Pro-GOP Facebook Ads In Georgia Race Contain Misinfo; Facebook Head Of Integrity Leathern Exits

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New Year, Same Controversies

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Political ads on Facebook contain misinformation. Well, it’s zero hour before the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff election for control of the Senate, and Republican ads on Facebook related to the race reportedly contain … misinformation. Nearly 100 ads make claims that have been debunked or labeled as distortions by major news organizations, including by some of Facebook’s own fact-checking partners. The ads were flagged in preliminary research by left-leaning global human rights group Avaaz and shared with The Washington Post. Although Facebook removed some of the ads for policy violation, mostly those coming from super PACs identified by Avaaz, many others were left untouched. The research shines an unflattering light on the limits of Facebook’s policies on political misinformation. Nearly half of the ads Avaaz flagged were shared by candidates in the race – and therefore were not subjected to fact checking thanks to the broad exemptions Facebook has created for politicians on its platform.

Leathern, Out!

In other Facebook news, Rob Leathern, its chief of advertising integrity, departed the company last week after four years. Leathern has been a key figure in determining how Facebook’s ad products handle sensitive subjects, such as coronavirus misinformation.He was often the public face for Facebook’s controversial political advertising policies. In November, for example, Leathern tweeted that Facebook did not have “the technical ability in the short term to enable political ads by state or by advertiser.” However,just weeks later, Facebook lifted a temporary post-election ban on political ads in Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff. Prior to the general election on Nov. 3, Facebook was heavily criticized for allowing misleading claims and conspiracy theories to spread widely on its platforms. According to Reuters, Leathern said on Facebook’s internal network that he’s “leaving Facebook to work on consumer privacy beyond just ads and social media,” but didn’t share exactly where he’s headed.

A Wonderful Deal

Amazon snapped up Wondery last week – one of the last-remaining independent podcast platforms of any scale – in an acquisition worth $300 million, according to The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that a deal was in the works. Wondery predicts that its revenue will exceed $40 million in 2020, with 75% of that coming from advertising and the rest from licensing its content to subscription services such as Audible and Stitcher. Amazon called the Wondery deal a “pivotal moment to expand the Amazon Music offering beyond music as listener habits evolve.” The tie-up comes as media companies bet big on audio and podcasts to bolster their value in a crowded market. Spotify has been on a spree with its acquisitions of Megaphone, sports network The Ringer, Gimlet Media, Anchor and Parcast, not to mention high-profile exclusive deals with Joe Rogan’s podcast and WarnerMedia’s DC Comics. SiriusXM and iHeartMedia have also been active acquirers.

Quibi’s Last Stand?

Streaming platform Quibi – which ignominiously bit the dust in October a mere six months after its launch – is in serious talks with video streaming giant Roku as a potential acquirer of its content catalog, The Wall Street Journal reports. Such a deal would arm Roku with a library of exclusive programming as it pushes more aggressively into content with The Roku Channel, its native ad-supported streaming channel. Viewership for Quibi’s high production value shows was stunted in part because the app went live just as the pandemic was forcing millions of Americans to stay home – a setback for a service designed for people on the go. But even though Quibi episodes are less than 10 minutes in length, they feature a lot of star power, including Anna Kendrick, Liam Hemsworth and Sophie Turner. Making these shows exclusively available on the Roku Channel could both boost their appeal and serve to hook people who are used to using Roku devices as a conduit for streaming content available elsewhere.

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