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Facebook Stops New Political Ads To Try To Limit Misinformation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. As we have noted, we are just one week to go until the official Election Day. That means election season will be over, and it's only at this point that Facebook has decided to put a stop to political ads on its site.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Right. But there is a twist here worth mentioning. This ban only applies to new political ads about candidates and issues. That means that older ads that have already been published might still appear in your feed. Facebook is the biggest beneficiary of political ad spending online, but it says it's making this move to limit misinformation about the election. And just a note here - Facebook is a financial supporter of NPR.

MARTIN: We've got Shannon Bond, NPR's tech correspondent, with us this morning. Hi, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. If we scroll through Facebook today, what's going to be different?

BOND: Well, not a whole lot. So you'll still see ads about the election, about issues on the ballot if they were running already. So if you saw an ad yesterday, you could see that same ad again today. And in fact, campaigns running these ads can distribute them as far, as wide as they choose. They can change their spending. They can change their targeting. They just can't change the message. Facebook says it's doing this because there just may not be enough time in these final days of the election to contest any new claims that are made in ads.

MARTIN: I mean, so what Facebook is doing with a week out, I mean, it's not exactly a profile in courage here. I mean, is what they're doing really going to have that much of an impact?

BOND: Well, you know, ads are just part of the puzzle, not the whole picture. They're just a fraction of all of the political content that you can find on Facebook. I mean, think about President Trump. He has a huge Facebook following. He can post new attacks on Joe Biden up to and through Election Day; Biden can do the same. They just can't pay to promote those messages.

MARTIN: OK. So put what Facebook is doing into a broader context, if you could. How does it compare with the rules that other tech companies have in place? And I'm not just talking about Twitter but also TikTok, YouTube.

BOND: Yeah. So the biggest contrast is with Twitter and TikTok. They have both banned political advertising entirely. Those were decisions those companies made last year. Google, which owns YouTube and is also an NPR sponsor, does allow political ads, but it doesn't let campaigns do the kind of microtargeting that Facebook does. So, you know, if I'm on Facebook, I might see one set of ads. My husband might be sitting right next to me on his phone or his computer and see totally different ads. But, you know, Rachel, despite all of these differences, these tech companies, they're all really concerned about this election, about the potential for unrest or even violence. And that's why they're putting so many new rules into place, even as people are already out there voting. And we are going to get a break from online political ads after Election Day. Facebook and Google are both temporarily banning all ads about the election or politics or issues after the polls close for some period of time.

MARTIN: I mean, listeners in battleground states or states where, you know, the race is close know this. They're just inundated with political ads right now, especially on TV. Is there something about ads on Facebook that we need to treat with more caution than the ones we see on television?

BOND: I mean, critics of Facebook would say, yes. You know, Facebook's ads, as we said, can be targeted much more individually than TV ads. They also just look more like regular Facebook posts. So it's not always immediately clear you're seeing an ad. But, you know, this is really all up to Facebook at the end to decide what it wants to allow.

MARTIN: NPR's Shannon Bond, she covers technology for us. Thank you, Shannon.

BOND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.