How are Facebook Political Ads affecting us?

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In early 2018, a political consulting firm named Cambridge Analytical allegedly influenced the US elections by using a flaw in Facebook’s algorithm. As the misconduct came to light, a Pandora’s Box into the ethics of political advertising was unleashed. On the eve of these events, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, stood before the US Senate and promised to do better, to protect the privacy of Facebook users.

Merely a year into this fiasco, Facebook has yet again come under scrutiny for their refusal to fact-check political advertisements. As political parties continue to target unwitting voters to gain a political advantage over their competitors, Facebook has maintained the stance of a mute spectator. Mark Zuckerberg defends Facebook’s position under the garb of freedom of speech.

Let us look at the scenario in India to get an idea of the impact of political ads on users of social media platforms. To start with, a report by Facebook Ad Library estimates the money spent by national parties such as BJP on digital advertisements alone at a whopping ₹4.3 Crore.

“The BJP’s spend is on expected lines. They are carpet-bombing the media,” Karthik Srinivasan, a Communications Consultant, and Former National Lead, Social, at Ogilvy told the Economic Times.

Of the 900 Million registered voters in India, 300 Million are on Facebook. Naturally, Facebook advertising has significant sway over the elections. The importance of taking strict measures against propaganda and fake news is made starker by the decision of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to relinquish all political advertising from their platform.

We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey wrote in a tweet.

Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, stood defiant on their decision to run unchecked political ads.

At times of social tension there has often been an urge to pull back on free expression, and that we will be best served over the long term by resisting this urge and defending free expression,” he said in response to the backlash.

Is it necessary to fact check/ ban political advertisements from all social media platforms? Or is it a violation of freedom of speech to interfere in political ads? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.