Google is allowing ads that show misleading information regarding voting by mail, The Washington Post reported. The tech giant reportedly took five days to review the ads in question before approving them. Now, some are questioning the ad policies and whether Google is prepared to respond to election-related misinformation.
The ads, created by a group known as Protect My Vote, appeared after people in certain states -- including Florida, Michigan, Iowa, Arizona, Texas and Georgia -- searched for “mail-in voting.” One of them has text that reads, in part, “think mail-in voting and absentee voting are the same. Think again! There are different safeguards for each.” This, the Post points out, isn’t true. In Texas, for example, there are not distinct processes for absentee voting and voting by mail. Clicking on the ads leads to the group’s website, which contains further misinformation. Facebook already removed similar ads from the same group.
Google spokeswoman Charlotte Smith didn’t answer specific questions from The Washington Post, but instead gave this statement: “We have zero tolerance for ads that employ voter suppression tactics or undermine participation in elections. When we find those ads, we take them down.”
Lynn C. McGregor, political communication professor at the University of North Carolina, told The Washington Post that Google’s decision to not remove the ads and the length of time it took to reach the decision is “a really worrying warning sign.” “On its face, this is misleading users about the voting process. And if that’s what these platforms want to protect against, then this is the type of ad they should remove,” McGregor said.
Google recently announced changes to its ad policies meant to prevent advertisers from working together to distribute misinformation, or provide access to “hacks” or “leaks.” These changes go into effect September 1st. “We believe these new measures strike the right balance in helping preserve trust in our elections while allowing for robust dialogue and public discourse about current events,” Smith said at the time. Misleading ads of this sort are likely to continue up through the election, so hopefully Google will be prepared to act faster and more consistently with their policy going forward.