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Instagram and Facebook won’t stop lies in political ads, but users will get more control

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‘People should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook has stood firm in the face of pressure over its policies on political ads, defending a “warts and all” approach that allows politicians to lie in ads placed on its platform. In a post published in its newsroom, the company said it had based its policies on the principle that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them” and “what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.” Facebook will be offering more transparency and control over political ads for users of both Instagram and Facebook.

The company’s current ad policies came under tough scrutiny last year, when it emerged that it exempts politicians from its rules about posting misinformation in ads. The policy was fiercely criticized both internally and externally, and Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren published a deliberately misleading Facebook ad in a direct challenge to the policy. However, Facebook has remained firm in its stance.

Rather than make any wholesale changes to its policies on political ads, Facebook is instead giving its users more control over the ads they see. Similar to how you can currently tell Facebook you want to see less ads about certain topics, the company says it will add a new control to let you see fewer political and social issue ads across Facebook and Instagram. It plans to roll out the feature starting this summer in the US.

The company also says it’s adding more features to its Ad Library, which lets anyone see the ads politicians and campaigns are running on Facebook. You’ll now be able to see how many people an advertiser was attempting to reach with a particular ad, and the library’s search and filtering tools will see improvements. Facebook says it plans to roll out these updates in the first quarter of this year.

In a speech made at Georgetown University last October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians,” and said that political ads are “an important part of voice” for “local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise.” Today it called for the industry to be regulated by “democratically accountable rules” concerning political advertising.

Facebook’s policies sit in contrast to an increasing number of tech firms. Following the criticism received by Facebook, Twitter decided to ban political ads entirely at the end of October, while Google issued harsh new restrictions on political ad targeting. In December, Spotify took the decision to “pause” political ads on its platform.