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Facebook Revises Rules On Political Advertising


Facebook announced what it will and will not change as the 2020 election arrives. The social media giant says it will let users choose to see fewer political ads.

So how does that compare to what its critics wanted? Washington Post tech policy reporter Tony Romm is with us once again. Good morning, Tony.

TONY ROMM: Hey, good morning.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. Let's listen to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in an exchange with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last year. Let's listen.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: So you won't take down lies, or you will take down lies? I think this is just a pretty simple yes or no.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congresswoman, in...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I'm not talking about spin. I'm talking about actual...


OCASIO-CORTEZ: ...Disinformation.

ZUCKERBERG: In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying...

OCASIO-CORTEZ: So you won't take them down?

ZUCKERBERG: ...And judge their character for themselves.

INSKEEP: OK, I read that to mean Facebook generally is not going to be taking down lies. That was then. This is now. Is that still the policy?

ROMM: It is still the policy. Facebook is not going to take down falsehoods with some limited exceptions. You can't, for instance, tell people the wrong election date.


ROMM: But even in rolling out some of these big changes yesterday, trying to tighten the political advertising ecosystem ahead of the 2020 election, Zuckerberg is sticking to this notion that Facebook should not serve as the arbiter of truth. It shouldn't be the thing that gets in the way of what a politician is trying to say to their voters.

INSKEEP: Taking the position that even the politician lying is something you might like to know about your politician, that they lied. But what will this policy do?

ROMM: Right. The policy really does two things. And first, it gives you more control over the political ads you see. You could essentially say, you know what? I'm tired of the 2020 election. I want to turn off most of that stuff. And starting this summer, you'll have an option to be able to do that.

INSKEEP: Are there multiple options? Can I just turn off the liberal ads or turn off the conservative ads or the conspiracy theory ads or whatever category there might be?

ROMM: (Laughter). In a sense, you can. There's going to be one button, allegedly - this is according to the announcement yesterday that has not been fully rolled out yet - where you can limit ads across the board. And then there's a second tool that you can take advantage of that stops individual campaigns and businesses from targeting ads to you based on your email address or other personal information that they might have on you.

INSKEEP: So I could say I don't want to hear anymore from Donald Trump, or I don't want to hear anymore from Elizabeth Warren, or pick your person.

ROMM: Right. This is sort of what Facebook is saying here - based on those ads that are targeted to you on the basis of your email address.

INSKEEP: Is it entirely clear what is a political ad? Because as you know very well, there's so many different kinds of advertisements on issues that aren't necessarily directly from or about a candidate.

ROMM: Right. Facebook has defined this in a sense to include everything from a candidate in a campaign and a series, a list of issues, that include things like immigration and abortion and so forth. And when we're talking about this concern around lying, around falsehoods, that mostly involves candidates here. That's a person like President Trump and his campaign speaking to voters.

And we've seen what happens when Facebook's policy really comes to head. This occurred last year, when President Trump's campaign purchased a series of ads that included a number of falsehoods about Vice President Joe Biden as it related to the impeachment inquiry underway on Capitol Hill right now. Facebook saw that. It received a number of criticisms asking it to take it down, and Facebook said no. Those ads would still be allowed under Facebook's new policy.

INSKEEP: Although you can choose not to see them if you decide. But wouldn't this just encourage candidates to let other people lie for them, which they already do?

ROMM: Which they certainly already do. And then the other concern here is that it's so hard to use Facebook in the first place. I mean, think about it. How many of your friends or loved ones know how to find their privacy or advertising settings? This is the issue that's been raised by experts and lawmakers in recent days. Will this really matter? We'll see.

INSKEEP: It leaves people to police their own consumption. Tony, thanks so much.

ROMM: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: That's Tony Romm of the Washington Post.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "ANCHOR STEAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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