Should Facebook Ads Be Regulated Like TV Commercials?

"But Andrew McLaughlin, the cofounder of Higher Ground Labs, a company that invests in technology to help progressive candidates, believes that platforms should suppress propaganda in ad space. “Despite their best intentions, tech companies have built systems that are so open to manipulation by bots and trolls and other techniques that they effectively reward propaganda,” he says. “Failing to tackle that problem means ceding the terrain to fraudsters, fake-news pushers, and other kinds of propagandists, who easily gain the upper hand.”

It remains unclear if Facebook will adopt this or other measures. Morgan Weiland, an attorney and scholar affiliated with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, believes that along with previous problematic content—like untrue news and hoax videos—last week’s revelations may help force tech companies to identify their values and define their role in the public discourse.

“Right now they are operating in an arena where they have some, but very few, legal responsibilities,” she says. “We are going to keep seeing examples of this kind, and at some point the jig is going to be up and the regulators are going to act. Will the tech companies be the first movers and decide what they [themselves] will get to say, or will the regulators be the ones that move first?”

Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, likens the present moment to a Facebook relationship status: “It’s complicated,” he says. “The way these advertising models subject all of us and our attention to advertising, a kind of mental pollution, is unprecedented in human history. The decisions we make regarding the way that tech companies are a market for advertising affect, in a very real sense, what kind of digital democracy we are going to build.”"