Facebook announced earlier this month that it will be labelling state-backed media on its platform, a commitment that is 8 months overdue given it was initially announced in October 2019. Perhaps in a bid to be more proactive in its service-recovery on the Cambridge Analytica data breach amidst a looming US election, Facebook has confirmed in a newsroom article posted on their website that they will be rolling out features that provide users more control over the ads they see on the platform – particularly those that are political in nature.
Since the start of the year, Facebook has undergone intense scrutiny and backlash over its policy that allows politicians to spread misinformation behind the veil of political ads. Although the feature to let users turn off political ads was pre-empted earlier in January, Facebook also announced that it remains unchanged about its decision to not block or limit the target of political ads. As shared by Director of Product Management, Rob Leathern, “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.”
Though it is not clear why it took almost six months for the feature to be live, one can only speculate that it might be due to a recent inflammatory remark posted on the platform directed at Minneapolis protestors following the George Floyd incident, the prominence of the individual behind the post, and an impending major US election.
The new feature which will be rolled out to US users over the next few weeks will allow users to turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organisations that have the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them. This feature will also be made available for Instagram, and the social media giant plans to extend the feature to other countries later this year.
To activate the feature, users may take the initiative to head on to their settings tab on Facebook and Instagram to switch off political ads, or turn them off directly on the ad should they come across one. Users are also encouraged to report if they see any ads that are deemed political ads after amending their settings.
In addition to the feature announcement, Facebook has also shared that it will facilitate the voting processes via the implementation of a Voting Information Centre which was announced by Zuckerberg earlier this month. Shown prominently at the top of Facebook’s News Feed and Instagram, the voting hub will share important information on voting matters, such as how and when to vote, registration procedures, alternative modes of voting as well as early voting options. To add, the hub will also be sharing posts from state election officials and local election authorities.
Though many believe that this is still insufficient compared to rival Twitter’s approach to blocking sensitive content and flagging contentious posts, it represents a modest change in Facebook’s previously unwavering stand to not regulate such posts at all and a compromise that would hopefully steer Facebook out of the relentless criticisms it has been receiving.