Facebook to curb microtargeting in political advertising

Firm considering to raise amout of targeted people from 100 to ‘a few thousands’

Facebook’s plans to limit political advertising have taken another step, according to reports, as the company firms up plans to stop political advertisers from sending messages to very small numbers of people.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has weighed up whether to increase the minimum amount of people targeted in any given political advert from 100, the current limit, to “a few thousand”.

The move could help end fears that “microtargeted” political adverts – sent to very small, tightly defined groups of voters – are being used by political candidates to campaign with different messages to different constituencies. It would also cut down the effectiveness of highly targeted advertising based on the acquisition of large amounts of voter data, as with the campaigns overseen by the now defunct consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The paper reported that the change is also considered internally as a possible tool to fight misinformation, since false claims are made more frequently in adverts targeted to specific audiences than in widely run campaigns.

Google announced its own plans to limit political targeting this week, announcing on Wednesday that the company would block advertisers from using a suite of targeting techniques if they were spreading political messages. Instead, on the search engine’s ad tools, targeting will be limited to basic demographic information such as age, gender and rough location.

But the company’s new policies will have little effect, at least in the UK, where very few of Google’s advertisers used the microtargeting tools in the first place, the Guardian revealed on Thursday. Instead, the majority of political spend on Google is directed towards adverts that are targeted against specific search terms, often related to the political competition.

On the same day of Google’s announcment, the Conservative party faced criticism for buying an advert targeted to searches for “Labour” that took voters to a site, labourmanifesto.co.uk, that purported to show the Labour manifesto. In fact, users were directed to an attack site created by the Conservatives that had little to do with the contents of Labour’s policies.

In a statement, a Facebook company spokesperson said: “For over a year, we’ve provided unprecedented transparency into all political ads which run in the UK and recently expanded this to cover ads about social issues too. We prohibit misinformation about voting and do not allow ads which contain content previously debunked by our third party factcheckers. As we’ve said, we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”


Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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