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Facebook to let users turn off political adverts

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg says users will be able to turn off political adverts on the social network in the run-up to the 2020 US election.

In a piece written for USA Today newspaper, he also says he hopes to help four million Americans sign up as new voters.

Facebook has faced heavy criticism for allowing adverts from politicians that contain false information.

Rival social platform Twitter banned political advertising last October.

“For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you — so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram will give users the option to turn off political adverts when they appear or they can block them using the settings features.

Users that have blocked political adverts will also be able to report them if they continue to appear.

The feature, which will start rolling out on Wednesday, allows users to turn off political, electoral and social issue adverts from candidates and other organisations that have the “Paid for” political disclaimer.

The company said it plans to make the feature available to all US users over the next few weeks and will offer it in other countries this autumn.

Mr Zuckerberg went on to encourage people who aren’t signed up as voters to register in time for the US election in November.

“Voting is voice. It’s the single most powerful expression of democracy, the best way to hold our leaders accountable, and how we address many of the issues our country is grappling with.”

“I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of colour — but to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration, and turnout.”

As part of the initiative a new information hub, called The Voting Information Center, will be put at the top of American users’ Facebook and Instagram feeds from the beginning of July.

Information on offer will include how to register to vote and details about mail-in ballots.

The firm also said it will share reliable information from state and local election authorities.

Facebook estimates that the hub will reach 160 million Americans by the 3 November election.

Facing criticism from inside and outside the company over the way it regulates political speech, Facebook has unveiled what look like fairly minor tweaks to policies in the run-up to the US elections.

Yes, it will become more evident to users what is and is not a political advert, and they will be able to opt out of seeing them.

But that was never the main concern of critics, such as the web’s creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Last November Sir Tim told the BBC that Mark Zuckerberg needed to “turn off ” targeted political advertising altogether.

“It’s not fair to risk democracy by allowing all these very subtle manipulations with targeted ads which promote completely false ideas,” he explained.

I’m told his views have not changed.

Facebook’s communications supremo Sir Nick Clegg made it clear on BBC Radio 4’s Today that the social media giant will also not bow to pressure to fact check political content.

Sir Nick Clegg

Challenged over Facebook’s failure to follow Twitter in at least putting a warning on a post from President Trump saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Sir Nick trod a delicate path. He described the comment as “abhorrent” but backed a collective decision not to take action.

President Trump is unlikely to be impressed by that “abhorrent” comment. Nor will he be enthused by Facebook’s promise to help to register four million voters, which may well do more to boost votes for Democratic candidates than Republican ones.

Meanwhile Joe Biden is still calling on Facebook to tackle misinformation by fact-checking all political ads over the fortnight before the US Presidential election.

Both contenders feel that Facebook could be crucial to the outcome of that vote, so the next months will see unrelenting pressure on Mark Zuckerberg and his team to prove they can play a positive rather than a destructive role in the democratic process.

Presentational grey line

Social media companies are at the centre of a political storm in the run-up to the US election.

Last month Mr Zuckerberg faced criticism for leaving up a series of posts by President Donald Trump, including one that Twitter labelled as containing misleading information about mail-in ballots.

It was the first time that Twitter had flagged the US president’s tweets.

Also in May, Mr Trump signed an executive order aimed at removing some of the legal protections given to social media platforms.

It came as Mr Trump continued to accuse companies such as Twitter and Facebook of stifling conservative voices.

Source: BBC

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