Facebook likes to poke the bear, the bear obviously being the general user of the app and the user’s privacy. The platform was used to influence the 2016 US elections, there was a repeat of that in the 2019 Indian elections, and the buck isn’t stopping there. Despite employee acknowledgements, congressional hearings, media scrutiny, public disgrace and what not, Facebook has announced that it will still take money to run political ads as 2020 elections approach closer.
The company will accept money to run micro-targeted political ads, with a few tweaks that will let the user see information about the ad, hence promoting transparency. But wait! The users will be welcomed by default settings that do not house these new changes, thus making it a mere gimmick. To make matters worse, these changes will be hidden in menus in the app’s settings and would require a lot of brain cells being spent to avail. It seems like Facebook has another scandal at its hands.
Since Facebook has a habit of tracking user data and poking its nose where it shouldn’t, the ads will be targeted to specific users according to their individual preferences, which can do serious damage to democracy’s very fabric, specially in the event of an election. Andrew Bosworth, in a company wide memo a couple days back, rightly said that it was Facebook who won Trump his presidency, owing it to his ad campaign which he described as ‘bomb af’ (not really though).
Seeing concerns raised against Facebook, U.K.’s data protection watchdog put a ban on political ad campaign on platforms like Facebook, warning that these go against the spirit of democracy and posed great threat to elections’ authenticity.
The company has also said that they will not fact check these ads, so as to ensure ‘right to speech’ is upheld, thus in summation, giving advertisers license to run blatant harmful lies, if they so please.
Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management defended political ads by saying that regulators should set ad standards, thus pushing the work on to law makers while the company rolls around in cash, while making pure cosmetic changes to the ads employed just for PR which provide no significant protection to the user.
Yes, you may not be able to put a complete end to political advertising, since that forms a large chunk of Facebook’s ad revenues which again forms a massive chunk of company’s overall revenue. But that doesn’t stop the company from becoming accountable and responsible. There could have been checks and balances put in place, which would ensure that democracy stands tall, specially in crucial events such as the elections. But who cares?
See you in U.S. Congress again, Zuckerberg.