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FEC Commissioner Rips Facebook Over Political Ad Policy

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Facebook says it will continue to allow political ads to be targeted to only small groups of its users. Here, Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen visiting Congress for a hearing last October.

 

Erin Scott/Reuters

Facebook says it will continue to allow political ads that target the social media platform’s users, sticking to its position despite concerns about the potential impact on the upcoming presidential election. Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub sharply criticized the policy, saying Facebook’s “weak plan suggests the company has no idea how seriously it is hurting democracy.”

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Facebook’s policy falls short of measures recently taken by other tech giants. Google says it will limit the ability of political ads to target an audience, and Twitter has banned political ads entirely.

Taking aim at Facebook’s policy in a series of tweets Thursday morning, Weintraub, a Democrat, said, “I am not willing to bet the 2020 elections on the proposition that Facebook has solved its problems with a solution whose chief feature appears to be that it doesn’t seriously impact the company’s profit margins.”

Facebook also says it’s not changing how it handles the content of ads. While the company says its community standards bar hate speech and harmful content, the policy announced Thursday does not address calls from those who want the company to fact-check ads before it publishes them. (Note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.)

In announcing the policy Thursday, Facebook’s director of product management, Rob Leathern, wrote that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Facebook says it shouldn’t be in the business of fact-checking, that the U.S. needs new laws to govern political speech on social media — and to a degree, the American Civil Liberties Union agrees.

“This will not be a popular view. But on the whole, we think that Facebook got this right,” says Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

Describing the gray area that political ads often occupy, Wizner added, “I don’t think Facebook is capable of doing effective fact-checking, and I don’t think as a society we should want Facebook to be the entity that’s making those kinds of distinctions.”

Part of the issue, he says, is the massive scale of political ads — not only at the federal, state and local levels in the U.S., but also in every country in which Facebook operates. Wizner predicts that if Facebook took up fact-checking in earnest, it would be inundated with demands from candidates and political campaigns that want the other side’s ads taken down, rather than responding to them in public.

A different take comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the online civil rights group, which accused Facebook of exempting politicians from the rules it applies to everyone else.

In a statement sent to NPR, Gennie Gebhart, the EFF’s associate director of research, said, “Facebook readily and pervasively plays the role of speech referee for the general public, but, concerned about playing politics, applies a more permissive set of rules to powerful political groups complaining about bias.”

Despite backing part of Facebook’s revised policy, the ACLU’s Wizner agrees with critics who say the company should change how it handles targeted political advertising.

“There is something different about online microtargeted advertisements and the kind of political advertisements that we’ve mainly seen in the past, on radio and television,” he says. With targeted ad campaigns, he adds, “it’s possible for candidates to send one advertisement to me and a different one to my neighbor across the street. And so that makes it easier for lies to go uncorrected.”

Among the changes Wizner would like to see: more information from Facebook about which users have been targeted with political ads, so misleading information can be rebutted.

“If a candidate is going to run an ad that goes only to men in one neighborhood, or only to women in another, then we should know who the target audience was,” he says. “So that if the ad contains falsehoods, we know how to better target our responses and corrections. And Facebook should consider raising the minimum number of targeted audience members for ads — so that we’re dealing with a more common political conversation, and not a different one for each household.”

The FEC’s Weintraub has urged tech companies to take an aggressive stand against microtargeting potential voters with ads. In an opinion piece for The Washington Post last November, Weintraub wrote, “Microtargeting by foreign and domestic actors in 2016 proved to be a potent weapon for spreading disinformation and sowing discord.”

Facebook promises that its approach will bring “unprecedented transparency and control for political ads.” The company plans to add a new control in early summer that will let users cut down on the number of political and social issue ads they see, on both Facebook and Instagram. Its users can also search its Ad Library for details such as the size of an ad’s audience, and where those people live.

“The expanded transparency features will roll out in the first quarter of 2020 and will apply in all countries where we facilitate ‘Paid for by’ disclaimers on ads,” Facebook says.

But those solutions don’t satisfy critics who say the platform’s users still won’t be able to opt out completely and block all political ads. Experts also note that the tools Facebook is giving to its users can be complicated to use and can be easily overlooked as just another “terms of service” bulletin.

“More transparency and user control over advertising is an undeniably good thing, but this policy still doesn’t go far enough,” says Nina Jankowicz, who studies technology and politics as the Disinformation Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Jankowicz says that while Facebook is giving people more control of the political ads they see, many users could have trouble navigating its tools.

“How many people understand the way microtargeting works, let alone Facebook’s Custom Audience feature, which allows advertisers to target on an even more precise level?” she asks.

