Facebook Plans to Block New Political Ads

By Sara Smida / September 2, 2020 / Advertising, Social Media Blog Archives

The past few years have been a roller coaster of issues and innovations for Facebook.

From the data breach in September 2018 to launching Facebook News, its standalone tab in the mobile app that highlights credible journalism, Facebook has grown immensely.

But one thing’s for sure: the platform isn’t as friendly as it once was. A seemingly innocent post can quickly become a battleground of words. Not to mention the amount of opinions thrust upon anyone scrolling through their newsfeed.

The keyboard warriors have certainly come out of the woodwork.

But the spread of information that can easily be discredited is by far one of the biggest issues the platform faces.

Dirty politics and “fake news” — or misinformation — have been something that has plagued the social media giant since it became available to the public (rather than for only college students, like when it was originally launched).

As of September, the platform plans to block new ads the week before the presidential election.

The blocking will only apply to new advertising, not previously approved campaigns.

This is a huge change for the platform. But, is it enough? When we consider the platform discussed removing political advertising entirely, this feels like a drop in the hat.

But, it’s a small victory for democracy.

Since ads are the primary source of revenue, banning political ads would likely have a significant effect on the platform and its profits.

In fact, as of 2019, a whopping 98.5% of Facebook’s revenue came from advertising. The other 1.5% came from the fees Facebook collects from developers to use its Payments infrastructure, in addition to other revenue streams like Oculus VR.

A Brief History of Misinformation via Political Ads on Facebook

Is Facebook a place for politics?

With the November elections looming over Americans, Mark Zuckerberg has found himself and his platform under a magnifying glass.

Until recently, Facebook had not dedicated time to fact-checking ads from politicians or their campaign headquarters.

And it’s only just begun fact-checking articles to diminish the spread of more misinformation. But that might not be enough to mitigate the real issue at hand — humans are quick to make a decision or form an opinion based on a headline.

The platform forgoing fact-checking political ads has drawn criticism from lawmakers and civil rights advocates who claim the platform has been used to spread misinformation.

It has become widely known that Facebook ads and the platform’s targeting capabilities were used to reach millions of voters with tailored messaging in the 2016 election.

This strategy is believed to have helped President Trump win the 2016 election.

So, this can certainly paint a picture for why so many would question if Facebook is the place for politics.

I have personally taken issue with the spread of fake news and those who willingly share articles or Facebook posts without doing research.

I miss the days of checking on friends and family without being overwhelmed with a mountain of political-themed posts and ads.

I have grown tired of the keyboard warriors who come out in full force sharing their opinion based on something that oftentimes isn’t even factual.

It’s almost guaranteed to cause a war of words, and potentially stir up hate speech. 

Banning Political Ads

Here’s what we know so far about the upcoming ban:

Although the ban is only confirmed for the week before the election, political ads have come under scrutiny to determine if the ads would be helpful or cause harm. Do these ads give the users a voice, or does it cause a greater divide?

Some could argue that Facebook banning political ads stifles their freedom of speech.

While others could say that allowing the ads to run could have the potential to spread misinformation and sway ill-informed voters.

Additionally, it has been discussed that the company has not done enough to remove efforts that limit voter participation. A recent audit showed Facebook has actually failed to enforce its own voter-suppression policies when it comes to posts from President Trump.

So, it’s obvious that the company has come into quite a bit of power and will bend the rules for those who are in powerful positions if it wanted to.

Putting power above civil rights doesn’t put the company in a positive spotlight.

The new ad blocking is a major backpedal for Zuckerberg. In an October 2019 speech at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg defended the platform and said he wouldn’t monitor political speech.

But, in light of the audit, he might not have a choice but to change his tune.

Believing in freedom of speech is one thing, allowing misleading information to be spread is another.

The United States wouldn’t be the first country to have political ads pulled from Facebook. In fact, ad blackouts before elections have happened in other parts of the world, like the United Kingdom.

Would it be Harmful to Ban Political Ads?

For some, social media has been a large part of how they consume news.

So, with political ads potentially getting banned, will these users know less about the election or candidates?

Not necessarily.

Articles from credible news sources and journalists will still be available in the dedicated news tab. That’s not to say that fake news won’t make it onto your newsfeed.

It’s up users to remain steadfast in their own fact-checking.

But, down-ballot, or lesser-known candidates who receive less funding than prominent national candidates might rely on the platform to help with messaging.

These candidates would have to work much harder to create organic content to get in front of potential voters.

Additionally, the platform plans to label posts by candidates or campaigns that try to declare victory before the results are final. Instead, the reader will be directed to the official results from Reuters.

The platform will also label posts that try to delegitimize the outcome of the election — like polling conditions or claiming mail-in voting could lead to fraud.

Facebook has also begun to limit users’ ability to forward articles on its Messenger platform to large groups of people.

In my opinion, this isn’t the worst outcome. Whether it’s a national candidate or a smaller candidate, I want them to work for my donation and earn my vote.

And this move is unlikely to quell criticism that Facebook has had a harmful role in the democratic process.

At the end of the day, political ads on Facebook is only part of the issue. Pulling these ads from the platform is not a complete solution.

Dysfunction has spread throughout the platform and instances of hate speech have become more and more frequent.

Pulling these ads is one small step towards a more positive user experience. But Zuckerberg, the stakeholders, and his staff need to be held accountable and reinforce the platform guidelines for every advertiser, not just some.

Next, users deserve a platform that is free from fake news and hate speech. It’s a mammoth-sized issue, but something that needs to be dealt with.

In our office, we’ve penned the slogan; Make Facebook Fun Again and I think that’s something we could all try to accomplish.