Political Advertisers Will Soon Roam Free Again on Google

Don't fence us in, Google & Facebook

Political advertisers will soon roam Google’s pastures once more! Starting Wednesday, political campaigns and political nonprofits can buy ads on Google search, YouTube and the company’s other platforms again. Will Facebook follow suit and drop its own ad ban? In case you missed it in December, I wrote the text below when Google last relaxed a political ad ban in the U.S.

Axios reports today Google will finally lift its post-election U.S. political ad ban starting tomorrow, December 10th. Political organizers working on January’s Georgia Senate special will now be able to run ads on Google search, YouTube videos, other Google properties and the company’s extended ad network. Will Facebook follow suit?

Facebook and Google’s post-election described their ad bans as measures to stop the spread of election-related disinformation, though one wonders if they weren’t really in place to protect the companies from responsibility for filtering content. After all, America’s primary disinformation superspreader required zero advertising to attack democracy in ways likely to echo through our political culture for years. Perhaps the ad bans slowed a malicious actor SOMEWHERE, but they more likely hurt organizations trying use ads to fight back. Lies spread just fine organically; truth often needs a boost.

Though Google political ads are back, voter-file targeting on its platforms effectively remains blocked. While campaigns and independent groups can target voters demographically and geographically, they can’t employ the kind of granular targeting that helps a smaller organization use its ad budget efficiently. As I’ve said before, restrictions like these miss the point: the problem lies in the lying, not in the mechanics of the advertising. Not surprisingly, the projects I worked with this fall avoided Google and YouTube advertising in favor of programmatic video ads.

Next up: when will Facebook similarly relax its own political ad ban? The company DOES allow voter-file targeting, though as always success depends in part on a solid match between a voter ID and a Facebook user — often a dicey proposition, particularly with voters who are hard to reach in the first place. Expect a run on Facebook ads in Georgia as soon as the ban expires, naturally creating a brutal spike in prices in the process. With so much money landing in a single state, though, will it actually matter? As Democrats found out painfully a month ago, money does not always buy love…or victory.


Written by
Colin Delany
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