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Facebook ends political advertising ban

SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook said on Wednesday that it plans to lift its ban on political advertising on its network, picking up a form of digital promotion that has been criticized for spreading disinformation and lies and inflaming voters.

The social network said it would allow advertisers to purchase new ads on “social issues, elections or politics” starting Thursday, according to a copy of an email sent to political advertisers viewed by the New York Times. These advertisers must complete a series of identity checks before they are allowed to place the ads, the company said.

“We put this temporary ban in place after the November 2020 election to avoid confusion or abuse after election day,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We have heard a lot of comments about it and learned more about political and election advertising during this election cycle. Therefore, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these announcements work on our service to see where further changes might be warranted. “

Political advertising on Facebook has long faced questions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants to maintain a largely hands-off stance on speech on the site – including political ads – unless it causes immediate harm to the public or to individuals, claiming that he “ does not want to be the arbiter of truth.

But after the 2016 presidential election, society and intelligence officials discovered that the Russians had used Facebook ads to sow dissatisfaction among Americans. Former President Donald J. Trump also used Facebook’s political ads to amplify allegations of a 2019 Mexican border “invasion”, among other incidents.

Facebook banned political ads late last year in an effort to quell disinformation and threats of violence around the November presidential election. In September, the company announced that it planned to ban new political ads the week before election day and that it would act swiftly against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Then, in October, Facebook expanded that action by declaring that it would ban all political and issue-based advertising after the polls closed on November 3 for an indefinite period.

The company ultimately cracked down on groups and pages that disseminated certain types of disinformation, such as discouraging people from voting or registering to vote. He has spent billions of dollars to stamp out foreign influence campaigns and other types of interference by malicious state agencies and other bad actors.

In December, Facebook lifted the ban to allow some advertisers to run ads on political issues and candidacies in Georgia for the runoff in the state’s January senatorial elections. But the ban also remained in effect for the remaining 49 states.

Attitudes about how political advertising should be treated on Facebook are decidedly mixed. Politicians who are not well known can often increase their visibility and notoriety on their campaigns by using Facebook.

“Political ads are not bad things in and of themselves,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and author of a book studying the effects of Facebook on democracy. “They perform an essential service, in the act of directly representing the concerns or positions of the candidate.”

He added, “When you ban all campaign ads on the most accessible and affordable platform, you tip the scales towards candidates who can afford radio and television.”

New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also said that political advertising on Facebook can be a crucial part of Democratic digital campaign strategies.

Some political ad buyers applauded the lifting of the ad ban.

“The ad ban was something Facebook did to appease the public for the misinformation that has spread across the platform,” said Eileen Pollet, digital campaign strategist and founder of Ravenna Strategies. “But it really hurt the good actors when the bad actors were totally free. And now, especially since the election ended, the ban had really hurt nonprofits and local organizations.

Facebook has long sought to thread the needle between a drastic moderation of its politics and a lighter touch. For years Mr Zuckerberg has championed the right of politicians to say whatever they want on Facebook, but that changed last year as alarms rose over potential violence around the November election.

In January, Facebook banned Mr. Trump from using his account and posting to the platform after taking to social media to delegitimize election results and inciting a violent uprising among his supporters, who took to storming the US Capitol.

Facebook said Mr. Trump’s suspension was “indefinite.” The decision is currently under review by the Facebook Oversight Board, a third-party entity created by the company and comprised of journalists, academics and others that adjudicates some of the thorny decisions to enforce the content policy. of the society. A decision should be made in the coming months.

On Thursday, political advertisers on Facebook will be able to submit new ads or activate existing political ads that have already been approved, the company said. Each ad will appear with a small disclaimer, stating that it has been “paid for by” a political organization. For those who buy new ads, Facebook said it could take up to a week to clear the identity authorization and ad review process.