Dec. 16, in the run-up to the runoff contests.

The platform said it lifted the Georgia ads pause in response to “feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about the importance of expressing voice and using [Facebook’s] tools to reach voters” ahead of the runoffs.

The platform has yet to say when it will lift the nationwide political ads pause.

Meanwhile, watchdog groups — pointing to numerous instances of Facebook allowing ads with false claims during the Georgia runoff contests — are leaning into calls for imposed oversight of political ads on Facebook.

According to preliminary research conducted by left-leaning global human rights group Avaaz and shared with The Washington Post, nearly 100 Facebook ads related to the Georgia elections included claims “that have been debunked or labeled as distortions by major news organizations — including some of Facebook’s fact-checking partners,” reports the Post.

“Facebook has removed some of the ads from super PACs identified in the Avaaz research for violating its policies, but many others were left untouched,” the newspaper adds. “The research also exposes the limits of the social network's policies on political misinformation: Nearly half of the ads Avaaz flagged were shared by candidates in the race, and therefore not subjected to fact-checking because of the broad exemptions that Facebook has created for politicians on its platform.” 

Avaaz Campaign Director Nathan Miller called it “disturbing” that Facebook not only failed to protect voters from disinformation in the general election, but also failed to do so in Georgia, which represents a “very, very small universe” for the platform.

In response, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said that Facebook is “connecting people to reliable information about the election and deploying the teams and technology we used in the general election to fight voter suppression.”

Stone added that “the campaign claims highlighted in the Avaaz report are also appearing on TV, radio, and in direct mail; the difference is Facebook’s ad library is transparent, making the claims more readily available for scrutiny.”

The Avaaz research, which was limited to Facebook, analyzed ads from both liberal and conservative advertisers, but only found disinformation in conservative advertisers’ copy.

The Post notes that “the continued scrutiny of disinformation on Facebook could further Democrats' push to reform political ads on the platform” and that Avaaz is pushing for reforms such as mandatory fact-independent fact-checking of political ads prior to their posting on Facebook, and “restricting privileges of advertisers that repeatedly share false and misleading content.”

In late November, several Democratic senators sent letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey urging them to intensify their efforts to curb misinformation during the Georgia runoffs.

Facebook’s performance in Georgia is also being slammed by the group that calls itself “The Real Facebook Oversight Board.” That group, comprising two dozen experts from academia, politics and journalism working with civil rights leaders, was formed in September as “an emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms.”

The group yesterday issued a statement that cites Avaaz’s research: “The rampant misinformation discovered in dozens of Facebook advertisements in the runup to the Georgia U.S. Senate election shows the impotence of the Facebook Oversight Board in policing harmful content on the platform, and reflects Facebook’s reckless approach to political speech.  We are deeply alarmed at the advertisements discovered by Avaaz, and by Facebook’s decision to ‘turn on’ advertising in the critical Georgia election without addressing the deep flaws in their ad model."

The group charges that Facebook’s own official oversight board “is complicit in a misinformation campaign in Georgia. They must do better, and Facebook needs to be held accountable for their failure to protect voters from disinformation.” 

The Facebook Oversight Board’s mandate, “does not allow them to review and take down misinformation in real time,” the alternate group points out. This, argue the critics, means that the official board "is rendered irrelevant in any breaking news moment, and forbidden from stopping disinformation in heated political environments like the Georgia Senate election.".

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