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Trump campaign rages at Facebook’s hint about political ad restrictions

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

A prominent member of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pre-emptively warned Facebook against departing from its laissez-faire approach to political advertising.

Facebook has not confirmed any changes to its policy on political advertising. However, the Wall Street Journal has reported that it is discussing the possibility of introducing some restrictions on political ads with representatives from both the Republican and the Democratic parties.

Earlier this week, Google announced that it would place restrictions on political advertising by preventing campaigns from using micro-targeting tools. Micro-targeting by digital political campaigns – which allows for individuals to be targeted based on their interests and psychological profiles, interactions with sites and pages, and even their contact information – has attracted concern, amid a larger controversy surrounding the negative impacts of online platforms on democracy.

Google’s decision came less than a month after Twitter announced that it would put a stop to almost all political advertising, raising the pressure on Facebook – as the main online arena in which recent political campaigns have been fought – to take a stand on the issue. Facebook has long defended virtually all political advertising on its platform as an important aspect of freedom of speech, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg even defending the right of politicians to lie in Facebook ads.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Facebook is considering taking a stand against micro-targeting by political campaigns by increasing the minimum number of people who can be targeted from 100 to 1,000.

Carolyn Everson, Facebook VP of global marketing, told an Axios conference earlier this week that while Facebook would not limit precise targeting of political advertisement, it was not ruling out limiting exactly how voters can be targeted. Facebook said in a statement yesterday that: “We are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”

Gary Coby, digital director for the Trump campaign, has already lashed out against the suggestion, writing on Twitter that this would remove “tools that help us reach more great Americans [and] lift voices the media [and] big tech choose to ignore!”

He later wrote: “If Hillary [Clinton] would’ve won, these tools would’ve been celebrated”.

The New York Times reports that other campaign strategists have raised concerns with Facebook about how recently introduced restrictions on online political advertising could affect their work, including reaching unregistered voters and raising donations.

The Trump campaign is by far Facebook’s most lucrative political spender. Recently, it emerged that the President had hosted Zuckerberg for an undisclosed dinner at the White House in October, following the CEO’s meetings with a number of other hard-right political figures.

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