So Facebook Cleared Things Up for 2020: Politicians Can Totally Lie to Users

Hitting select audiences with highly tailored messages was key to the Trump campaign’s dominance on the platform four years ago.
January 9, 2020, 3:38pm
Facebook said it will expand its public archive of political ads, outsourcing accountability to journalists and other watchdogs.

It’s 2020 and Facebook is finally clearing things up: They're basically keeping the same approach to political ads that they had in 2016.

After months of public pressure that roiled the tech industry, Facebook said Thursday that politicians and interest groups can still target specific segments of users with lies during the presidential campaign.

Facebook broke from its competitors in declining to change its rules. Twitter and Spotify have banned political ads entirely in recent months, while Google and YouTube limited advertisers’ ability to target users with data the platforms collect. Hitting select audiences with highly tailored messages was key to the Trump campaign’s dominance of Facebook four years ago.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has consistently defended Facebook’s hands-off approach under the banner of free speech, a stance that hundreds of employees criticized as a “threat to what FB stands for” in a letter in October. But the company held fast in a blog post announcing its decision Thursday.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” it said. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Instead, Facebook said it will expand its public archive of political ads, outsourcing accountability to journalists and other watchdogs. The company will also give users on Facebook and Instagram the option to opt out of the content.

Although the deluge of political content will be unprecedented this year, digital advertising is unregulated. That contrasts starkly with the federal regulations for other media like TV and radio, which mandate standardized transparency measures for political ads and require that consumer-focused ads are true.

Campaigns on both the left and right have worried that Facebook would avoid the headache entirely and ban political ads. Doing so could hurt outsider campaigns, including Democrats challenging Trump.

Tara McGowan, CEO of the liberal digital organization Acronym, said in a statement Thursday that while Facebook should reverse its decision to allow politicians to lie in ads, the ability to target potential voters with messaging remains critical for all campaigns.

“Make no mistake,” she said, “Facebook made the right call on this.”

Cover: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks about "News Tab" at the Paley Center, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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