Google is considering making changes to its political ad policy. Recent events have made Silicon Valley search engine giants a center of attraction to the authorities. For the past 18 months, Google has pocketed over $120 million in revenue from political ads across its platforms. But that seems like it’s about to be changed.
Not quite long ago, Twitter announced it’s banning all political ads on its platform contrary to Facebook’s decision to allow it. Facebook has been taking the heat from U.S. lawmakers for selling political ads with lies and misinformation. The social media giants have been called on to refrain from offering its platform as a propaganda sanctuary to deceitful politicians.
But in a defiant response, the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, said the company will continue to serve political ads as it perceived banning it as a move against free speech.
Many companies in Silicon Valley have been on the watch list of regulators for irregularities, and recently, Google and Facebook have been on the top list. In a bid to curtail the heat, Google has been reported to be weighing in on changing its political ad policy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Although it’s not clear exactly what the changes will be, employees are hoping to be briefed as soon as possible. The report said some Google employees are speculating the changes could be related to what type of audience targeting the company allows ad buyers to place.
Given that all Google’s advertising policies are uniform across all its platforms, it is difficult to ascertain if the company is introducing a new policy. However, a Google Spokesperson said that whatever change there would be, would reflect in all its platforms.
Last month, Google ran a political ad that contained controversial claims about Democratic presidential aspirant, Joe Biden. The ad was served by the Trump’s administration and has unsubstantiated claim that Biden played a role in the ouster of Ukraine’s prosecutor.
The proliferation of digital misinformation has become worrisome to the U.S. lawmakers, prompting a series of debates and hearings with responsible companies. With the 2020 election getting close, the concern that politicians will capitalize on free speech to buy misleading ads on digital platforms is increasing. Digital ads selling companies are expected to be responsive to calls to tame the tide of lies being promoted by politicians.
Twitter’s decision to ban political ads appears now to be a benchmark to judge the rest. And Google is showing signs that it is willing to bend the rules to appease the clamor. This is not the first time Google is changing its policy due to complaints.
In June, Google changed its advertising policy after facing scrutiny for giving out $120 000 in free ads to an anti-abortion group, Obria. The Guardian reported that the group ran a misleading ad to deter women from doing away with pregnancies. The Obria Group ran an ad that suggests it provides abortion services at its medical clinics, but then urged women to refrain from terminating pregnancies.
The U.S. Congress didn’t find it funny. In a letter addressed to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai and cosigned by Suzanne Bonamici, a Democratic congresswoman from Oregon, Carolyn Maloney, a senior Democratic from New York, called the development “appalling,” expressing her disappointment that Google could provide funding for misinformation.
“Google should in no way be subsidizing any misinformation campaigns, especially campaigns designed to deceive women about their reproductive care options,” she said.
In response, Google announced that it’s changing its ad policy starting in June; any advertiser who wants to run ads using keyword related to getting an abortion will first need to be certified as an advertiser that either provides abortion or does not provide abortions.
And to get certified, advertisers must submit an application where they self-declare if they provide abortions or not. The application will require some basic information about your organization. Once your submitted information is reviewed and approved, you will get a certification.
Google appears to have a moral burden to stand up against misinformation on its platforms since it is against its policy. Its policy on misrepresentation says:
“We don’t want users to feel misled by ads, so we strive to ensure ads are clear and honest, and provide the information that users need to make informed decisions. We don’t allow ads or destinations that intend to deceive users by excluding relevant information or giving misleading information about products, services, or businesses.”
Political ads containing misinformation have become a challenge to this policy and questions Google’s standard. It is expected that Google may introduce a new rule similar to the abortion policy to curb the rise of misleading political ads across its platforms.