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How social media sites handle political ads

Online platforms including Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google face growing pressure to stop carrying political ads that contain false or misleading claims ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

In the United States, the Communications Act prevents broadcast stations from rejecting or censoring ads from candidates for federal office once they have accepted advertising for that political race, although this does not apply to cable networks like CNN, or to social media sites, where leading presidential candidates are spending millions to target voters in the run-up to the November 2020 election.

The following is how social media platforms have decided to handle false or misleading claims in political ads:


Facebook exempts politicians from its third-party fact-checking program, allowing them to run ads with false claims.

The policy has been attacked by regulators and lawmakers who say it could spread misinformation and cause voter suppression. Critics including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren have also run intentionally false Facebook ads to highlight the issue.

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has defended the company’s stance, arguing that it does not want to stifle political speech, but he also said the company was considering ways to refine the policy.

Facebook does fact-check content from political groups. The company also says it fact-checks politicians if they share previously debunked content and does not allow this content in ads.


Twitter Inc has banned political ads. On Friday it said this will include ads that reference a political candidate, party, election or legislation, among other limits.

The company also said it will not allow ads that advocate for a specific outcome on political or social causes.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement last month.

Some lawmakers praised the ban but critics said Twitter’s decision would benefit incumbent and hurt less well-known candidates.

Officials from the Trump campaign, which is out-spending its Democratic rivals on Facebook and Google ads, called the ban “dumb” but also said it would have little effect on the president’s strategy.

The overall political ad spend for the 2018 U.S. midterm elections on Twitter was less than $3 million, Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said.

“Twitter from an advertising perspective is not a player at all. Facebook and Google are the giants in political ads,” said Steve Passwaiter, vice president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media.


Google and its video-streaming service YouTube prohibit certain kinds of misrepresentation in ads, such as misinformation about public voting procedures or incorrect claims that a public figure has died.

However, Google does not have a wholesale ban on politicians running false or misleading ads.

In October, when former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign asked the company to take down a Trump campaign ad that it said contained false claims, a Google spokeswoman told Reuters it did not violate the site’s policies.

YouTube has started adding links and information from Wikipedia to give users more information around sensitive content such as conspiracy theory videos, but a spokeswoman said this program does not relate to ads.


Snap Inc allows political advertising unless the ads are misleading, deceptive or violate the terms of service on its disappearing message app Snapchat.

The company, which recently joined Facebook, Twitter and Google in launching a public database of its political ads, defines political ads as including election-related, advocacy and issue ads.

Snap does not ban “attack” ads in general, but its policy does prohibit attacks relating to a candidate’s personal life.


The Chinese-owned video app popular with U.S. teenagers does not permit political advertising on the platform.

In an October blog post TikTok said that the company wants to make sure the platform continues to feel “light-hearted and irreverent.”

“The nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience,” wrote Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s vice president of global business solutions.

The app, which is owned by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, has recently come under scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers over concerns the company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.


Social network Reddit allows ads related to political issues and it allows ads from political candidates at the federal level, but not for state or local elections.

It also does not allow ads about political issues, elections or candidates outside of the United States.

The company says all political ads must abide by its policies that forbid “deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising” and that prohibit “content that depicts intolerant or overly contentious political or cultural topics or views.”


LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft Corp, banned political ads last year. It defines political ads as including “ads advocating for or against a particular candidate or ballot proposition or otherwise intended to influence an election outcome.”

Search engine Bing, which is also owned by Microsoft, does not allow ads with political or election-related content.


Photo-sharing site Pinterest Inc also banned political campaign ads last year.

This includes advertising for political candidates, political action committees (PACs), legislation, or political issues with the intent to influence an election, according to the site’s ads policy.

“We want to create a positive, welcoming environment for our Pinners and political campaign ads are divisive by nature,” said Pinterest spokeswoman Jamie Favazza, who told Reuters the decision was also part of the company’s strategy to address misinformation.


A spokeswoman for Twitch told Reuters the live-streaming gaming network does not allow political advertising.

The site does not strictly ban all issue-based advertising but the company considers whether an ad could be seen as “political” when it is reviewed, the spokeswoman said.

Twitch, which is owned by Amazon.com Inc, is primarily a video gaming platform but also has channels focused on sports, music and politics. In recent months, political candidates such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders have joined the platform ahead of the 2020 election.


