Facebook will allow users to block political ads

Facebook will allow users to block political ads
© Greg Nash

Facebook users are gaining the option to opt out of seeing political ads on the platform entirely, CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergWe haven't seen how low it can go Hillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Facebook considering ban on political ads: reports MORE announced Tuesday. 

The social media giant, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide, will begin rolling out a feature that allows individuals to turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates and super PACs. The option will also be available on Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook. 

“For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you — so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads,” Zuckerberg wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “We’ll still remind you to vote.”

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The move comes less than five months away from the 2020 elections and as Facebook weathers continued scrutiny from lawmakers and advocacy groups over its policies surrounding misinformation. Facebook's current ad policy exempts political ads from fact-checking. 

Critics, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Teachers face off against Trump on school reopenings Biden wins Puerto Rico primary MORE, have repeatedly called on the company to do more to moderate what they view as dangerous content on the platform. 

The option to turn off political ads altogether will be available for a portion of U.S. users starting Wednesday, the company said in a blog post. The option will apply to social, issue, electoral or political ads with the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them. The company is planning to make the option available in countries where it has enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics in the fall.

The step was made as part of a larger initiative from the company to boost voter registration this year. Facebook is pledging to help up to 4 million people in the U.S. register to vote by November. 

Facebook has defended its decision to allow political ads to contain misinformation as an effort to promote free speech. The company's policies bar content that causes imminent physical harm or suppresses voting, but Zuckerberg has held that Facebook's moderation should not work as an "arbiter of truth" when it comes to remarks shared by politicians. 

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He argued in the USA Today op-ed that "accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say."

Biden's presidential campaign last week sent an open letter to Zuckerberg demanding the company change that stance. The former vice president called on Facebook to "proactively stem the tide of false information" and urged it to fact-check political ads two weeks before elections. 

"With fewer than five months until the 2020 election, real changes to Facebook's policies for their platform and how they enforce them are necessary to protect against a repeat of the role that disinformation played in the 2016 election and that continues to threaten our democracy today," campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement to The Hill.

Other tech companies have taken different approaches to political advertising. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last October announced a ban on all political ads appearing on the platform. Google said in November that it would continue to allow political ads but would no longer allow advertisers to micro-target their messaging.