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Facebook allows US users to disable political ads

Users of the social media platform will soon be able to opt out of seeing politically motivated posts

Facebook has announced that starting in the US, users will be given the option to remove all political advertising from their Facebook and Instagram feeds.

The changes are part of Facebook’s preparations for this year’s elections and come in response to public demands for transparency following controversy surrounding the 2016 US presidential campaigns.

Russian-backed Facebook posts were found to have reached 126 million Americans leading up to the election.

Nick Clegg, vice-president of global affairs and communications at Facebook, said the company had “absolutely” got things wrong in the lead-up to prior elections. Facebook is now “getting better and better at defending the integrity of the of the democratic process”, he said, speaking on the Today Programme.

Under the new system, users can turn off recognised electoral or political marketing from candidates, Super PACs (political action committees) and other politically sponsored organisations. Adjustments can be made directly through each political platform’s advertisement settings.

Facebook is ensuring “Paid for by” disclaimers will remain visible after posts have been shared. Advertisement spending in congressional races will be shown publicly on Facebook’s Ad Library.

A Voting Information Centre will guide users on where they can register to vote or request an absentee or mail-in ballot. Local election alerts from officials about changes in the voting process will also be provided.

Clegg has described the project as “America's largest voter information registration effort ever”.

Facebook aims to make these features available in other parts of the world later this autumn, in countries where the company has enforcement on “ads about social issues, elections and politics”. In the US, it aims to help register an additional four million voters this year.

Facebook was criticised previously for its refusal to follow Twitter’s lead and offer a public fact-checking feature for political adverts.

Last week, presidential contender Joe Biden’s campaign released a petition and an open letter to Facebook urging the company to cease the “spread of disinformation that undermines our elections”.

It asked Facebook to “promote authoritative and trustworthy sources of election information”, “promptly remove false, viral information”, and “prevent political candidates and PACs from using paid advertising” to spread misinformation. Anything less will “render Facebook a tool of misinformation that corrodes our democracy”, says Biden.

Clegg says Facebook’s latest safeguards are designed to prevent interference in this year’s November elections while still protecting political speech. An “abundance of caution” is being placed in making sure that ads run by Chinese or Russian or other state-controlled media entities do not seek to exploit division.

Facebook has “no legitimacy to act as an arbiter of political truth”, according to Clegg. “The idea that a private company… should intervene, saying you can’t say this and you can’t say that… Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook don’t have the legitimacy to do that,” he said.

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