Political ads and their place in social media advertising have been a hot topic throughout November, with the majority of the heavy hitters in the social industry weighing in with their thoughts.
Cast your mind back to late October 2019, Facebook announced that on the lead up to the 2020 elections that political ads would not be fact-checked or removed if proven to be false. Zuckerberg stated that “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying”.
This once again has put Facebook in hot water, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook was wrapped up in improper practises and misusing data during the 2016 election, you’d think that they would tread a little more carefully.
Since Facebook’s prolific and very public announcement other titans of social media have been forced to comment.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was heavily praised when he announced, unequivocally, that Twitter would ban all political advertising on its platform.
We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…🧵
— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) October 30, 2019
While going to the opposite end of the spectrum to Facebook might seem an expedient choice to counter any potential negative PR, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren questioned how a carpet ban such as this might actually work in practice.
Twitter's new ad policy will allow fossil fuel companies to buy ads defending themselves and spreading misleading info—but won't allow organizations fighting the climate crisis to buy ads holding those companies accountable. We need accountability. https://t.co/B9RtX7hC5g
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 5, 2019
Warren raised a substantial point, what of the noted conflict between political campaigning and activism by non-politically affiliated groups?
Since Dorsey’s original tweet, Twitter has softened its regulations slightly. Twitter has launched a new ad category called ‘Cause-based advertising’.
Through ’cause based’ advertising, Twitter will allow the (restricted) promotion of ads that:
“Educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes.”
‘Cause based’ ads cannot, “drive political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes”. Advertisers will also need to be certified to run such promotions.
While Twitter and Facebook reside at either end of the spectrum, Snapchat has landed at the epicentre of the polarising dichotomy between the two – allowing political ads but subjecting them to fact-checking.
Evan Spiegal (CEO Snap Inc.) commented:
“We subject all advertising to review, including political advertising, and I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising.”
While Snapchat’s stance might seem like the most logical decision, there is a significant grey area between the factually correct and the factually incorrect. Where is the line of misinformation?
Normative statements are of course exempt, however, something such as “President Trump has improved the American economy and created millions of jobs”. While the American economy may have improved during his presidency, he may not be directly responsible. Therefore, is this true or false? To a varying measure, it’s both. Nuanced claims such as these can make it difficult to enforce such a cut and dry rule difficult to enforce.
What about everyone else?
For clarity, the stances of all major social media sites are listed below:
- Facebook – Allows political ads, exempt from fact checks in order to let the people decide what’s true and what’s not from candidates
- Twitter – Will ban all political ads, but will allow certain ‘issues’ ads which meet specific requirements
- Snapchat – Allows political ads, subject to fact checks to limit misinformation
- Pinterest – Political ads are banned on Pinterest
- LinkedIn – Political ads are banned on LinkedIn
- TikTok – Political ads are banned on TikTok
- Reddit – Allows political ads for issues, elections and candidates in the US, banned for other regions. Ads are subject to fact-checking
In a somewhat unsurprising move, Facebook announced in late November that they would consider changing their policy. Unsurprising due to the deafening cacophony of outcries against the arguably megalomaniacal tech giant.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Facebook is considering making changes to its political-advertising policy that could include preventing campaigns from targeting only very small groups of people, people familiar with the matter said, in an effort to spurn the spread of misinformation. The company in recent weeks has weighed increasing the minimum number of people who are targeted in political ads from 100 to a few thousand, the people said.”
While this technically isn’t a change in their original stance, but a horizontal transition. This could also be part of Facebook’s overall plan to repair their PR as micro-targeting or laser-focused messaging onto niche microcosms, was integral to the strategy of how Cambridge Analytica ‘reportedly’ operated their campaigns on the social network. Expanding the minimum audience targeting from 100 to 1000 may not seem like a major shift, it could have a large impact on reducing the possibility of the aforementioned unethical practices happening again.
We doubt that this is the end of the debate and will keep you updated as it unfolds. If you’ve any questions, please reach out and we can be sure to help you with anything you need!