Opinion

Google restricts political ads worldwide

By: Charles Lotara

Tech giants are tightening grip on political ads in a desperate move to counter deep fakes and misinformation on the cyberspace.

Last week, Alphabet-owned and largest search engine Google joined Twitter in updating their political ads policies.

Unlike Twitter which is seized by the 2020 United States presidential elections to which its new policies only take a center stage, Google is restricting political advertisements globally.

Why banning political ads in particular?

In the wake of election campaigns, especially in countries with high internet penetration percentage and tech literacy, candidates use Google and search ads to raise donations that help fund their campaigns and Google says the restriction is part of its commitment to help protect such campaigns.

Seized by recent concerns and debates surrounding misleading, deceitful advertising and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process on the internet, Google wants to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they see on ad platforms.

“So we’re making a few changes to how we handle political ads on our platforms globally. Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide,” Google ad specialist Scott Spencer said in a blog post.

Which ones are the Google’s ad platforms?

There are various platforms on which the Sundar Pichai-led company runs it ads, both business and political. However, the main formats or platforms include search ads, which shows an ad on Google in response to a search for a particular topic or candidate.

YouTube is another influential and most effective platform on which Google ads appear. Here, ads are displayed on videos and in turn generate revenue for the content creators and YouTube channel owners.

The third most prominent format is display ads, which appear on websites and blogs, eventually generating revenue for Google’s publishing partners. Remember, programmes such as Google Adsense and Google Adwords are key instruments behind all these advertising formats.

In quite another rather unpopular format, there is a public provision of accessible, searchable, and downloadable report of election ad content.

Google claims it never allowed granular microtargeting of political ads on those platforms saying it has abided by laws, especially in countries where political ads targeting is legally regulated. Of course this has not been, and will never be true for social media like direct mail which will continue to be targeted more granularly.

So, what is changing where and when?

While Google never offered granular microtargeting of election ads except for platforms like direct mail, the concept is hinged on the believe that more can be done to further promote increased visibility of election ads.

Election ads audience targeting will be limited to age, gender, and geographical location or postal code level.

“It will take some time to implement these changes, and we will begin enforcing the new approach in the U.K within a week ahead of the General Election, in the EU by the end of the year, and in the rest of the world starting on January 6, 2020,” part of the blog post says.

Who should be worried of these changes?

According to the tech giant, whether you’re running for an office or sell office furniture, the same ads policies apply to everyone without carve-outs.

“It’s against our policy for an advertiser to make a false claim – whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died,” Google says.

More explicitly, the new ad policies prohibit doctored and manipulated media content, misleading claims about a census process, and ads or destinations making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.

Google’s decision to restrict political ads is one of the latest developments in ad restriction after Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey daringly sacrificed political ads on the microblogging site to ‘save lives of millions’ in October this year.

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect lives of millions,” he said in a thread of tweets.

Privacy-embattled and largest social media platform Facebook remained adamant in dealing with misleading political adverts after reiterating in September that it will not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns, which could allow them to lie freely.

“This is a complex stuff. Anyone who says the answer is simple hasn’t thought about the nuances and downstream challenges,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg was quoted by the Associated Press to have said.

“I don’t think anyone can say that we are not doing what we believe or we haven’t thought hard about these issues,” he continued.

In June, Twitter said political figures and world leaders who tweet abusive or threatening messages might get slapped with a warning label, but the tweet would remain on the site. The warning label is yet to be used despite hate-filled tweets from global protagonists like U.S President Donald Trump.

Charles Lotara is a blogger, digital researcher, and self-taught web developer who’s also passionate about both positive and negative developments happening within the technological realm. Questions or comments? Reach him via charles@theinformant.co.zw, or follow him on Twitter @charles_lotara

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