Jankowicz says Facebook should offer the controls in an easy-to-use design and do more to educate its more than 2 billion users about what the changes mean. And she believes people who are on Facebook should regularly review how their profiles handle politics.

“Like democratic discourse, this should be a feature that users are constantly interacting with and adjusting based on their own inclinations and personal experiences on the site,” she says. “Based on Facebook’s track record with features like these, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

As Facebook’s Leathern discussed the company’s ad policy, he also acknowledged those who are unhappy with its practices.

“We recognize this is an issue that has provoked much public discussion — including much criticism of Facebook’s position,” Leathern wrote. “We are not deaf to that and will continue to work with regulators and policymakers in our ongoing efforts to help protect elections.”

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Mechanical podium, playfully dubbed 'explodium,' aims to even B.C.'s political field – Times Colonist

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VICTORIA — It was a sizable British Columbia political issue that called for a one-size-fits-all solution, says Premier David Eby, who at six-foot-seven is the province’s tallest leader.

The tall and the short needed evening out as matters of perception and fairness, he said.

Eby towers over most people at news conferences but is juxtaposed with Selina Robinson, minister of post-secondary education and future skills, who at four-foot-11 often needs to stand on boxes to reach the microphone.

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The solution: a mechanical podium, which debuted shortly after Eby took office late last year. It can be moved up or down with the flick of a switch to suit the size of the person delivering remarks at a political event.

“You might describe me as an unusually tall person, or disturbingly tall person to some people,” Eby told reporters last week. “My colleague Selina Robinson is a much tinier person and we have a whole range of people in between, so the podium moves up and down to accommodate everybody’s ability to speak.” 

The premier said people have expressed surprise — and thanks — as the podium lifts or lowers to accommodate their height.

One such person was Tracy Redies, chief executive officer at Vancouver’s Science World, who joined Eby for a news conference last month where the province announced $20 million to repair the iconic domed building’s leaky roof. 

“This pulpit’s amazing,” she said. “The science, the technology.”

Eby said the podium, which has gained the nickname “explodium” at the legislature, is a functional success.

“It’s an important innovation in B.C. where we are never short of innovations or remarkable ways to solve problems,” he said with a chuckle. “When we go to events around the community, it does draw attention from speakers who aren’t used to it, especially when it moves unexpectedly. I think everybody enjoys it. It’s fun and it works.”

But, some concerns about the podium have been raised by the Opposition BC United and a communications expert who suggests the structure reinforces old-school political traditions.

BC United finance critic Peter Milobar said the Opposition has questions about the cost of the podium, but the government hasn’t provided answers.

“We all understand the premier is tall, but the fact we need these extra-wide, telescopic-type podiums just seems to be a potentially expensive thing for the taxpayer,” he said.

Milobar said it appears the podium is more of a political prop used to enhance Eby’s image.

“It’s fair to say I’m not an average-sized person, but I’m not too worried about which podium I’m standing behind to make important political announcements,” he said.

While Eby’s podium is not the biggest news story at the legislature, it symbolizes the stereotyped visual culture of politics, said David Black, a political communications expert at Victoria’s Royal Roads University.

“I think the podium, where you want to adjust for a tall person like David Eby or a shorter person like Selina Robinson, is all about just creating this necessary visual conformity so that no one is stepping on the message,” he said.

B.C.’s development of a podium that fits all sizes is a metaphor for a political culture that is resistant to change, Black said.

“When you break the visual code or political style or tamper with conservative visual culture when it comes to politics, you step on the message,” he said. “It becomes, fairly or not, read as a gaffe, sometimes a career-ending gaffe.”

Former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day was widely criticized more than two decades ago for arriving at a B.C. lakeside news conference riding a Jet Ski, Black said.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama faced fierce criticism for wearing a tan-coloured suit, he said.

“He wore a tan-coloured suit and it was the end of American democracy,” Black said.

But federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s backyard neighbourhood video statements are signs of a politician looking to break visual codes, as was former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s “everyman” appearance, said Black.

“My question is, in some sense, do we need to rethink the language of politics, the visual style of politics, because is it exhausted?” he said. “Is it obsolete? Has it exhausted its reassuring quality?”

Robinson said she’s pleased with the fairness of the podium, especially after years of standing on crates to raise her profile.

“Having a podium that actually fits me is great, and one that fits the premier is great,” she said.

“This is an accessibility piece of furniture and I think it works the way it’s supposed to. It’s recognizing we all come in different shapes and sizes and having furniture that fits us regardless of how tall or small we are is a good thing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Trump, DeSantis battle for Republican nomination turns race into political trench warfare – The Globe and Mail

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Then-U.S. President Donald Trump introduces Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a homecoming campaign rally at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s bombs away in the American presidential race.

