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Facebook Allows Users to See Fewer Political Ads, Increases Transparency

Facebook is adding controls and updating its ad library, which allows users to see any and every political advertisement on their own account or someone else's.

Facebook still won't fact-check political ads on its platform but instead says it is taking steps to make political advertisements on its platform more transparent, the company outlined in a blog post Thursday morning. Facebook also said it is adding features to allow users to control how many political and social issue ads they see

The updated policy "is an important step in making political ads more transparent and advertisers more accountable," Facebook's Director of Product Management Rob Leathern wrote in the blog post. 

Facebook shares were rising 1.0% to $217.33 on Thursday late morning.

Specifically, Facebook is updating its Ad Library, a public archive that allows users to see all advertisements politicians and campaigns place on any users' account. Facebook first launched its Ad Library in May of 2018, the month when GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) went into effect in the EU. GDPR mandates what disclosures tech and data companies must make about data harvesting and ad targeting with users and also gives users the option to either accept the practice or stop usage of their information. 

Facebook said it has recently communicated with experts and political bodies, who have stressed that users want clarity on which advertisers are trying to influence their voting decisions and they want better control over which ads they see. 

Here are some of the changes Facebook is making:

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  • "We are adding ranges for Potential Reach, which is the estimated target audience size for each political, electoral or social issue ad so you can see how many people an advertiser wanted to reach with every ad."
  • "We are adding the ability to search for ads with exact phrases, better grouping of similar ads, and adding several new filters to better analyze results — e.g. audience size, dates and regions reached."
  • "Seeing fewer political and social issue ads is a common request we hear from people. That’s why we plan to add a new control that will allow people to see fewer political and social issue ads on Facebook and Instagram."
  • "Later this month we will begin rolling out a control to let people choose how an advertiser can reach them with a Custom Audience from a list."

Leathern acknowledged that Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report has banned political ads while Google  (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report has chosen to limit the targeting of political ads in response to concerns about inaccurate claims, but said Facebook has taken a different approach.

“We have based our [policy] 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 scrutinized and debated in public,” Leathern wrote.

He noted that political ads still must abide by Facebook’s community standards with respect to things such as hate speech, harmful content and content designed to intimidate voters or stop them from voting. “We regularly disallow ads from politicians that break our rules,” Leathern wrote. 

Facebook's policy tweaks come as the company being scrutinized by Congress on everything from its handling of political ads in 2016 to data privacy to anti-trust questions arising from Facebook and Google's dominance of the digital advertising market. 

Analysts largely doubt any regulation will soon be materially damaging to tech companies' earnings. Some analysts note that some of the presidential candidates' anti-tech positions could act as an overhang on Facebook's stock, but that Facebook will also see some additional revenue from political ads in the coming year.