Can You Believe Your Eyes? Google to Require Disclosing Digitally Altered Political Ads

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Can you believe what you see or hear in an election year? Google is taking one step to remedy that situation, by requiring advertisers to disclose whether a political ad has been digitally altered, in a recent political content policy update the tech giant released.

The requirement pertains to “any synthetic content that makes it appear as if a person is saying or doing something they didn’t do,” or if the ad “alters footage of a real event, or generates a realistic portrayal of an event to depict scenes that did not actually take place.”

Google’s regulations call for disclosure language to be “clear and conspicuous” and include phrasing like “this audio was computer generated,” and “this video content was synthetically generated,” or the hardest hitting version, “this image does not depict real events.”

According to a Financial Times analysis of AdImpact data, the Biden campaign and affiliated groups have already sunk approximately $147 million into TV, radio, and digital advertising for this year’s election race – nearly twice the amount spent by the Trump campaign and its affiliates, which totals $85 million.

With the landslide of AI capabilities flooding the media we see and hear, the announcement by Google may come as welcome news in a new era where viewers are no longer certain what to trust.

Before embracing the new directive too enthusiastically, it should be noted Google’s initial update only applies to political ads published to YouTube, though reports indicated “the industry could see the company roll out the policy company-wide.”

Another caveat is that in some cases, Google itself will generate the in-ad disclosure. But on other formats, advertisers will be required to check a box clarifying that the material has indeed been digitally altered. Whether there will be oversight to ensure the integrity of this reporting measure, or any penalty for its violation, is unclear.

Is Google’s initial step an idea whose time has come? Should it apply to other formats beyond the political arena? Will other platforms follow suit? Keep reading here.

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