A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of a displayed stock graph in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of a displayed stock graph in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

New York — Responding to popular demand, Facebook will soon give users the option to see fewer political and social issue advertisements in their feed.

This new setting, which will also be available in Instagram, is part of an effort to give people more control over what they see ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. Facebook announced the new option on Thursday in a broader update about political ads on the service.

The company did not, however, announce major changes or restrictions to the ad-targeting tools available to political campaigns. Facebook has discussed potential changes to ad targeting internally in recent months after restrictions from rivals Google and Twitter.

The social network decided against changing its targeting tools, which can be granular and specific, after “extensive outreach and consultations” with third parties, the company said in a blog post.

Facebook is also sticking with a controversial policy that stipulates the company will not fact-check posts from politicians, including political ads. It has said repeatedly that it does not want to be the final word on what is true or false in the world of political theatre.

The company wrote that its policies were based “on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinised and debated in public”.

Facebook has been at the centre of a debate about online political advertising for months. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stood firm in his belief that Facebook should not fact-check politicians, a stance that has drawn ire from Democratic presidential hopefuls such as senator Elizabeth Warren.

Facebook has also decided against ad-targeting restrictions despite changes from others in the industry. Twitter, for example, banned some political ads altogether and is limiting targeting for other ads that focus on social issues. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained at the time.

“Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimised and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”

Google has prohibited political campaigns from targeting ads to users based on political affiliation.

Zuckerberg has called repeatedly for the US government to step in and regulate online political ads in the hope of creating some sort of of industry standard.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” the social media platform wrote on its blog. “We believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.”