Facebook to let users turn off political advertisements

Starting with a roll-out in the US, Facebook is introducing a new voting information hub and a feature that enables users to opt out of seeing political ads.

Ahead of the US presidential election later this year, Facebook has said that users will now be able to opt out of seeing political ads on its platform.

The feature, which was announced as part of the company’s new voting information effort, is set to roll-out for Instagram and Facebook users in the US in the coming weeks.

Facebook said that users on these platforms can turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates and organisations that have been published with a ‘paid for by’ political disclaimer.

Making advertising ‘transparent’
In a blogpost, Facebook’s vice-president of product management and social impact, Naomi Gleit, warned that the system “isn’t perfect”, so it is possible that users who opt out could still come across political advertisements.

Last year, Facebook admitted that it is unable to track all political adverts on its platforms. Gleit said the company has introduced a feature that allows users to report ads that slip through the new system.

“We’re rolling out this option in the US to start, and we’ll aim to make it available in countries where we have enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics later this fall,” she added.

The company outlined additional steps it is taking to make political advertising on the platform more transparent. From now onwards, Facebook will ensure that disclaimers remain on political advertisements, even if they are shared by users, so other users can see who is behind the ad and who paid for it.

The company is also adding a new feature to its Ad Library, which will allow users to track ad spending for US House and Senate races, in addition to spending for the candidates in the presidential race.

“We’ll offer a custom tracker to compare the spending of advertisers running political or issue ads,” Gleit said. “This will help you understand how much advertisers and candidates are spending to reach voters.”

A voting information hub
Meanwhile, Facebook’s new Voting Information Center aims to provide users with details about voting. The company said it hopes to help 4m users register to vote through Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

Gleit said this hub will provide “clear, accurate and authoritative information” to users, in an effort to “reduce the effectiveness of malicious networks” that could interfere with the election.

The Voting Information Center will include posts from verified local election authorities with announcements and changes to the voting process, and people can opt in for notifications about these alerts. It will also provide information on how to request an absentee ballot, guidance for military and overseas voters, and dates and polling places for early polling.

The hub will provide information and links geared towards helping people plan their vote on election day, including when to vote, where to vote and whether there are ID requirements.

In recent weeks, the company has found itself in the spotlight for deciding not to take action on a controversial post from US president Donald Trump. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said that it “wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians”, adding that Facebook shouldn’t be an “arbiter of truth”.

In response, a group of former employees published an open letter calling the company “cowardly” for its decision. “Facebook should be holding politicians to a higher standard than their constituents,” they wrote.

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