Why everyone on Facebook is angry about their political advertising guidelines
SAN FRANCISCO – After Google announced restrictions on political advertising this week, election strategists in Washington quickly turned to another company: Facebook.
Some strategists voiced concerns to Facebook about how Google’s decision would affect it, said two people who spoke with the company. They told Facebook that it would affect their ability to reach unregistered voters and make it harder for smaller organizations to raise funds online, they told Facebook.
The talks put pressure on Facebook as it weighs how political advertising is handled. Board chairman Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that in the interests of freedom of expression, Facebook will not review politicians’ ads, even if they contain lies. However, the social network is discussing some ad changes such as: For example, the restriction on how exactly campaigns can reach certain groups, said three people informed by the company.
Facebook has not made a final decision on its political advertising guidelines, said the people who refused to be identified because the discussions were confidential. On Thursday, during a happy hour discussion with around 500 digital strategists, campaign officials and political activists in the Facebook offices in Washington, company executives insisted not to post news about political advertisements, two attendees at the event said.
However, Facebook risks being overwhelmed by its indecision, especially since Google and Twitter introduced revised political advertising guidelines ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.
“Twitter kicked off and Google turned it up to 11,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital advertising strategist. “Now the pressure is on Facebook – they have to act.”
Political advertising on social media and internet platforms is particularly tense in this election cycle as campaigns increasingly rely on digital channels to get their messages across and reach voters. But few companies get into this battle as much as Facebook.
On the one hand, the company wants to curb the spread of disinformation on its website. The practice of targeting specific groups with ads, known as “microtargeting,” can fuel disinformation as advertisers can fuel niche audiences susceptible to tailored messages.
At the same time, Facebook wants to avoid alienating the groups and candidates who rely on its platform for fundraising and organizing. In trying to find a way to please everyone on the subject, Facebook managed to not please anyone.
The social network has now become an outlier, as it allows political candidates and elected officials to advertise freely on its platform. While Mr Zuckerberg stated last month that Facebook wouldn’t monitor political ads, Twitter said it would ban all of these ads because of their negative impact on civic discourse. On Wednesday, Google said it was no longer allowed to target political ads to specific audiences based on public electoral rolls or political affiliations.
“As mentioned earlier, we are exploring different ways we could refine our approach to political ads,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.
The pressure on Facebook what to do with political ad targeting has been relentless. Organizations on both sides of the political aisle – from the size of President Trump’s re-election campaign to smaller grassroots groups – have tried to convince Facebook not to restrict advertising.
“Big changes in platform advertising targeting would put Democrats and progressives at a great disadvantage than Donald, who rely on Facebook for fundraising and currently have a much smaller organic audience and an up-to-date database of supporters on and off the platform Trump, ”said Tara McGowan, founder and CEO of Acronym, a progressive nonprofit group.
Some Republican strategists said they also feared losing the ability to raise significant campaign donations online if Facebook cuts ad targeting.
On Friday, the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a joint statement condemning changes to Google’s ad targeting guidelines.
“Tech companies shouldn’t reduce grassroots power just because it’s easier to combat abuse on their platforms,” the groups said in a memo to CNN. “We urge these tech companies, including Google, to reconsider their decision to bluntly restrict political advertising on their platforms.”
Facebook has been reaching out to ad buyers and stakeholders to get feedback on what changes to political ads they could use. In a recent call with political advertising groups, Facebook said it was considering some tweaking, like the ability to increase the minimum number of people that could be targeted from 100 to 1,000, according to two people familiar with the discussion. The potential change was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Facebook is also updating and refining its advertising library, a collection of current and past ads paid for by political candidates, to increase transparency, people said.
On Thursday at the Washington event on Facebook, executives spent 90 minutes reviewing their current advertising policies with digital strategists and campaign representatives before being paused for about a 15-minute question-and-answer period.
Despite Facebook’s pledge not to post any new advertising guidelines, those in attendance were trying to get some information out, two people present said. A member of the Trump campaign asked if Facebook was considering eliminating certain data and reaching certain audiences. Facebook said it welcomes any feedback and considers any issues.
Another questioner expressed the hope that Facebook will not follow in Google’s footsteps, participants said. Facebook officials reiterated that they would not post any news.
However, when asked if the social network would treat Democrats and Republicans equally in the 2020 election, Facebook officials were quick to respond.
Your answer: Yes, everyone is treated equally, said the participants.
Nick Corasaniti contributed the coverage from New York.