Google clarifies its position on political ads

Google has gone public on its position on political ads, stating that it will no longer allow political advertisers to target voters based on personal affiliations. The move by the search engine giant will increase pressure on Facebook to limit what is often described as micro-targeting.
Google political ads
Google has clarified that it will clamp down on misleading and exploitative political ads. Photo: The Pancake of Heaven via Wikimedia.

Further clarification coming

In addition, Google has also indicated that it will further clarify its advertising policies around explicitly banned doctored videos and images, commonly referred to as ‘deepfakes’. Google will also address misleading and demonstrably false claims, with the concerns that electoral advertising has undermined the democratic process in recent elections.

“Whether you’re running for office or selling office furniture, we apply the same ads policies to everyone; there are no carve-outs,” the Google Ads executive Scott Spencer wrote in his blog.

Facebook pressure

The move by Google will ramp up the pressure on Facebook, particularly as the social media market-leader has been particularly criticized for its political advertising template. Facebook has raised a huge amount of revenue via advertising in general, and political advertising in particular, but has also attracted criticism for what is perceived to be the biased nature of some of this advertising.

Google ads
Mobile users are increasingly impacted by digital advertising, with political ads targeted at various demographics. Photo: Create Health via Flickr.

Indeed, Facebook had come out explicitly and indicated that it would allow politicians an exemption from its ban on false claims in advertising. This was largely deemed a controversial decision when announced, but CEO and founder of the company, Mark Zuckerberg, robustly defended Facebook’s approach to political advertising in a recent speech.

New regulations

However, Google has also clarified that there will be a limit to the level of political advertising control that is possible, with the aforementioned Spencer noting that “no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation”. Google will instead concentrate on “clear violations” of its policy, which aims to protect users from the most biased and misleading information.

Under the new regulations that Google is putting in place, any advertisements that refer to candidates, political parties, or ballot measures will be prevented from using Google’s powerful data tools. However, some demographic targeting will still be allowed, with age, gender, and location all being permitted, despite the new Google approach.

Google’s views aligns the corporation with Twitter, which also moved to voluntarily limit its political advertising ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. This surprise announcement was made in October, and now the decision of Google will put the onus on Facebook to revise its political advertising policy.

Google political advertisements
The decision of Google will put pressure on Facebook to follow suit, despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s robust defence of the corporation. Photo: Anthony Quintano via Flickr.

Facebook revenue

Facebook would certainly wish to defy any ban on micro-targeting, if indeed this is feasible from a PR perspective, as its enormous amounts of personal data have ensured that it has become an advertising behemoth. Diluting this in any way would potentially cost Facebook a vast amount of money, and this is obviously something that the social media business would wish to avoid.

The discussion will be particularly sensitive at a time when the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is facing impeachment over accusations that he had secretly pressurised the Ukraine to intervene in the forthcoming election in the United States. Trump has repeatedly denied the charges, but the impeachment hearings continue.

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