NEWS13 January 2020

IPA criticises Facebook refusal to limit political ad targeting

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UK – The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) said ad tech has been ‘weaponised for political messaging’ after Facebook said it won’t restrict the targeting of political advertising on its platform.

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In recent months, Twitter and Google have taken steps to block or limit political advertising on their platforms, but Facebook will instead hand more control to users over the number of ads they see.

In announcement, the company said it is introducing a tool that will allow its users to see fewer political and social issue ads on their feeds. The control will be added in the US in the summer and will later be rolled out in other locations. It also plans to make it easier to browse its online ad library of political ads.

Social networks have come under increasing pressure over the issue in recent months, with the US presidential election taking place later this year.

Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, said in a blog post: "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. In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies. We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinised and debated in public."

The IPA expressed disappointment over the decision. Nigel Gwilliam, director of media affairs at the organisation, said: "Our IPA position continues to be that microtargeted online political advertising is open to abuse and has demonstrably been abused in the recent past. Advertising technology designed for the promotion of products and services has been weaponised for political messaging.

"In a democracy, political ideas need to be aired and debated in the public square. Microtargeting has the potential to subvert this, especially when combined with the absence of fact checking or any other message regulation. This is a clear and present threat to politics in democracies. While we support regulation of political messaging, we do not believe this will be introduced in the foreseeable future."

The IPA also reiterated its previous call for a public, machine-readable register of all political advertising and data, and a ban on microtargeted online political ads.