Facebook closes breach in political ads ahead of US presidential election

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken on March 25, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook announced on Tuesday that it would post labels on political ads shared by users in its own feeds, closing what critics said years ago as a breach in transparency measures in the company's elections.

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The world's largest social network has attached a "paid for" disclaimer to political ads since 2018, after facing a backlash for not preventing Russia from using its platforms to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But the label disappeared when people shared the ads on their own feeds, which, critics said, undermined their usefulness and allowed the wrong information to continue to spread out of control.

"Previously, the thinking here was that these were organic posts, so these posts didn't necessarily have to contain information about ads," said Sarah Schiff, Facebook's product manager who oversees the change.

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After receiving feedback, Schiff said, the company now considers it important to disclose whether a post "was at a point in an ad".

Facebook introduced a similar labeling approach to state media earlier this month, but that label is also no longer shared and does not appear when users post their own links on these media.

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The company is facing demands to do more to combat false viral information ahead of the November 3 presidential election, including Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who last week asked Zuckerberg to reverse his decision to exempt political ads from fact checking.

Zuckerberg praised the transparency tools in response, arguing that voters should be able to examine statements by possible unimpeded political leaders.

In an article published in USA Today on Tuesday, he promised to display a Voting Information Center at the top of US users' news feeds. He also said the company plans to help 4 million people register to vote, doubling its target for 2016.

Reporting by Katie Paul; Edition by Peter Cooney

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