(CN) – Facebook reasserted its noninterventionist stance on political advertising Thursday, saying it will allow targeted political ads on its platform, but will offer users the option to see fewer of them.
Doubling down on the policy in a blog post, Facebook executive Rob Leathern said the company considered going the way of limiting targeted ads like Google, or banning them altogether like Twitter, but found them too valuable a tool for political groups and others.
Leathern said Facebook’s data found that 85% of spending by U.S. presidential candidates on Facebook went to targeted ad campaigns.
According to Facebook’s publicly available Ad Library, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent roughly $19 million on ads since Jan. 1, 2019.
Billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg spent $17.8 and $7.13 million, respectively, during the same time period.
Facebook also unveiled updates to its Ad Library search options and ad preferences for users. One new feature will allow people to see fewer political and social issue ads on Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook called a “common request we hear from people.”
The company’s support for unrestrained political speech raised an outcry from critics, chiefly politicos who are already wary of Facebook’s power and influence. Congressman David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, railed against Facebook’s policy on Twitter.
“Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with transparency and choice. This is about money,” he said. “Specifically, the $6 billion that will be spent on political ads in 2020 that Facebook will use to continue increasing their profits at the expense of our democracy.”
While Leathern said Facebook doesn’t believe private companies should be calling the shots on political ads, in the absence of government regulation companies have had to craft their own policies.
“We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public,” he said, adding that politicians must refrain from hate speech and intimidation. “This does not mean that politicians can say whatever they like in advertisements on Facebook. We regularly disallow ads from politicians that break our rules.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a Democratic presidential candidate, blasted the company on Twitter and renewed her call from late last year for Facebook to be broken up on antitrust grounds.
“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Warren said, referring to an laudatory Teen Vogue piece about the company’s efforts to combat propaganda and misinformation that turned out to be sponsored by Facebook. “Facebook needs real competition and accountability so our democracy isn’t held hostage to their desire to make money.”
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s camp also issued a scathing rebuke. In a statement, campaign spokesman Bill Russo called it a victory for disinformation and also took a shot at Trump.
“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Russo said. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”