Political Ads on Social Media: How Much True or Misleading

First published on: 2019-12-28 Written by Ajit K. Jha Socio-Economic Development

political-ads-on-social-media Undoubtedly social media and internet has become one of the most powerful media today.

The raging debate in the U.S ahead of the coming election is whether political ads should be permitted on social media if they contain false and misleading information. The social media users are visibly angry over political ads and there has been a mass exodus from Twitter to open source micro-blogging site Mastodon.

The disappointment and anger with social media has its origin in the overall opaque content moderation policies of the social media sites. When Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in light of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s private meetings to cultivate conservative allies, there were calls to delete facebook.

Social Media: Evil with a Yawning Chasm?

However, despite this rage against the social media, their user base continues to inflate, according to several studies. According to one unnamed study (see the study in the link) reported in firstpost.com, “60 percent of 1,006 habitual internet users agreed that Twitter nurtured a toxic audience and 71 percent said Facebook was the most toxic social media platform.

Yet, only 28 percent of users stopped using Facebook on this count.” Another study of nearly 12,000 internet users claims that even as most of the subjects said they wanted to spend time away from internet but could not do so.

This clearly indicates the power of social media or internet over the users despite the accusations that social media is an evil, undemocratic, and opaque. In short, social media is evil with a yawning chasm dividing the admin and the policy makers and the millions of powerless users.

False vs. Right on Social Media

Let us briefly see how social media platforms deal with false and misleading political ads:

Facebook

If you are an unscrupulous politician with false claims, facebook is probably the best place for you because you can run your ads with false claims.

There is no third-party fact-checking program on facebook despite frequent criticism and attacks from regulators and law makers. Mark Zuckerberg’s standard response is that he does not want to stifle political speech.

Twitter

Twitter has adopted a fair approach. They have banned political ads. This includes ads that refer to a politician, party, candidate and legislation among others. The company also disallows ads “that advocate for a specific outcome on political or social causes.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement said, “political message reach should be earned not bought.” The critics have however pointed out that this will hurt less popular candidates.

Google

Google’s policy comes somewhere mid-way. Google and its video-streaming service You Tube prohibit certain extreme forms of political ads such as “misinformation about public voting procedures or incorrect claims that a public figure has died.” In other words, nothing stops Google from stopping politicians publishing false and misleading ads.

In fact, they did not take a Trump Campaign ad despite being told that it contained a false claim, the Google did not comply because it did not violate the company’s policies.

Snapchat

Political advertising is permitted here if it does not contain false or misleading information, that is if they are not “misleading, deceptive or violate the terms of service”.

The company along with Facebook, Google and Twitter has launched a public database of political ads. Political ads in their definition include, “election-related, advocacy and issue ads.”

While snapchat does not ban ‘attack’ ads in general, but the company prohibits “attacks relating to a candidate's personal life”.

Tiktok

The Chinese company Tiktok does not allow political advertising on its platform. The company claimed recently that the platform is meant to remain "light-hearted and irreverent."

“The nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience,” wrote Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s vice president of global business solutions.

The company has recently attracted the concerns of the U.S law makers because of suspicion over censoring politically sensitive content and storage of personal data.

Reddit

This company allows political ads and ads from political candidates but only at the federal level, not the state or local levels. In addition, ads on political elections, issues and candidates are limited geographically to the U.S, not outside.

Social network Reddit allows ads related to political issues and it allows ads from political candidates at the federal level, but not for state or local elections.

According to the company policies to which the political ads have to abide by ads that are "deceptive, untrue or misleading” are forbidden and political ads must abide by its policies that forbid "deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising" and "content that depicts intolerant or overly contentious political or cultural topics or views" are forbidden.

Linkedin

Linked in owned by Microsoft Corp probably takes the safest course to steer clear of all controversies. Last year, the company banned political ads, which is defined in the following words: “ads advocating for or against a particular candidate or ballot proposition or otherwise intended to influence an election outcome."

Microsoft also owns the search engine Bing where political or election related ads are not permitted.

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