There was no pause for mobilization, no early ceasefire, no “phony war,” in the struggle for the Republican campaign for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. In only a few days’ time, the battle between former president Donald Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis has developed into total warfare.

For months, the two shadow-boxed with each other – Mr. Trump lobbing talking-point grenades into the DeSantis camp; the Florida chief executive ignoring them, as if the attacks lacked the potential to detonate.

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That phase is over now, with – if you permit the expression – a bang.

The pins have been pulled, the two sides are engaged in explosive exchanges, and the political landscape of the Republican Party – as recently as two decades ago resembling nothing so much as the manicured green of the 13th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the fabled Masters Tournament – has been transformed into a battlefield.

It is well to recall that the Iowa caucuses, the first tests of the campaign, are seven months away.

And yet the campaign rapidly has assumed the character of trench warfare. Mr. Trump’s high command is accusing the DeSantis camp of political plagiarism, stealing the main themes of the 45th president. The DeSantis campaign is arguing that Mr. Trump’s time has passed and that, in any case, he failed to pass into law the principal elements of the new Republican agenda.

And like the fixed battle positions of the First World War, the two sides are settling into a situation where they may be engaged in an endless set of explosive exchanges. In terms of ideology, it resembles a race to the right. In terms of manners, it may be a race to the bottom.

Mr. DeSantis accused Mr. Trump – who, in three presidential campaigns and four years in the White House, has cultivated the Republican right – of abandoning his onetime political profile. “It seems like he’s running to the left, and I have always been somebody that’s just been moored in conservative principles,” he said.

A Trump spokesman, Steven Cheung, referred to Mr. DeSantis’s botched Twitter Space campaign debut, saying, “He can’t run away from his disastrous, embarrassing, and low-energy campaign announcement. Rookie mistakes and unforced errors – that’s who he is.”

And so it went in the first days of this new phase in the campaign.

Never in contemporary American politics has a nomination race devolved into so much bitterness so quickly.

Republican Senator Bob Dole of Kansas barked at Vice-President George H.W. Bush, demanding, “Stop lying about my record,” but that outburst occurred after the 1988 New Hampshire primary, not months before it.

Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a navy veteran of the Vietnam War, once warned that the Democrats should not nominate Bill Clinton in 1992 because the Arkansas governor had manoeuvred to avoid the draft in those years; Mr. Kerrey said the Republicans would “open him up like a soft peanut” – a tough riposte, but it didn’t occur until the last week of February, not, like the Trump-DeSantis fray, in May the year before voters get into the act.

“You can thank social media for this atmosphere,” said David Carney, a veteran Republican strategist not affiliated with either campaign and with deep roots in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary. “It’s easy to do, it gets coverage and it fast-forwards a back-and-forth that in other times would take a few weeks to conduct. Candidates today think they will be rewarded for this, but undecided voters are not watching Twitter.”

All this raises two vital questions: Can these two keep up the passion and decibel level of their confrontation for several more months? And will the hostilities between them create an opening for another contender, or maybe two?

If, for example, the bombardment between the two candidates leaves one of them mortally wounded, nature (and the nature of American presidential politics) abhors a vacuum. One of the other candidates – perhaps one of the South Carolinians, former governor Nikki Haley or Senator Tim Scott, or perhaps one of the sitting governors who has not declared a candidacy, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire or Glenn Youngkin of Virginia – might emerge.

And a contest that is marked by bombast and explosions might welcome the entry of former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, famous for his debilitating attack on Senator Marco Rubio eight years ago, when he accused the Florida lawmaker of being the practitioner of a “memorized 25-second speech” that was “exactly what his advisers gave him.”

Mr. Sununu has a touch of the caustic in him, as he once said of Mr. Trump, “I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.” No one wonders whom former governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas was speaking of when he said the GOP needs “somebody that brings out the best of our country and doesn’t appeal to our worst instincts.”

And in a contest where the charges of plagiarism are being tossed around – charges that forced Joe Biden out of his 1988 presidential race before the first contests of the political season – Mr. Youngkin has the moral high ground. It was his 2021 gubernatorial campaign that pioneered the notion of “parental rights” in public schools that now is part of every candidate’s portfolio.

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Analyst says pressure is on Kevin McCarthy to deliver. Hear why – CNN

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Analyst says pressure is on Kevin McCarthy to deliver. Hear why

CNN’s David Gergen and Manu Raju say that the pressure is on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to deliver a divided Republican conference to support an agreement on the debt ceiling.


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