BFF-68 Facebook lets users block political ads, aiming to quell outcry

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US-IT-POLITICS-FACEBOOK

Facebook lets users block political ads, aiming to quell outcry

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Facebook is allowing users to
turn off all political ads in a move aimed at quelling criticism of
the leading social network’s hands-off approach to election
misinformation.

The feature being rolled out in the United States from Wednesday
and some other countries will give Facebook and Instagram users the
option of blocking paid ads from candidates and political groups.

The initiative announced late Tuesday comes amid intense pressure
on Facebook and other social media services to stem the flow of false
information while remaining open platforms for political debate.

Facebook has steadfastly rejected calls to fact-check politicians
including a plea from Democratic White House hopeful Joe Biden to
clamp down on what he called rampant disinformation from President
Donald Trump.

Facebook vice president of product management and social impact
Naomi Gleit said the initiative expands on the social network’s “ad
preferences” options which already allowed users to see fewer
political ads.

She said the feature was being made available “as part of our
preparations for the 2020 US elections” and would be offered “in
countries where we have enforcement on ads about social issues,
elections and politics” later this year.

Adam Chiara, a University of Hartford professor who follows social
media and politics, said Facebook’s announcement may be a public
relations move with little real impact.

Chiara said Facebook would be able to tout “a victory for not
censoring speech” but that it “does nothing to help move away from the
toxic speech on the platform.”

“I’m curious how many people will actually opt out,” Chiara said.
“Many Facebook users don’t even change their default privacy settings.
How many will take the time to do this?”

Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Washington-based
Wilson Center, said the effort “isn’t going to have an impact on the
most vulnerable users who are less Facebook literate, less likely to
fiddle with their ad settings, and more likely to buy into the
spurious information Facebook is getting paid to show them.”

– Registering four million –

As part of the same announcement, Facebook said it would launch
what it called “the largest voting information effort in US history”
with an election hub and a goal of registering four million voters.

“We’re encouraging people to vote,” Facebook chief executive Mark
Zuckerberg wrote in USA Today.

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

The efforts by Facebook appeared to address concerns that it
allowed misinformation and foreign influence campaigns to target
voters in the 2016 US election, in some cases aimed at discouraging
voters or giving them inaccurate information.

Amid a toxic political environment, Twitter last month began
labeling or limiting the reach of comments from Trump deemed to be
inciting violence or promoting misinformation.

That prompted an angry response from Trump, who signed an executive
order which could lead to more oversight of social media, despite
doubts about its enforceability.

Zuckerberg in his statement Thursday reiterated Facebook’s policy
which generally exempts politicians from fact-checking.

“Ultimately, I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable
is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make
judgments for themselves” he said.

At the same time he added that “we have rules against speech that
will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is
exempt from them.”

BSS/AFP/MRU/2251hrs