Facebook has revealed new capabilities to improve transparency and user control over political ads, but repeated its refusal to ban such advertising outright.
In a blog post on Thursday, director of product management, Rob Leathern, said updates to the Ad Library would help users shine a light on political ads delivered via the social network.
Specifically, users will soon be able to limit the number of political and social issue ads they see on Facebook and Instagram by topic, and remove interests.
They will also be able to stop seeing ads based on advertisers’ “Custom Audiences” — lists they use to target advertising. Users can also see ads that an advertiser had chosen to exclude them from receiving.
This is important because campaigners have argued that political candidates use online advertising to target different groups of voters with often conflicting messages, with neither side aware they are being promised contradictory things.
Users will also be able to see the estimated target audience size for an ad, and Facebook has improved the search and filtering functionality in the Ad Library to help researchers and journalists.
However, Leathern doubled down on the social network’s refusal to join Twitter in banning political ads outright, or Google in limiting the targeting of these ads.
“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies, which is why we are arguing for regulation that would apply across the industry. The Honest Ads Act is a good example — legislation that we endorse and many parts of which we’ve already implemented — and we are engaging with policy makers in the European Union and elsewhere to press the case for regulation too,” he continued.
“Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.”
Experts have warned that, left unregulated, online political advertising could slowly chip away at the legitimacy of election results, especially if ads are micro-targeted. Rights groups have argued that, although strict rules apply to regular advertisers around factual accuracy, politicians can lie on the network without repercussions.
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