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Facebook, Google and pals may be hit with TV political ads rules

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

How do you determine something is political and for a specific candidate?

Er, that's easy; if there's an election coming up and the ad isn't for a commercial product, then there's a good chance that the ad is political...

Surely by pushing someone to the same political views as a candidate can be done without even mentioning the candidate. Push news stories against Muslims or Mexicans and you are pushing someone to an ideology similar to Trump.

Yes, those are all good criteria that indicate that an ad might be politicial. See, you're helping out already! Oh, and such news stories would be illegal in the UK and most of (if not all of) Europe, even if they are protected in the US as "free speech".

Nice idea but doomed to fail.

Well, who knows? A law fails if it is unenforced. And this is an easy law to enforce; just watch a few ads and see what's said / shown / etc, and look up the supposed buyers of the ad spots, see if everything checks out. If it doesn't, you phone up the relevant law enforcement agency and they'll bring a prosecution and the judge will, if a conviction is secured, hand out the prescribed penalty. The only room there for "failure" is if this all happens but nothing changes as a result, indicating that the penalty was insufficient. This is easily fixed. (Germany with a similar law has erred on the side of caution; a €50million fine per item is possible. A company attracting a few of those fines per week will soon start getting worried. Plus Europe, well the EU, seems quite content with fining companies a proportion of their global revenue; ouch. And that's just for anti-competitive behaviours, not anything as important as straight elections and law/order).

It's a very difficult law for social media companies to comply with, because now they have an enormous problem to solve, namely identifying exactly who is buying an ad spot and exactly what the ad content is. That's a very subjective, human process which is highly costly thing to do thoroughly, so is not viable when the ad spot itself might not have cost very much. It only pays if the checking process can be machine driven, but it's not going to be very good at that.

In contrast a TV ad, being a much more expensive thing, means that the TV company can afford to check out the ad thoroughly before broadcasting it.

With "news" stories there's no substitue for good editorial control; again they're rubbish at doing that by machine...

Causes

All the major social media companies have come out in recent months admitting that they carried political ads, political "news" stories, etc. during the presidential election whose origins are foreign, not American. Such admissions are inevitably going to cause a political consequence.

Every elected politician fears an election, they might lose their jobs, so they're sure as hell are going to want to go into an election with the playing field levelled. They are going to do everything they can whilst they can do it (i.e. before the next election) to ensure that some foreign outfit isn't helping out their electoral opponents. They'd far rather take the temporary political heat of upsetting the social media companies than do nothing about it.

This kind of thing simply underlines the long term unsustainability of the business model for micro-ad funded social media networks. Sooner or later they're going to come up against the fundamental pressures in a society that bear down on that society's elected politicians. Straight elections, and law and order.

The ability for small players to reach nationwide audiences on social media networks is terrific, but unfortunately it's also terrific for nasty people wanting to do that too. That is a law and order problem that has become too big to ignore in Europe, the UK, etc.

Terrorist incidences cost a lot of money ($billions). People bullied on social media can become ill and hence become financial burden on the health services. Every victim of a paedophile gang is going to need a lot of help, which costs money. And so on. These are costs that the UK is considering passing on to the social network companies, an imaginative move! Unfortunately for the social network companies, it's the government that'll be estimating the bill, not themselves.

The companies are either going to have to become much more effective at cleaning up their own networks and truly identifying the users responsible to allow prosecutions to happen, or let government agencies inside their networks to do it for them. Cleaning up their networks is proving to be something that they're simply rubbish at, by their own admission. They currently have no way of identifying their users. And letting the spooks inside is going to be very unpopular with their user base.

And as we saw last year the social networks have become unwitting pawns in geopolitics. They're going to have to extracate themselves from that position or let government agencies inside their networks to do it for them. One of those is expensive, requiring decent editorial capacity / talent, the other is deeply unpopular with their user base.

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