Facebook’s final word on political ads: No changes to microtargeting but more control for users

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Facebook won’t change its policies on fact-checking ads promoted by politicians or limit political campaigns’ microtargeting abilities, the company said Wednesday.

Instead, Facebook announced that it will expand transparency around political ads and give its users more control over the ads they see.

The decision comes after the company endured more than three months of criticism from Democratic politicians and activists over its decision not to fact-check ads from political campaigns. In that time, Twitter banned political ads altogether, while Google announced changes to how ads can be microtargeted to users.

While Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg never planned to ban political ads on the platform nor to change the policy on fact-checking, sources familiar with Facebook’s discussions previously told NBC News, the company had considered limits on microtargeting of ads from politicians.

Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, announced a series of changes to the Facebook Ad Library on Wednesday, including revealing new data showing the estimated target audience size for each ad and new tools that will make it easier to search for and browse political ads.

“While Twitter has chosen to block political ads and Google has chosen to limit the targeting of political ads; we are choosing to expand transparency and give more controls to people when it comes to political ads,” Leathern wrote in a blog post on Facebook’s corporate website.

Facebook’s decision to keep its microtargeting policy was in part a response to campaigns and other political groups that told Facebook that they rely on microtargeting to reach audiences they would not have access to without social media platforms like Facebook, Leathern said.

“Through extensive outreach and consultations we heard about the importance of these tools for reaching key audiences from a wide range of NGOs, non-profits, political groups, and campaigns, including both Republican and Democrat committees in the U.S.,” he wrote.

Leathern said more than 85 percent of the money spent by presidential candidateswent toad campaigns targeted at audiences estimated to be greater than 250,000.

Facebook’s approach to political ads reflects its larger view on its role in elections.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Leathern wrote, echoing an argument Zuckerberg has made several times in recent months.

Facebook, which has faced widespread scrutiny over its role in politics since the 2016 election, is also calling for government regulations that would set an industry standard on how social media platforms handle political speech and political advertising.

Other Facebook executives have expressed support for the company’s policies. In an internal memo obtained this week by The New York Times, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware and a friend of Zuckerberg’s, wrote: “If we limit what information people have access to and what they can say then we have no democracy at all.”

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