Facebook has announced the latest measure in its efforts to stop its platform from being used for political manipulation. From now on, Facebook says that it will remove incentive payments for staff who sell political campaigns.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal:
"Facebook Inc. has said that it has stopped paying commissions to employees who sell political ads, as the tech giant overhauls how it engages with campaigns ahead of elections in 2020. Once seen as a growth area, political ads are now viewed within Facebook as more of a headache, according to former employees and campaign staffers who work on digital strategies."
The announcement is another step in a what's become a significant shift in stance from the company - a company which once published an in-depth study which proved that its ads can, in fact, influence voter behavior. It's also the same organization who's CEO initially said that it was 'crazy' to suggest that misinformation on the network could have influenced the result of the 2016 US Presidential Election'.
"Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” Zuckerberg noted in November 2016.
Since then, and under increasing scrutiny from various government, Facebook has changed its tune.
It implemented new identification and verification requirements for political advertisers in late 2017, along with new information labels on political ads to improve transparency. It launched its political ad archive process last year, and it's been gradually expanding its political/issues ads restrictions into even more regions, relative to their upcoming polls.
Facebook has also continued its work to stop the spread of misinformation, with new penalties and reach restrictions for Pages that share reports which have been proven to be false. This is an area of rising importance - a recent study found that misinformation gets shared 4x more than content from reputable, trusted news outlets across The Social Network. Anything that can be done to address this will have an impact, both in regards to concerning political movements and broader shifts which are not based in fact.
Lessening the internal incentive to increase political ad spend is a small step, but a very relevant one, which will have immediate impacts. If Facebook stands to benefit less from political promotion, it lessens the motivation for its salespeople to promote increased spend.
That, of course, could also have an impact on Facebook's bottom line, but it's clearly comfortable with any potential fallout in this regard. And it should be - The Social Network raked in almost $15 billion in ad revenue in the first quarter of 2019 alone, a 26% year-over-year increase. Shareholders will want to see more growth, but the potential impacts here are likely limited - otherwise Facebook would be sounding much louder alarm bells among its shareholders.
That being the case, the benefits, too, may also be confined, making it a relatively safe move for Facebook, from a business standpoint, and a good update on the PR front.
It'll be interesting to see what the actual impacts end up being, but definitely, anything Facebook can do to reduce political manipulation should be supported.