While Twitter works through its ban on political advertising, and Facebook continues to take a media beating over its stance on exempting the same from fact checks, Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel has said that his platform fact-checks all ads, including those from political candidates, adding even more fuel to the ongoing debate.
As per Spiegel:
“We subject all advertising to review, including political advertising, and I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising.”
That seems like a logical stance to take, though as Facebook has repeatedly noted, there are a lot of gray areas in such calculations.
Where do you draw the line on misinformation? An obvious untruth is easy for people to pick out, but what about a claim like 'President Trump has improved the American economy and created millions of jobs'. Is that true? It is and it isn't in varying measure, and it's more nuanced claims like this - from politically-affiliated groups in the US, and in every other nation where these platforms operate - that can make such processes difficult to enforce in a fair and measured way.
But Snapchat's taken a different stance to Facebook and Twitter - for clarity, here's where each of the major social platforms currently stands on political advertising:
|Allows political ads, exempt from fact checks in order to let the people decide what's true and what's not from candidates|
|Will ban all political ads, but will allow certain 'issues' ads which meet specific requirements|
|Snapchat||Allows political ads, subject to fact checks to limit misinformation|
|Political ads are banned on Pinterest|
|Political ads are banned on LinkedIn|
|TikTok||Political ads are banned on TikTok|
|Allows political ads for issues, elections and candidates in the US, banned for other regions. Ads are subject to fact-checking|
Really, Facebook is the odd one out here, as every other platform either limits or fact-checks political ads. But then again, Facebook is also the largest platform by far, and as such, the one which has to deal with the most political advertising - and again, ads across a range of different regions, which are subject to a range of different regulations.
Facebook has the biggest workload in this respect, and arguably the largest influence. Does that make it more incumbent on the platform to conduct more stringent fact-checks, or less? That's probably a matter of perspective.
It's difficult to say which is the 'correct' approach. Facebook's argument of varying levels of consistency makes some sense - but then again, every other platform has implemented at least some form of safeguard to protect their users. Yes, Facebook has the bigger job, but it also has the most resources, and the capacity to lead the way with a more advanced, accountable system. Fact-checking and tagging ads with questionable claims could be one way to deal with the issue, short of all-out bans, while establishing more distinct parameters around what's acceptable could be another option.
On balance, it seems like Facebook could, and probably should, do more in this respect, but it's difficult to say without the full list of internal considerations The Social Network is factoring in. Facebook says that the revenue it generates from political ads is not an issue, but maybe the engagement generated by the same is? Maybe, such ads on Facebook spark so much discussion that Facebook is reluctant to remove them in fear of losing that engagement and discussion to other platforms instead.
Or maybe, as Facebook says, it's just trying to maintain free speech and facilitate discussion around what each candidate says, as opposed to playing referee.
This will be a key topic of debate in 2020, but it does seem like, maybe, we need to move towards official regulation of social media by an over-arching body, which could establish clear rules for all platforms to abide by.
NOTE: Google has also recently announced changes to its political ad targeting options, which will limit campaign advertisers' capacity to hone in on specific audiences. The biggest change relates to Customer Match targeting, which enables advertisers to upload a list of emails and/or phone numbers, which Google's systems can then match with online profiles. Political parties will no longer be able to use this option, while Google is also implementing new rules around the use of “deep fakes” and ad spots which, it says, are “demonstrably” false.