About Facebook’s Latest Political Ad Restrictions: Don’t Panic. Plan.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped a bomb on U.S. political advertisers today: no new ads related to candidates or issues will run on Facebook or Instagram in the week before Election Day this year. The decision comes as the company tries to deal with an expected flood of disinformation this fall, and after months of discussions with groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (a long-ago consulting client of mine) and Color of Change.

Those organizations were generally supportive, though many activists won’t be. As an example, a friend described the new rules as a “fig leaf” for the company in an email discussion this morning, designed to deflect criticism without doing much to stop malicious actors from launching ads right before the drop-dead date. I’m more sanguine; at least the platform didn’t ban political advertising completely, a move that would hurt down-ballot candidates and smaller activist groups the most.

Zuckerberg’s announcement included:

  • A ban on new political ads in the week before the election, thought existing ads can continue to run. And, campaigns and other advertisers can still adjust the content and budget, and perhaps the targeting.
  • Flags on posts claiming an election has been won before the results are official, with the Reuters news service as the neutral arbiter
  • Limits on the ability to mass-forward messages on WhatsApp

What’s the upshot for campaigns and activists?

  1. Get your GOTV content ready early. Disorganized campaigns will find themselves crippled on Facebook in the run-up to Election Day if they don’t get their ads ready in time. Some text that we commonly use (“only three days left to vote”) won’t work anymore, since we won’t be able to adjust it day by day.
  2. Look for alternatives to Facebook advertising if you need last-minute flexibility, or if you’re concerned that MORE rule changes may be in the works. I’ve already received at least one email from a vendor highlighting their programmatic digital ads, which run on many websites in many formats and can be targeted via a voter file.
  3. Plan for rapid-response that DOESN’T involve paid Facebook promotion. Opponents often drop dirt at the last minute, and campaigns now won’t be able to use paid Facebook ads to counter it. To reach people on the platform, campaigns should think about starting social-media response teams and encouraging supporters to join them. Local voices make powerful ambassadors, but they won’t be able to help unless you’re set up to email, text or message them links to content to post or share.

I don’t know how much Facebook’s new rules will help inspire confidence in this year’s elections; with Americans so divided — and with people like Donald Trump trying to keep us that way — the idea of a shared reality may be too much to ask for. But at least Zuckerberg didn’t restrict ad targeting more broadly, which I’ve argued helps the powerful and hurts the outsiders, insurgents and the under-resourced. And, this year we have time to plan. As always, if you’d like help with that process, drop me a line.


Written by
Colin Delany
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