Social media and political ads

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Online platforms face growing pressure to stop carrying political ads with false or misleading claims ahead of the US presidential election.

In the US, the Communications Act prevents broadcast stations from rejecting or censoring ads from candidates for federal office once they accept advertising for that political race, although this does not apply to cable networks like CNN, or social media, where leading presidential candidates spend millions targeting voters in the run-up to the November 2020 election.

The following is how social media platforms decided to handle false or misleading claims in political ads:

FACEBOOK

Facebook exempts politicians from its third-party fact-checking programme, allowing them to run ads with false claims.
The policy has been attacked by regulators and lawmakers who say it could spread misinformation and cause voter suppression. Critics including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren run intentionally false Facebook ads to highlight the issue.

Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s stance, arguing it does not want to stifle political speech, but added the company was considering ways to refine the policy.

Facebook fact-checks content from political groups. The company fact-checks politicians if they share previously debunked content and does not allow this content in ads.

The company was making changes to its approach to political ads, including allowing users to turn off ad-targeting tools. In addition, it will make more ad audience data publicly available.

The expanded ad audience data features will be rolled out in the first quarter of this year and Facebook plans to deploy political ads control starting in the US early this summer, eventually expanding to more locations.

Another change will allow users to choose to stop seeing ads based on an advertiser’s “Custom Audience” and that will apply to all advertising, not only political ads.

TWITTER

Twitter banned political ads. In November, it said this will include ads referencing a political candidate, party, election or legislation, among other limits.

The company will not allow ads advocating a specific outcome on political or social causes.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement.

Some lawmakers praised the ban but critics said Twitter’s decision would benefit incumbents and hurt less well-known candidates.

Officials from the Trump campaign, outspending its Democratic rivals on Facebook and Google ads, called the ban “dumb” and said it would have little effect on the president’s strategy.

The overall political ad spend for the 2018 US mid-term elections on Twitter was less than $3 million, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said.

“Twitter from an advertising perspective is not a player. Facebook and Google are the giants in political ads,” said Steve Passwaiter, vice president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media.

GOOGLE

Google would limit audience targeting for election ads to age, gender and general location at a postal code level.

The change means political advertisers can no longer target ads using data such as public voter records and general political affiliations such as right-leaning, left-leaning or independent. Advertisers can still do contextual targeting, showing ads to users watching a certain video.

Google and its video-streaming service YouTube prohibit certain types of misrepresentation in ads, such as misinformation about public voting procedures, political candidate eligibility based on age or birthplace or incorrect claims a public figure died.

Google has no a wholesale ban on politicians running false or misleading ads. In October, when former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign asked the company to take down a Trump campaign ad it said contained false claims, a Google spokeswoman told Reuters it did not violate site policies.

SNAP

Snap allows political advertising unless ads are misleading, deceptive or violate terms of service on its disappearing message app Snapchat.

The company, which recently joined Facebook, Twitter and Google launching a public database of political ads, defines political ads as including election-related, advocacy and issue ads.

Snap does not ban “attack” ads in general, but its policy prohibits attacks on a candidate’s personal life.

TIKTOK

The Chinese-owned video app popular with US teenagers does not permit political advertising on the platform.

In an October blog post, TikTok said the company wants to make sure the platform continues to be “light-hearted and irreverent.”

“The nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience,” wrote Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s vice president of global business solutions.

The app, owned by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, came under scrutiny from US lawmakers concerned the company may be censoring politically sensitive content and raising questions about storing personal data.

REDDIT

Social network Reddit allows ads related to political issues and ads from political candidates at federal level, but not for state or local elections.

It also does not allow ads about political issues, elections or candidates outside the US.

The company says all political ads must abide by its policies forbidding “deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising” and prohibiting “content that depicts intolerant or overly contentious political or cultural topics or views.”

LINKEDIN

LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, banned political ads last year. It defines political ads as including “ads advocating for or against a particular candidate or ballot proposition or otherwise intended to influence an election outcome.”

Search engine Bing, also owned by Microsoft, does not allow ads with political- or election-related content.

PINTEREST

Photo-sharing site Pinterest banned political campaign ads last year.

This includes advertising for political candidates, political action committees (PACs), legislation or political issues with intent to influence an election, according to the site’s ads policy.

“We want to create a positive, welcoming environment for our Pinners and political campaign ads are divisive by nature,” said Pinterest spokeswoman Jamie Favazza, who told Reuters the decision was part of company strategy to address misinformation.

TWITCH

A spokeswoman for Twitch told Reuters the live-streaming gaming network does not allow political advertising.

The site does not strictly ban all issue-based advertising but the company considers whether an ad could be seen as “political” when it is reviewed, the spokeswoman said.



Twitch, owned by Amazon.com, is primarily a video gaming platform and has channels focussed on sports, music and politics. In recent months, political candidates including US President Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders joined the platform ahead of the 2020 election.