Expert fears misinformation could run rampant as Facebook lifts ad ban for GA Senate runoff

Expert fears misinformation could run rampant as Facebook lifts ad ban for GA Senate runoff

With Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff Election Day just weeks away, Facebook now is letting ads run on the site here in our state.

It’s a flip-flop for the social media giant after banning all political ads leading up to the November election. That means you could see those ads popping up on your Facebook feed any time now.

This is happening as early voting already is underway across the state, and the move could have a big impact on the races.

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A top social media expert told Channel 2′s Justin Wilfon that Facebook’s decision could help spread false information about the candidates.

For months, the ban on the ads spared voters such as Joann Wood from seeing potentially misleading information.

“I try to just not swallow what I’m fed,” Wood said. “I’ve enjoyed not having to wade through massive piles of misinformation.”

Facebook denied Wilfon’s request for an interview about the reversal but pointed him to a statement on the company’s blog:

“Our ad tools are an important way for people to get information about these elections. We will begin enabling advertisers who are authorized to run ads about social issues, elections or politics to run ads specifically in Georgia.”

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“I think it’s clear that there will be misinformation in political ads in Georgia as a result of the lift of this ban,” social media expert Sinan Aral said.

Aral is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote a book about social media’s influence on politics.

“Facebook says it will prohibit ads that present any kind of misinformation. Is that easy to do?” Wilfon asked Aral.

“That’s very difficult to do. I’m sure they will try,” Aral said.

He fears that could leave some voters misled and confused.

Facebook says it will allow only political ads that meet certain standards, but Aral also worries about targeted political ads that allow advertisers on Facebook to reach very specific people.

“So for that reason, two people in the same district, voting in the same election can have access to completely different information about the election on Facebook, and that has the potential to create very different world views,” Aral said.

Representatives from the Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock campaigns told Wilfon they plan to launch ads on Facebook right away. So far, there has been no word back from the David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler campaigns.

Ultimately, Aral said it’s up to voters like Wood to sort through the noise.

“Take everything you read critically and consider the biases behind it,” Aral said.

Aral also told Wilfon that part of Facebook’s decision is about making money. Political ads can bring a lot of cash to Facebook.

He told Wilfon that until Facebook’s ban on political ads, it dominated the market with about 60% of all digital political ads ending up on the platform.

The runner-up was Google with only 18% of all digital political ads.

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