The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the discussions have not yet reached the senior executive levels of the company, and no final decision has been made amid intense internal debate.
Both Democratic and Republican campaign officials have opposed this idea in the past, and President Trump has criticized Facebook and other technology companies when they have considered curbs on what he can say on their platforms.
“This would be an egregious stifling of political speech, and is particularly wrong if Facebook allows news organizations to continue to run their biased ads while campaign speech is silenced," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. "Millions of people have donated to President Trump’s campaign to give us the resources to fight, and this is one way we do that. This would silence their voices, too.”
Should Facebook impose a temporary moratorium on political advertising, it would mark a striking departure from its policy, announced last year, to allow such a freewheeling approach to campaign-related speech that politicians were free to lie without fear of being subject to the company’s network of fact-checkers.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the internal discussions regarding political advertising at Facebook, but he did not deny a report on the subject by Bloomberg News Friday afternoon.
News of the internal discussions immediately generated waves, including from those who thought it was a bad idea. Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook, tweeted, “Political ads are a tiny part of FB’s revenue and a huge” hassle for the company. But he added, “Eliminating online political ads only benefits those with money, incumbency or the ability to get media coverage.”
Zuckerberg has previously made similar arguments when discussing the possibility of limits on political speech, contending that it would disproportionately hurt smaller groups without the resources to demand attention for their ideas.
But those arguments have come under sustained attack in recent weeks, especially since the national unrest over the killing of George Floyd rekindled debate over hate speech, disinformation and glorifying violence over social media, including when posts come from powerful politicians such as Trump.
Zuckerberg’s efforts to quell such concerns and the advertising boycott from such household names as Verizon, Unilever and Coca-Cola have so far failed. A meeting he held Tuesday with civil rights leaders did little to calm their increasingly vocal complaints about systemic racism on the platform and its subsidiary Instagram. An internal civil rights audit released on Wednesday blasted the company as being tone deaf on such issues.
“This is nothing but a distraction," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Friday, after reports emerged about Facebook considering limits on political ads. “It does not address their platform being used by white supremacists and other hate groups, nor does it prevent political campaigns and domestic or foreign entities from promoting voter misinformation and interfering with our elections... Facebook has a lot of work to do. We need actions, not words.”
Facebook had considered banning political ads as recently as last summer but ultimately decided on permitting them even as some rivals, such as Twitter, banned them. Google has sharply limited the ability of politicians and campaigns to use its powerful targeting tools — a move that Facebook also considered and rejected during internal deliberations last year.
Facebook leaders also previously weighed whether to impose a blackout on political ads in December, as the company grappled with the controversy created over its policy to allow Trump and other politicians to lie in their ads, The Washington Post reported at the time. It was among a series of ideas that Facebook ultimately decided against adopting in January, when it announced it would instead allow users to have more control over the political ads they view.
Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth, a longtime Zuckerberg confidante, wrote in an internal company blog post last winter that Facebook’s ad policies, if left unchanged, would likely lead to Trump’s reelection because his campaign used the platform so effectively in 2016 and would do so again. "As a committed liberal I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result.”
But he argued that any changes to policies might corrupt the company. “As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome,” he wrote, “I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”
The company has faced growing pressure in recent weeks to reconsider its long-standing positions on numerous issues in the face of withering criticism from civil rights activists, Democrats, advertisers and its own employees.
Tony Romm contributed to this report.