Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

Facebook is going to let US voters opt out of seeing political ads

Category:
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11:  Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the second day of testimony before Congress by Zuckerberg, 33, after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11:  Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the second day of testimony before Congress by Zuckerberg, 33, after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The news: Facebook has announced that people will soon be able to opt out of seeing political advertisements on its platform. It will start giving a small group of US users the ability to hide ads from candidates or political action committees in their Facebook or Instagram feeds before expanding the feature to all US users and several other countries in the coming weeks.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said users will still be reminded to vote, and the company aims to help 4 million people register. “I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of color — but also to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration and turnout,” he wrote.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Facebook is trying to respond to one of the biggest criticisms it’s faced in recent years, from those including the Biden presidential campaign—that it exempts political ads from its fact-checking program, thus letting politicians lie without consequence. Letting users opt out doesn’t change that.

And that’s not all: The change also doesn’t deal with another common claim about online political ads, which is that micro-targeting voters by area, age, or gender is unhealthy for democracy, reducing accountability and letting misinformation spread quickly. Social-media companies have diverged on this issue. Twitter stopped accepting political ads last year. Its cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey said: “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.”