Google Changed Its Political Ad Policy. Will Facebook Be Next?

In Media, Misleading Information On
- Updated

CURATOR NOTE:  This is a huge leap forward in fighting digital disinformation. We are all fortunate that this is coming a year before the elections so we all have time to work on the issue of propaganda. This is written in the moment when the House will likely impeach Trump and the Senate will likely not remove him from office. That “impeachment outcome” means that the propaganda will interfere in the US 2020 elections from all directions — certainly Russia, China, South Korea, Iran — but most importantly the American public. We now have a full-scale, homegrown propaganda machine in our midst.

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This was a bad week for the head of the Trump campaign, Brad Parscale, but not because of the blockbuster testimony of America’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in the impeachment hearings linking his boss to the pay-for-play scheme in Ukraine.

Google announced on Wednesday that it would start to rein in its political advertising business. Mr. Parscale — an Olympic manipulator of digital information who specializes in creating disingenuous political ads filled with conspiracy theories — will now have one less weapon in his digital arsenal to wage his scorched-earth re-election campaign.

He responded to the news with typical pique, tweeting at Google: “Political elites & Big Tech want to rig elections — Dem primary & 2020 included. They’re targeting Trump because he’s the big dog, but they’re after Dems like Sanders & Warren. Won’t stop until they control all digital political speech.”

Google does not plan to completely ban political advertising. But the new policy will hinder many political campaign operatives — and Mr. Parscale most of all since he is the most deft user of tech tools in politics. The Trump campaign continues to outspend and outperform all the Democratic wannabes on digital combined.

Campaigns will still be able to target ads on Google based on users’ age, gender, location and the content of websites users have visited. But now they cannot direct their ads using several specific audience attributes, like political affiliation or public voting records. Campaigns will no longer be able to microtarget — tailoring ads to people’s specific data and behavior — which is the online equivalent of whispering millions of different messages into zillions of different ears for maximum effect and with minimum scrutiny.

And political organizations will no longer be able to reach “affinity audiences,” groups of users who are bundled according to similar habits. Google also clarified its rules around lack of truth advertising, banning ads with “demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust” in elections. And more: Campaigns cannot use specific names they have collected to target ads, and Google also disallowed “remarketing” to those who visit campaign web sites.

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