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Facebook Limits the Political Advertising Ability of Pages, Ads

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Facebook expanded the number of pages, advertisers and pages that will be banned from political advertising on the social network as part of a project announced on Friday that will be expanded to Instagram in the coming months.

The move by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is intended to address complaints that its platform was used by foreign actors to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While Facebook has disclosed the sophistication of these interference campaigns, it has avoided disclosing much more. It will be the first time Facebook has publicly revealed its new ad restrictions.

Facebook’s goal in addressing the controversy is to maintain its privacy and data protection promise to the public, while simultaneously thwarting anyone who would try to take advantage of its technology to manipulate elections or incite unrest. “Ads in the interest of free speech, or anyone’s free speech, are not going to be banned,” said Taylor Wimberly, product manager for political ad policies at Facebook. “But if someone spends a lot of money trying to manipulate the election, or even incite riots, we’re going to go after that too.”

The new rules will affect thousands of pages that have over 500 fans and any advertisers that use Facebook’s ad product. The additional restriction does not apply to organizations with political advertising that qualify as “electioneering communications” for the purposes of the Federal Election Commission, though.

Facebook will also publish a monthly report on the proportion of political ads that were removed and continue to spread misinformation through the site during the course of a presidential election.

In the release, Facebook did not say how many of its 8 million advertisers are involved in political ads. However, Alastair Mitchell, the executive director of the digital charity Index on Censorship, says that the social network serves more than 3.5 million advertisers, which suggests that foreign actors might already be targeting Facebook with millions of political ads on each presidential campaign.

“Facebook’s revised policy is welcome but it’s a drop in the ocean given that the consensus estimate is that at least six million ads were used in the U.S. presidential election last year,” he said. “Now, Facebook has only banned just over two percent of all political ads in this U.S. election. That’s like banning the Lindsay Lohan adverts, but not enough to stop Facebook from being used for propaganda and disinformation.”

Facebook’s executive said that it would not be difficult to assess the potential consequences of the new restrictions by looking at how much political speech is being suppressed. “The goal is not just to be more transparent,” said Ms. Wimberly. “We want to be proactive too.”

These changes come as Congress, the European Union and other governments are increasingly expressing a concern about online interference in national elections and have pressed Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to come up with better ways to crack down on it.

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