Adam Mosseri
Gray Matters

Instagram CEO Responds to Facebook’s Stance on Political Ads

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri says Facebook’s political ad policy is the “least bad” option.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

We oversimplify these things all the time. …It’s not lost on me that Facebook and Instagram have contributed to a world where there is no room for nuance.


Laurie Segall: …There’s the debate happening right now over political ads. Facebook has said it won’t police political ad content. …Twitter has come into the game by saying that they are banning political ads. Google’s now saying they won’t allow political ads to be directed to specific audiences based on certain things. It’s just these human issues that seem to be where sometimes Facebook really wades into problems. Do you worry sometimes that your boss just gets it wrong?

Adam Mosseri: I worry that anybody gets it wrong. I mean, no one can be right all the time. So I worry about that. I worry that I get it wrong sometimes too for the calls that I make.

Laurie Segall: But particularly with the political ads. I know even some of the employees at Facebook have said that they don’t agree with this. Do you agree with the stance as it is now?

Adam Mosseri: I do. …I think it’s tough, though. I think it’s the least bad option, which is different than it being an option that I’m excited about. I think if you look at the other things that people are doing…Twitter banning all political ads, I don’t think makes sense, because political ads quickly bleed into issue ads.

You can’t ban …some politician doing something along the lines of Blue Lives Matter instead of Black Lives Matter. You can’t have climate change activists be on there if you’re gonna not allow political discourse, because climate change is inherently a political issue at this point. Now Twitter has since tried to modify their policies to allow room for some of these issues, so I appreciate that. I’ve talked to Jack about this. … I don’t believe in the specific solution he’s trying to come up with, but I really believe that he’s being principled and I commend the boldness. And so I have a lot of respect for that.

I think though that it has more costs than benefits, and so …okay, we need to allow political ads to exist on the platform because they’re gonna happen no matter what and you don’t want to throw out everything. There’s a lot of good that comes from political advertising. It’s not necessarily all campaigns. There’s a lot of issues, any issue you care about, you know…Do you care about gay rights? Do you want to campaign for a proposition that legalizes gay marriage? Like you can’t do that if there are no political ads. And I just think that’s worth it.

So I push more on the other side, which is, I feel like we have been talking about too little, which is the transparency side. One of the things that’s scary about online advertising is you can’t see it. Everyone was watching relatively the same TV, you know, a few decades ago. You can kind of tell what’s going on. We’ve done a lot on this. I think we’re in a better place than any platform on political ads transparency, but I think we’re not in a place that I’m happy with yet. It’s still hard to navigate and understand what’s going on. So I kind of want to put pressure more on the other side of the equation.

What Google’s doing with limiting audience size for campaign ads, but not political ads more broadly, I think is interesting. It is a little bit weird to let everyone talk about politics in a way that you don’t let the politicians talk about politics. But that’s the one where I think there’s something in there that’s probably worth considering. So I don’t pretend like we have it exactly right. But my main thing is these issues are nuanced. We oversimplify these things all the time. And…it’s not lost on me that Facebook and Instagram have contributed to a world where there is no room for nuance.

Laurie Segall: I mean it certainly seems like they’re nuanced. And…having covered the company for a long time, it seems like it takes other people saying certain things for the company sometimes… to understand. I mean more so, by the way, in the time I’ve covered it they’re thinking about these things from within, but often times it does take, you know, other people saying these things.

Adam Mosseri: Absolutely. And I just think all of these things have nuance and have trade-offs. You can’t have full privacy and have full security. Like those things are at odds at some level. And you know, people can want multiple things. And multiple things can be valuable that compete. And so you pick an issue, and there’s always two sides to the story, and we always pretend like there’s just one.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m out there talking a bunch more is not necessarily to convince people to agree with me specifically, but to try to shed some light on the thinking and the rationale because we debate almost all these things. It’ll happen that something turns into a press cycle that we didn’t debate before, but more often than not we did debate it. We might not have ended up on the right solution, but we had that debate internally. So of course some, a lot of people…internally disagree on certain policies.