Facebook open to pre-election ad blackout

Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)


Facebook is open to the idea of an online advertising blackout ahead of federal elections, just as it applies to Australian broadcasters.

The social media platform has decided to have a seven-day blackout on new advertising ahead of the upcoming US presidential election.

Under Australian broadcasting laws, from the end of the Wednesday before election day to the end of polling on the Saturday political parties, candidates and others are unable to purchase time on television and radio to broadcast political advertising.

There have been calls for the broadcasting blackout to be dumped because it does not apply to digital platforms, giving them an unfair advantage to make money.

However Facebook executives told an inquiry into the 2019 election on Wednesday it would be happy for a ban to apply online.

Facebook’s Asia-Pacific vice president of public policy Simon Milner said it was important to have a period in which new claims cannot be made in ads without giving appropriate time for others to rebut them.

The ban only applies to new advertising and not already-created and circulated ads.

He said Facebook was not committed to rolling it out during other elections but would review the US plan to see whether it was appropriate for Australia

His colleague Josh Machin said Facebook would prefer policy makers set the rules, rather than making its own unilateral decisions.

“If Australian policy makers consider that the blackout on electoral advertising remains the right policy approach we would be supportive of extending that to online advertising,” he said.

During the 2019 election, more than 10 million people had around 45 million “interactions” on political topics using Facebook.

Facebook took its own decision to ban foreign advertising during the campaign and worked with fact-checking services – including a partnership with AAP – to reduce misinformation.

“We certainly strive to ensure that when bad actors try to spread misinformation on the platform that we get to it and deal with it appropriately, particular during election campaigns,” Mr Milner said.

Political advertising is allowed to run without checking but all of it – including who produced it, who was targeted and what money was spent – is made publicly available through Facebook’s Ad Library.

Mr Milner said it was generally accepted practice in media companies ad content should not be interfered with.

Asked about its threat to ban news from its platform should a proposed news media bargaining code of conduct go ahead in Australia, Mr Milner said it was a “last resort”.

“We had to take the decision with an incredibly heavy heart,” he said.

“If the legislative framework is carried forward it would be uneconomic for us to carry news on our platform.”


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