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Facebook won't stop letting politicians lie in ads

Mark Zuckerberg.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anyone who was waiting for Facebook to change its controversial political ad policies — particularly the one that allows politicians to lie with impunity — will have to keep waiting, the company made clear Thursday.

Driving the news: Facebook released a raft of small changes to its rules around political ads, including giving consumers the option to block political ads from their feeds.

Yes, but: It's leaving in place its "anything goes" policy toward the content of those ads, and it won't substantially limit campaigns' ability to narrowly target ads to specific audiences — which has been widely criticized as a way to selectively deliver misinformation unchecked.

Details: In a blog post on Thursday, Facebook director of product management Rob Leathern said that seeing fewer political and issue ads "is a common request we hear from people."

  • Facebook admits it can't guarantee that some political ads won't slip through the cracks and reach users who opt out, as the platform can't necessarily promise to track every political ad on its platform.

The big picture: Facebook's decision came alongside a slew of other updates to its political ad policies, including allowing users to see the potential reach of political ads and giving them better search options to find political ads within its library.

  • Since November, reports from inside Facebook have suggested the company was reconsidering some of the most controversial aspects of its broader political ad rules. Today's updates suggest that the company has chosen to stay the course for the 2020 election cycle.

Between the lines: One of the new controls that Facebook is rolling out will have implications far beyond politics.

  • Facebook also explained that later this month it will give users the ability to choose how advertisers targeting users via Facebook's "custom audiences" system can reach them. Advertisers who use the custom audiences approach to make ad targeting more efficient are allowed to create lists using data they have on people, like customer sales lists.
  • The control will apply to all advertisers, not just political advertisers, meaning consumers could limit how a retail or entertainment advertiser targets them using lists.

Our thought bubble: The historic level of investment in political ads this cycle, especially on platforms like Google and Facebook, means that users are being bombarded with political messaging now more than ever. Political fatigue is likely starting to set in.

What's next: Expect relentless criticism from candidates, particularly Democrats, of Facebook's policies — and if power changes hands in D.C. in November, more concrete moves to limit Facebook's influence.

Go deeper: Democrats are unimpressed with Facebook‘s new deepfakes policy

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