The big picture: Facebook has been open about its reluctance to take the responsibility of moderating political advertising on its platform. But seeing as other tech giants like Google, Twitter and Snap have all committed to doing their part to prevent the spread of misinformation through their online tools, the company might be open to changing its tune.
Lately, big tech companies that run ad networks have all outlined changes to their political ads policy in response to the increased public and regulatory scrutiny they face ahead of the upcoming elections. Their approaches are different, but they all have some restrictions in place to crack down on misinformation and actions that threaten election integrity.
At one end of the spectrum is Twitter who, unlike Facebook, has decided to simply place a ban on almost any type of political advertising - save for a few cases when it promotes a good cause. Then there's Snap, who says it's continuing a tradition of vetting all advertising with a focus on factual accuracy. And now even Google has outlined a similar set of rules that will affect search ads, display ads on millions of websites, and YouTube ads.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is feeling the pressure of being the odd one out, so it has been researching some possible changes to its political ads policy. Apparently it even went to discuss some of these options with large Republican and Democratic advertisers and asked them for feedback and ideas.
The details of the discussions are scarce, but Facebook has reportedly spent the last few weeks testing the idea of changing the precision of its ad targeting tools. Instead of letting political advertisers specifically craft their ads for groups of one hundred people, the new policy could set the minimum at several thousands to prevent filter bubbles.
Even Facebook employees have offered their input on the matter with a direct letter addressed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg where they argue the current policy runs contrary to the company's values. They proposed ideas like distinguishing political ads from non-paid content as one of several ways the social giant can reverse course and improve public trust.
On Wednesday, the company launched new "brand safety" tools for advertisers that are supposed to improve the quality of Facebook's ecosystem of content, publishers, and ads. In an interview with CNBC, Facebook's vice president of global marketing Carolyn Everson said the company doesn't want to make the social network safer than TV but has 35,000 people working on removing fake or fraudulent accounts and removing content that breaks the rules.
That means Facebook is willing to crack down on misleading ads. However, if you look at what Zuckerberg said in a speech in October, it becomes clear he's been trying to keep the company out of the political debate while seemingly allowing it to happen outside the rules. Whether that was the right call remains to be seen, but so far he's passed the ball to the government to figure out internet regulation that would lead to more accountability.
In response to the news that Facebook might change how its ad targeting works, Trump's 2020 election campaign is now attacking the social giant on Twitter. In a tweet from the Team Trump account, it claims that Facebook "wants to take important tools away from us for 2020. Tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media and big tech choose to ignore."