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Facebook’s War On Propaganda

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Facebook continues to be a moneymaking powerhouse as the company's latest quarterly report aptly reminded even its doubters; but a massive scandal over data privacy is at least making it blink—and now it’s going after one of its own cash cows, video ads.

Facebook has always expressed its displeasure at users who abuse its numerous ad platforms and touted its commitment to keeping the platform safe and free from political rhetoric.

Now, FB appears keen to put its money where its mouth is as it embarks on one of its most aggressive clean-up exercises.

But is the company being too aggressive with its anti-political drive, while at the same time not doing nearly enough on the data privacy side of things?

Another Adword Conspiracy?

There was a huge outcry back in 2012 when Google undertook a massive clean-up exercise of its popular Adword platform. The giant ad company proceeded to ban thousands of advertisers from the platform who it claimed were gaming the system in what came to be known as the “Adword Conspiracy”.

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FB seems to have learned from the best and has launched a similar exercise, though it's likely to eventually make Google's Adword conspiracy look like child's play.

Facebook has officially started to enforce new rules for political advertising. The company is hell-bent on weeding out the bad actors, banning videos that are deemed to be carrying even the slightest political innuendo at the drop of a dime, and even going overboard by doing the same to seemingly innocuous ones.

A case in point is Showtime, whose string of trailers showcasing its new documentary series The Fourth Estate were recently axed from the site by FB. Facebook said it banned the videos because they violated its new rules, which require strict verification of any account promoting political content.

The verification process is rigorous to say the least--marketers are required to obtain a government-issued ID that is used to trigger a verification code that's then sent to a U.S. mailing address. The whole process requires significant coordination and can take several days.

In yet another demonstration of FB's new-found hypervigilance, The Verge says that it discovered 85 of its posts had fallen afoul of FB's new rules in the first week alone, including completely innocent graduation speeches by the British royal family.

Trump / Russia in particular seems to trigger FB's first-line of filters, meaning ads are blocked first, and questions asked later.

And, just like Google, FB has threatened to ban accounts found in violation.

Double Standards?

Reached for comment by The Verge, FB acknowledged that its current iteration of filters could be extreme.

But while FB has been going for overkill with its campaign against political advertising, recent events suggest that it's not nearly as averse to sharing user data with third parties.

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FB is currently going through a messy split with WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton due to Facebook's insistence on using ad-targeting to monetize WhatsApp--something the two are firmly against.

Apparently, the two WhatsApp founders feel strongly enough about FB's data privacy violations, with Acton having forfeited $900 million in unvested stock options after leaving in the fall, and Koum willing to follow suit by leaving $400 million on the table when he departs in August.

Washington State has today sued FB and Google for failing to keep records about political ad buyers. It's going to be interesting to see how the two cope with the likely barrage of European GDPR-related privacy data lawsuits that might be coming their way.

By Alex Kimani for Safehaven.com

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