By Jacqui Cheng | Published: January 25, 2008 – 12:16PM CT
This is a continually evolving issue, and now two major figures have weighed in. Google is the first, and has recently posted its own policy on running political ads through its AdSense network. As Peter Greenberger of Google’s Elections and Issue Advocacy Team noted on the company’s public policy blog, the new policy boils down to five main points. First, each ad must meet the same editorial guidelines as every other AdSense ad. This includes not violating anyone else’s copyrights, not promoting “unacceptable alcohol products,” not promoting violence against anyone, not promoting counterfeit goods, and the like.
Second, Google agrees to promote ads for all candidates fairly regardless of political views or affiliation. The fourth point (we’ll get to the third in a second) says that if the ad is soliciting for donations, the ad’s landing page must clearly state that they won’t be tax-deductible. And finally, the fifth point says that misleading ads won’t be allowed. The text of the ad must be descriptive of the candidate or clause, and can’t trick people into clicking (by, say, claiming to be an ad for the opposing candidate).
The third point reads, “No attacks on an individual’s personal life.” Google says that a general disagreement with a candidate’s policies and overall party is fine, but that running an ad that attacks someone’s non-politically-related actions won’t be allowed. “So, ‘Crime rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon’ is okay, but ‘Police Commissioner Gordon had an affair’ is not,” wrote Greenberger.
It’s the third point that some critics disagree with. Former publisher and current ad network exec John Battelle wrote on his blog that he’s glad to see Google’s transparency when it comes to political ads, but that the “no attacks on personal life” rule only aids in American politics continuing to move towards “whitewashing and dishonesty.” Because a personal attack can fall into such a gray area (just ask our feisty forum members), Battelle feels that a policy against false statements would be much more useful. (It should be noted that Ars Technica uses both Battelle’s Federated Media and Google’s AdSense to support our site.)
“[I]n my mind, accuracy is far more important in public debate than some subjective sense of what constitutes a personal attack,” he wrote. “Sure, scandalous stuff is often scurrilous, but the first amendment is clear on speech: all speech, in particular, all public speech, must be allowed, so that the real truth can be assessed by an informed public. We don’t need Google, or anyone else, sanitizing it for us.”
The online world went through a phase in 2005 when it was sorting out what, exactly, constitutes online political advertising. These days, the industry is now making an attempt to self-regulate in the interest of being as fair as possible, but it has led to a disagreement over what type of ads to allow. The new Google policy certainly won’t put an end to that debate any time soon; in fact, given the company’s online advertising reach, making itself a gatekeeper in this way will probably just stir up even more controversy.