Facebook and Political Transparency

Facebook has begun enforcing new political labeling rules for advertising. The rules are intended to help users determine which ads have political intentions. It appears that Facebook has penalized some companies for not meeting the new requirements, though the protocols seem to be broadly enforced, causing non-political ads to get caught in the advertising filter and causing concern among non-political advertisers.

Non-political ads usually include a simple “sponsored” label.

Facebook Political Advertising

Reasons for the Rules

Facebook created the advertisement labeling rules following the 2016 election, in response to Russian-backed groups creating fake profiles to spread disinformation and influence U.S. voters. Many of the groups bought advertisements to gain access to broader audiences. Facebook has begun divulging the sources of all ads that run on the platform.

  • At any time, users can learn which companies are running which advertisements.
  • Political ads receive greater scrutiny than other ads.
  • Political ads may be archived for seven years.

Penalties

Under the new rules, Facebook has penalized Walmart and Procter & Gamble. The social media organization says it halted ads from those companies for being political without the “paid for by” label. Facebook stated, in an entry for each ad, “After the ad started running, we determined that the ad had political content and required the label.  The ad was taken down.”

  • Facebook seems to consider the Walmart ad to be political speech because it mentioned “bringing jobs back” to America.
  • The Proctor & Gamble ad expressed LGBTQ pride, including a “commitment to inclusion.”

Objections

A Proctor and Gamble spokeswoman expressed disappointment with Facebook’s decision. She denied that the ad was political and stated that P&G does not run political promotions. The spokeswoman said:

  • The LGBTQ endorsement was not new when Facebook canceled it.
  • The company and brand have a point of view, and the ad was “culturally relevant.”
  • P&G is cooperating with Facebook to learn the new rules.

There was no immediate comment from Walmart.

Concerns

The labeling policy for political ads worries non-political advertisers. However, it was inevitable that consumer goods and retail brands would be affected by Facebook’s labeling rules, too.

  • Media organizations and publishers that pay Facebook to publicize their headlines fear that the archiving and required labeling may cause Facebook users to see journalism as advocacy.
  • One publishing executive anonymously expressed opposition to the new rules:

“Brands can easily get snagged in the political content filter. Almost everything is controversial.”

Delays

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, discussed the implementation of the new rules: “There are delays now.”

  • She acknowledged that some advertisers had experienced delays to their campaigns while they learn the new political labeling protocols.
  • According to Sandberg, politicians and newsgroups must prove their identities and locations before they are permitted to place announcements. They must register with Facebook by mail.
  • Facebook may treat some ads as political even when they do not try to influence voters. Sandberg states, “We’re not saying all these things are political. We just chose to be as inclusive as possible so everything will be transparent.”

Facebook’s new political labeling requirements are meant to make political ads transparent. The rules seem to be applied very broadly, also affecting non-political endorsements. The broad application of the protocols has caused concern among non-political advertisers; however, Facebook has decided to enforce the rules broadly to maximize transparency.

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