Facebook updates political ad policies as Zuckerberg defends platform’s free speech stance

Mark Zuckerberg at F8 2019

Still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook is updating its practices to make political advertising more transparent and fight against misinformation ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

This comes amid Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zukerberg’s persistence that Facebook is in the business of protecting free speech.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world – a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” Zuckerberg said last week during a talk held at Georgetown University.

“People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.”

However, Facebook has been criticized for accepting political ads with false claims.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been running intentionally inaccurate ads across Facebook because, as she put it, “when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit”.

Facebook today (21 October) introduced steps to safeguard its site against misinformation and check political advertisers, without committing to taking down political ads with such false claims.

The company is updating its ad library to make it more transparent, and rolling out a US presidential candidate ad spend tracker. The tracker can also show spend at the state and regional level.

Additionally, Facebook is making it clearer where a political ad ran across its portfolio, whether it’s the main Facebook site, Instagram, Messenger or Audience Network.

Though it’s introducing new policies, Facebook is still taking a hands-off approach to speech practices.

“We now require you to provide a government ID and prove your location if you want to run political ads or a large page,” said Zuckerberg at Georgetown. “You can still say controversial things, but you have to stand behind them with your real identity and face accountability.”

The company also introduced Facebook Protect, a feature meant to secure and protect the accounts of candidates, elected officials and their teams from hackers and foreign adversaries.

In a blog post, Facebook said it has ramped up efforts to stem foreign interference following the 2016 US election.

“We have a responsibility to stop abuse and election interference on our platform. That’s why we’ve made significant investments since 2016 to better identify new threats, close vulnerabilities and reduce the spread of viral misinformation and fake accounts,” the company wrote.

Next month, Facebook will start labeling state-controlled media outlets with information regarding whether they fully or partly run by a government. The label will appear both in the outlets’ pages and in Facebook’s ad-library.

“We will hold these Pages to a higher standard of transparency because they combine the opinion-making influence of a media organization with the strategic backing of a state,” said Faceobok.

Facebook is also increasing efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation and voter suppression across its sites.

“Over the next month, content across Facebook and Instagram that has been rated false or partly false by a third-party fact-checker will start to be more prominently labeled so that people can better decide for themselves what to read, trust and share,” the company said.

Facebook has also made an initial $2m investment to support media literacy projects, including programs to help large Instagram accounts stop the spread of misinformation and an initiative that will bring together senior citizens and high school students to learn about online safety.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.