Facebook has updated its policy on political ads, adding transparency features and the ability to see fewer political ads, but still refuses to fact check them or remove ones with false claims. The social media giant will also continue to allow unlimited targeting of specific groups as its policies become increasingly out of step with competitors.

In the lead up to the 2020 US presidential election, Twitter has banned all political advertising on its platform and Google is limiting the targeting options for political ads.

Facebook today reaffirmed its argument that implementing such measures on its platform would interfere with democratic processes and place too much responsibility on private companies to be “arbiters of truth”.

Instead Facebook says it is introducing slightly more control for users over how many political ads they see and is updating the features of its political ad libraries.

The steps are unlikely to assuage Facebook critics who argue the company’s policies are being exploited by politicians and bad actors to spread misinformation and sow discord.

‘Expanded transparency’

In a company blog post, Facebook director of product management, Rob Leathern, outlined the changes to political advertising policy and acknowledged the mounting criticism of the platform’s approach.

“We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinised and debated in public … We recognise this is an issue that has provoked much public discussion — including much criticism of Facebook’s position.”

Facebook is adding more options to its Ad Library, a database tool it launched in 2018 which shows the ads politicians and campaigns are running and those which have run in the past.

The feature will roll out in the first quarter of 2020 and include allowing users to see the potential audience sizes of individual ads, and more search and filter tools for libraries.

Facebook says users will also gain the option to reduce how many political and social issue ads they see, as well as limit the ads they see that come from advertisers which use third party data to target them.

However, both these controls require users to actively edit their preferences and have an understanding of how targeted advertising works on the platform. The control options will be available in the US mid-year and will “eventually” be expanded to “more locations”.

Facebook’s policy update also appears to do little to limit the spread of misinformation by parties not directly affiliated with politicians or political parties.

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