Int’l committee calls for pause on false political ads online

An international “grand committee” of lawmakers called on Thursday for a pause on online micro-targeted political ads with false or misleading information until the area is regulated.

The committee, formed to investigate disinformation, gathered in Dublin to hear evidence from Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google and other experts about online harms, hate speech and electoral interference. The meeting was attended by lawmakers from Australia, Finland, Estonia, Georgia, Singapore, the UK and United States.

The committee’s inaugural session in London last November featured an empty chair for Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg after he declined to be questioned.

Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over its decision to not fact-check ads run by politicians, which intensified when rival Twitter announced last month that it would ban all political ads.

Zuckerberg has defended this policy, saying that the company does not want to stifle political speech.

Politicians can micro-target groups of voters on social media based on user data such as location, age and interests, a practice critics fear could intensify the effects of false or misleading information on certain groups and suppress voter turnout.

At a conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Europe’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said, “If it’s only in your feed, between you and Facebook, and their micro-targeting of who you are, that’s not democracy anymore.”

Facebook said on Thursday a doctored video shared by Britain’s governing Conservatives would not have broken its rules on political advertising if it had run as a paid-for ad.

“Ads from political parties and political candidates are not subject to our fact-checking rules,” Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s head of UK Public Policy, told reporters on a call to explain the company’s policies ahead of Britain’s Dec. 12 election.

“What that has meant is what the Conservative party put in that advert has been the subject of ferocious public debate and discussion, precisely because people could see that it was there,” Stimson said.

Facebook partners with global third-party fact-checking organizations to curb misinformation on the site.

Ahead of an election that could shape the fate of Brexit, some politicians have expressed concerns that misleading information could spread swiftly across social media.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party chairman was forced to defend the distribution of a doctored video clip of a rival Labour Party politician on Wednesday, overshadowing the launch of the party’s election campaign.

Johnson’s Conservatives posted the heavily edited video clip of Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer on Facebook and Twitter, editing out a key response in an interview to give the impression that the party had no answer for Brexit.

The video was shared as a normal post on the Conservatives’ Facebook page, but has not been used as a paid-for ad on the platform, according to a search of Facebook’s Ad Library, a database launched to increase political ad transparency.


U.S. accuses two former Twitter employees of spying for Saudi Arabia

Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, who used to work for Twitter, and Ahmed Almutairi, who then worked for the Saudi royal family, face charges of working for Saudi Arabia without registering as foreign agents, according to the complaint filed against them on Wednesday.

The indictment points an unusually public finger at Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that maintains warm ties with President Donald Trump despite its bad human rights record.

Saudi Arabia has not yet publicly remarked on the complaint.

King Salman met with the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, in the capital Riyadh, the state news agency said on Thursday. It gave no details on the topics discussed at the meeting, which was also attended by the Saudi foreign and interior ministers and the U.S. ambassador.

Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers are already deeply critical of Riyadh’s conduct of the war in Yemen and the 2018 murder at a Saudi consulate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had U.S. residency and wrote for the Washington Post.

Despite the pressure, Trump has stood by the kingdom and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who appears in the complaint as Royal Family Member-1, according to the Washington Post, which initially reported the charges.

The charges also put Silicon Valley companies in the spotlight once again over how they protect the intimate details they collect about their users, including from employees with no legitimate reason for accessing the information.

According to the complaint, Abouammo repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family in early 2015. At one instance, he was able to view the email address and telephone number associated with the account.

He also accessed the account of a second Saudi critic to get personally identifiable information.

Twitter uncovered Alzabarah’s unauthorized access of private data and placed him on administrative leave in late 2015, but not before he had tapped data from over 6,000 accounts, including 33 for which Saudi authorities had submitted law enforcement requests to Twitter, the complaint said.

“This information could have been used to identify and locate the Twitter users who published these posts,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.

Almutairi, for his part, is accused of acting as a go-between for the Saudi government and the Twitter employees.

Abouammo, who is a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Seattle, Washington while the other two are presumed to be in Saudi Arabia, the department said. Abouammo was ordered to remain behind bars pending a detention hearing Friday.


The two former Twitter employees were given cash and other rewards, such as an expensive watch, in exchange for the information they shared, the complaint said.

Abouammo later claimed the watch was worth $35,000 in communications with prospective buyers on Craigslist.org.

