‘Ham-Handed’: Democratic Ad Buyers Grouse Over Facebook’s Political Ad Ban

The ad ban is still in effect as the Georgia Senate runoffs loom

Facebook is still dark on political ads. Kacy Burdette
Headshot of Scott Nover

Facebook told advertisers Wednesday to expect the platform’s post-election political ad blackout to continue for another month to avoid confusion about the election results as votes are still being counted.

Political ad buyers are frustrated because there’s no exemption for the ongoing US Senate runoffs in Georgia. That runoff takes place on Jan. 5. Buyers anticipate candidates will miss out on millions in potential fundraising from the inability to advertise.

“Advertisers can expect this [ad blackout] to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner,” Facebook spokesperson Elana Widmann told Adweek in a statement.

“While multiple sources have projected a presidential winner, we still believe it’s important to help prevent confusion or abuse on our platform,” Facebook representatives told advertisers in an email obtained by Adweek. 

Facebook announced in October that it would temporarily halt US political ads on its platform after the polls closed on election night. Facebook vp of integrity Guy Rosen initially said the policy was adopted to “reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse” in the crucial moments following the election.

But, as the blackouts rumble on, they are causing consternation for political ad buyers and campaigners around the two US Senate runoffs in Georgia, according to Protocol report earlier this week. Neither company has committed to making an exemption for those races, according to multiple buyers from both sides of the aisle interviewed for this article.

“We have no reason to believe that exemptions will be made, which is concerning,” said Jake Sticka, vp of client strategy at liberal digital strategy firm Rising Tide Interactive. “This is a ham-handed approach by Facebook that will only empower disinformation and weaken legitimate campaigns’ and non-profits’ ability to engage with the American people ahead of runoff elections and end-of-year fundraising deadlines.” 

He added: “If Facebook truly cared, they could craft a policy related to presidential information and exempt the Georgia runoff and other non-profit activities.” 

Google also adopted a similar political ad blackout. But the search giant has not yet provided advertisers with guidance as to when it’ll resume allowing these ads.

It’s “not hyperbole to say that [Senate candidates Rafael] Warnock and [Jon] Ossoff have missed eight figures of fundraising by not being up on ads since Election Day,” said one liberal political ad buyer. This buyer told Adweek that he is working on a separate election for later in 2021 and is also appealing to Facebook for an exemption to advertise for this separate election.

Facebook’s language around this decision as well as the limitations of this policy has also been criticized. “Of course, they themselves are sowing distrust by questioning the outcome of the election,” said Madeline Kriger, integrated media director at Priorities USA, a liberal PAC. “Not to mention that they could, of course, ban selected ads—say, any about the presidential election or any that claim victory for a candidate—but choose not to.”

In recent days, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims about election fraud and falsely claimed victory in the presidential election. In its email to buyers, Facebook noted that it has sent notifications and appended labels to certain posts noting that Joe Biden is the projected winner of the election.

“If Facebook and Google are truly incapable of reviewing and safely running Georgia Senate ads without opening the floodgates of paid disinformation across their platforms, it’s a damning indictment of their own business model,” said Nicole Gill, executive director of the liberal group Accountable Tech. “Preventing campaigns from running ads to inform Georgians about how and why to participate in these critical runoff elections is actively harmful to democracy.”

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.