Culture

Facebook and Instagram will now let you pretend political ads don't exist

The option to "turn off" political ads does nothing to stop harmful messages from spreading across the platform.

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Facebook is rolling out new controls that allow users to completely sweep their feeds of political advertising, the company announced in a blog post. The feature was originally announced earlier this year as part of Facebook's efforts to keep the network clean of interference leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

The controls work much like those already in place for other ads across Facebook and Instagram. When you see an ad you’re not a fan of, just click the option to “see fewer ads about this topic.” Users can also update this preference in the Ad Preferences section of their Facebook settings. A similar option is available for Instagram ads.

Political ads, which still go largely unchecked through Facebook’s fact-checking system, have been heavily criticized for allowing the continued spread of misinformation through the company’s platform. Rather than take the time to figure out those far-reaching issues, Facebook is telling users to just hide the ads if they don’t like them. That’s not a solution at all.

Some more transparency, too — Facebook is also introducing two new features to increase transparency around political advertisements.

The first feature is relatively minor as far as transparency goes. In the past, when someone shared a political or issue ad, the “Paid for by” disclaimer did not appear. Now those disclaimers will stay attached to all those ads no matter where they're shared. Why this wasn’t the case initially is a mystery.

The second feature allows for increased tracking of ad spending for political races, including for the 2020 presidential election. Facebook’s Ad Library now has a spending tracker that can be customized to compare how much cash candidates are spending on Facebook ads.

This doesn’t settle anything — There’s a fundamental misunderstanding between the criticism Facebook is facing and the actions the company is taking to supposedly rectify the issues at hand.

Facebook is allowing misinformation and other violations of its policies, including content that glorifies violence, to exist on its networks under the guise of “free speech.” Though Mark Zuckerberg has attempted to walk back his opinions on the matter, it’s increasingly obvious that he would rather let politicians say whatever they want to continue currying favor from important donors.

Facebook does seem to recognize its political ad policies are problematic — it just doesn’t want to address those problems head-on. Instead, Facebook says: If you don’t like it, you don’t have to see it. That doesn’t stop misinformation or other harmful information from spreading through political ads; if anything, the ability to hide political ads will only make users more ignorant of the ongoing problem by pushing it just out of sight.