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Facebook to update political ad controls for users

Facebook Inc. updated its political ad policy and urged U.S. lawmakers to consider creating a regulatory standard for how online political ads should be treated as the social media company and its peers increasingly diverge in their handling of political marketing.

In a company blog post, Rob Leathern, Facebook's director of product management, said Facebook's approach to political advertising is aimed at increasing transparency while continuing to allow politicians and political groups to target advertising to specific users. Facebook said 85% of political ad spending by U.S. presidential candidates on its platform targets groups of more than 250,000 people.

Social media companies have faced criticism for allowing advertising to target small groups of users. Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC in November 2019 announced plans to limit ad targeting. Twitter Inc. in the month prior banned all political advertising from its platform. Facebook said it considered placing limitations on political ad targeting but chose not to do so after speaking with a broad array of interest groups, including committees representing both major U.S. political parties.

Facebook's political ad updates, which will apply to its namesake platform as well as Instagram LLC, will allow users to limit the number of political ads they see and to view and opt in or out of customized audience lists used for targeted advertising. U.S. users will be able to limit how many political ads they view by this summer. Other changes will begin rolling out in the first quarter and will be applicable in countries where Facebook uses "Paid for by" disclaimers on political ads, Leathern said.

The updates will also make it easier for researchers and journalists to search for and compile information about political advertising on Facebook's platforms, the company said.

"Ultimately, we don't think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies, which is why we are arguing for regulation that would apply across the industry," the executive wrote. Facebook is working with regulators in the European Union and other regions to encourage the adoption of a standardized regulatory approach to online political advertising, he said.