They appeared to have been cultivated by a senior Saudi official, identified by the Washington Post as Bader al-Asaker, Prince Mohammad’s close adviser who now heads the crown prince’s private office and charity MiSK.

Most contacts occurred in 2014 and 2015, when the crown prince was rising to power, according to the U.S. complaint.

One man posted a photo of himself with the crown prince during his visit to Washington in May 2015, while another flew to Washington from San Francisco during the same time, the Justice Department complaint says.

The Saudi embassy and government media office did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters could not reach al-Asaker and he did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Twitter said it was grateful to the FBI and U.S. Justice Department. “We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” it said.

“Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees. We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable.”

Twitter would not comment on how it became aware of the two men’s activities or whether it alerted law enforcement.


Sanwo-Olu promises to provide relief packages for Balogun market fire victims 

Gov. Sanwo-Olu at the scene of the Balogun fire incident


Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has promised victims of Lagos Island Market Fire support and relief packages.

The governor, who made the promise in a post on his official Twitter handle, also described the accident  as “regrettable, but we must all take the learnings; Safety awareness and practices involve everyone”.

He visited the scene of the accident on Wednesday and directed that integrity test be carried out on all the affected buildings.

“I visited the scene of the unfortunate fire incident at Balogun Market and spoke directly with the victims and emergency services. We will provide support and relief packages to the affected individuals”.

“Clearly, we will need to complete the modern and safer market project in the area because this inferno has disrupted commercial activities and exchanges in one of the most popular markets in Nigeria”.

“This fire incident was caused by factors that could have been avoided and even though emergency services were on ground promptly. The building could not be rescued due to congestion and other issues,” the governor tweeted.

I don’t just want to push Trump off Twitter, I want to push him out of the White House – Warren

Elizabeth Warren


U.S. Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren went after big tech companies during the Democratic debate on Tuesday but brushed off rival Kamala Harris’s challenge to join her in calling for President Donald Trump’s suspension from Twitter.

Warren, a U.S. senator who is in a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden in many opinion polls in the Democratic race, argued for her proposal to split up major tech firms such as Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc and Amazon.com Inc over antitrust concerns, in what was the most wide-ranging discussion of big tech in the Democratic debates to date.

“I’m not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy. It’s time to fight back,” Warren said in the debate in Westerville, Ohio.

But she did not engage with the request by Harris, also a U.S. senator, that she join her in calling for Twitter Inc to suspend Trump’s account. Harris has argued that Trump uses the platform to intimidate his opponents and threaten violence.

“It is a matter of safety and corporate accountability,” Harris pushed, while Warren refused to engage, instead saying she was focused on beating Trump in the November 2020 election.

“I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That’s our job,” Warren responded.

Warren, who said on Tuesday she would not accept campaign contributions of more than $200 from executives at large tech companies or big banks, then pivoted to focus on whether candidates were taking money from big tech.

Social media companies, which are under pressure to police their platforms in the run-up to the 2020 election, have most recently been attacked by Democratic candidates, including Warren and Biden, for allowing politicians to run ads with false or misleading claims on their platforms.

This month, leaked audio from an internal Facebook meeting in July disclosed Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg telling staff they would “go to the mat” to defeat Warren’s expected effort to break up the company if she is elected president.

The other Democrats on stage did not explicitly endorse Warren’s plan to split up the major tech firms but voiced concerns about competition.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, another longtime critic of big tech firms and corporate influence, said the United States needed a president with “the guts to appoint an attorney general who will take on these huge monopolies.”

Former U.S Representative Beto O’Rourke said he would be “unafraid to break up big businesses” but that he did not think it was the president’s role to designate which companies should be broken up.

In a moment that swiftly generated memes on Twitter, entrepreneur Andrew Yang took a swing at Microsoft Corp’s search engine Bing.

“Competition doesn’t solve all the problems. It’s not like any of us wants to use the fourth-best navigation app,” Yang said. “There is a reason why no one is using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft, it’s true,” he added.

“Bing just got dunked on, feel free to google it tomorrow,” tweeted comedian Aparna Nancherla.

Yang also argued that people should receive a share of the economic value generated from their data.

“How many of you remember getting your data check in the mail?” asked Yang. “It got lost. It went to Facebook, Amazon, Google.”