When it comes to election time, tensions run high. They run high within households, cities, workplaces – and even the highest of companies. A couple of weeks ago, demands were made to have Facebook ban all political ads. And just this week, Google has announced they will ban them.
This news comes after the EU referendum and US election in 2016. These events saw a very healthy voter turnout, but a rather unhealthy campaign. It has since emerged that the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica was hired by individuals in both campaigns to help create ultra-specific targeted ads to voters.
The company would harvest voter information through Facebook, which would include information beyond name and age. It would be whether you liked KitKats or not, what political party you supported and – somehow – what issues mattered most to you. From then on, ads would be designed and tailored to your concerns specifically in order to get your vote.
It has caused major controversy around the globe – and rightfully so. Facebook is a place where we go to connect with friends, share our holiday photos and find cute videos of dogs. It’s not a place where we should feel we are being manipulated into voting one way or another – and it shouldn’t be a place parties and companies can gain a monopoly on.
Facebook has the power to keep its platform politically neutral in what it allows to advertise and endorse. Of course, this isn’t about censoring political parties or posts. By all means, post and share and campaign. But do not create sinister technologies to manipulate disenfranchised people, spamming them with your view on an issue that matters to them while they hear no alternative argument. That is unfair and it ruins the underpinnings of democracy.
Google has now come out and said it will ban all political ads from targeting voters based on association, so why won’t Facebook? It’s not about getting involved in politics, it’s about helping to keep a democracy together.