Facebook blocks some promotional posts, but allows political ads

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Facebook is allowing some political ads to run in its platform without the requisite verification, but has been blocking promotional posts by news sites, which seems to run contrary to its new transparency policies. News organizations are, however, able to appeal, and have sometimes successfully convinced Facebook to acknowledge its mistakes.

Here are a few examples of the inconsistency claimed by critics

One ad, which was targeted to users aged 18 or more, encouraged users to vote “Yes” on a ballot proposition to issue bonds for the San Francisco Unified School District. In spite of its overt political message, the ad showed up on the news feeds of users without the “paid for by” disclaimer that is required for political ads under Facebook’s new transparency policy, and it does not appear on Facebook’s new archive of political ads.

By contrast, a promotional ad by the nonprofit news publisher the Hechinger Report, which promoted an article about financial aid for college students, was flagged as political.   Once its ad was flagged as political, the news outlet would have to go through the multi-step authorization and authentication process that Facebook requires for people running “issue ads” or “electoral ads.” When the Hechinger Report appealed the decision, Facebook acknowledged that its system should have let the ad run without the restrictions.

Later, Facebook blocked another ad from the same news outlet, about DACA students enrolling in and graduating from college. Facebook disagreed with the Hechinger Report’s appeal on that ad, arguing that the imagery and text was political.

The critique and the defense of Facebook’s screening procedures

Facebook’s new screening policies, which were created to prevent manipulation of political ads, may be creating their own set of problems. According to one report, participants in the Facebook Political Ad Collector project of ProPublica submitted around 40 ads which should have carried disclaimers under the new policy of Facebook, but didn’t.

Recently, while speaking at a panel discussion in New York, Mark Thompson, the chief executive of The New York Times Company, accused Facebook of supporting the “enemies of quality journalism” unintentionally by using algorithms that can wrongly specify news as part of political content. Facebook’s head of global news partnerships defended the policy, citing the importance of shielding elections from improper influence.


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