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Google removes hundreds of Trump video ads

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Google and its subsidiary YouTube has removed hundreds of Trump campaign ads, a CBS News investigation found. Meanwhile, a controversial Conservative Party advert has been removed from Facebook.

A boom in attention-grabbing digital advertising by political parties has sparked debate among politicians, regulators, and platforms about how to balance freedom of speech with a responsibility to prevent manipulation, such as through viral deception and inappropriate micro-targeting.

In recent months, some of the world’s largest online companies have been pressured into taking a stand against manipulative political advertising, which can spread very quickly on social networks, boosted by algorithms prioritising controversial and ‘engaging’ content. The issue is considered pressing, given the risk of the upcoming 2020 US presidential election being manipulated (including by state actors) as was the case in 2016.

According to a report from CBS News, Google and its subsidiary YouTube have so far removed at least 300 video adverts placed by the Trump campaign, mainly during the summer of 2018. Although the ads were removed for violating terms of service, Google’s Political Advertising Transparency Report did not include explanations for their removal. The ads typically ran for several days before being removed from Google’s platforms. The findings were reported on CBS News’ 60 Minutes.

Despite the removal and rejection of hundreds of ads run by the Trump campaign, YouTube remains under scrutiny for its decision to allow a controversial campaign video which includes misleading claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

YouTube remains under fire, having allowed a controversial campaign video to remain on the platform which includes misleading claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The “Biden Corruption” ad – which CNN has refused to air – claims that Biden promised $1bn to Ukraine in exchange for the firing of the prosecutor investigating Biden’s son’s business interests. The Trump campaign has reportedly defended the advert as “factually accurate”. Speaking in an interview on 60 Minutes, YouTube President Susan Wojcicki stated that the ad, while inaccurate, does not violate YouTube’s policies.

In October, Facebook rejected a request from the Biden campaign to remove the ad.

Meanwhile, Facebook has agreed to delete a short Conservative Party video ad featuring BBC News footage which the broadcaster complained was taken out of context in a manner which “could damage perceptions of our impartiality”. Facebook removed the video for infringement of intellectual property rights after the Conservative Party rejected a request from the BBC to remove the ad.

In October, Twitter announced that it would ban almost all political advertising on its platform with CEO Jack Dorsey commenting that: “Political message reach should be earned, not bought.” In November, Google announced that it would be placing restrictions on political advertising to prevent micro-targeting. Facebook has so far refused to introduce similar restrictions on political advertising, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg defending the company’s decision to allow politicians to post lies on his platforms. However, Google and Facebook have both taken steps towards transparency by creating publicly-available archives of political ads.

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