Paid Facebook ads have always been a critical tool for political campaign managers to target prospective voters. However, Elizabeth Warren recently dared Facebook with an intentionally false ad. In a recent Fox News segment, Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group discussed anti-conservative bias in big tech. Click here to watch the full segment.
Should Google, Facebook or Twitter control and moderate political speech?
If you turn on cable news today, you will see a slew of lower thirds such as “the dangers of political ads on the web.”
But just how dangerous are these political ads on social media?
Yes, political ads spread misinformation. How is this any different from the political ads that run on television that also spread misinformation?
Why are we asking for a new set of rules for digital advertising that we have not demanded from traditional advertising?
SOCIAL MEDIA POLITICAL AD POLICY
Political advertising in the digital age.
Online social media platforms are now facing growing pressure to stop running political ads that show false or misleading claims ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Politicians, pundits, digital advertisers, marketers, and the general public have debated whether there should be stricter regulations around political advertising on social media.
Politicians run political ads on social media in a variety of rich media forms including:
- Retargeted videos
- Sponsored Snapchat geo-filters to targeted locations
- Boosted and sponsored posts
HISTORY OF POLITICAL ADVERTISING
Digital advertising on social media is a critical tool for candidates to find donors and sway voters. 2020 presidential candidates have reportedly spent almost $100 million to date on digital advertising on social media platforms. Trump reportedly spent the largest amount of money on digital advertising among 2020 presidential candidates.
Is it really big-techs role to limit and control how campaigns can reach voters?
Online advertising is much more precise in comparison to broadcast television ads in terms of the ability to reach the end user. This is the magic of digital advertising vs. traditional marketing.
Why should we kill that just because politicians want to take a stance?
Critics claim that on TV, political ads are highly regulated. However, they still contain falsehoods despite the regulation.
Why should political ads on social media be treated differently than political ads on television? Why the double standard?
“In the United States, the Communications Act prevents broadcast stations from rejecting or censoring ads from candidates for federal office once they have accepted advertising for that political race, although this does not apply to cable networks like CNN, or to social media sites, where leading presidential candidates are spending millions to target voters in the run-up to the November 2020 election.”
Broadcasters must adhere to the Federal Communications Act, which states they have no power of censorship over the material broadcast.
Lies have always been a key feature of political campaigns since the dawn of time. So, why this rush to control digital advertising on social media sites?
FACT: Digital advertising works \better than traditional forms of media when you are looking to target a specific group of people. Politicians are afraid of the power of micro-targeting. They don’t want to be blamed if someone wins that was not considered the popular choice, which is why there is an outcry from congress as to why this targeting should be hindered for political candidates.
SOCIAL MEDIA: NEW RULES FOR POLITICAL ADS
Digital ads on social media platforms are not subject to the same disclosure regulations that apply to traditional television and political ads on radio and other traditional media vehicles. However, people are putting pressure on social media platforms to ban political ads.
Political Ad Policies
So, how are tech companies handling misleading claims in political ads?
Here is a rundown of the current social media policies of big-tech giants.
FACEBOOK POLITICAL AD POLICY
Politicians are exempt from third-party fact-checking, meaning politicians are allowed to run ads with false claims. Elizabeth Warren criticized this policy and said it could cause a spread of misinformation. She ran a false ad on Facebook to highlight this issue, which I recently discussed in the above segment on Fox News. Zuckerberg has repeatedly said it is not his role to censor political speech. However, Facebook does fact check content from political groups.
Facebook now requires mandatory disclosures so people know who is running political ad campaigns. Facebook recently tightened rules for US political advertisers ahead of the 2020 election. Political advertisers are required to display a confirmed organization label to show government-issued credentials. Any advertiser running political ads are also required to post their contact information.
Facebook requires political advertisers in the U.S. to:
- Submit a U.S. mailing address and identity document
- Supply a phone number, business email and web site
- Submit a federal election commission ID number, tax registered ID number or government website domain.
GOOGLE POLITICAL AD POLICY
Google will limit audience targeting for election ads to age, gender and location at a postal code level. Political advertisers can no longer target ads using data such as public voter records and general political affiliations such as right-leaning, left-leaning or independent. Google is also restricting an advertisers ability to micro-target political ads on Search and YouTube. Google is also getting rid of the customer match feature, which enables campaigns to match profiles with voter data.
Will Facebook follow suit by getting rid of custom audiences? I don’t think so, considering this is part of the powerful engine that drives ad revenue for the platform. They have too much to lose by doing that.
TWITTER POLITICAL AD POLICY
Twitter recently banned all political ads that include content that references a political candidate, party, election or legislation. The company also said it will not allow ads that advocate for a specific outcome on political or social causes.
Twitter is considered the smallest player within the political online advertising space. Political ads do not make up a substantial portion of Twitter’s revenue, therefore this move is less of a risk for Twitter than it is for Facebook or Google.
The pros and cons of restricting political ads on social media
- Proponents of limiting campaign microtargeting believe it could curtail election interference and misinformation.
- Could hurt less well-known candidates
- Could suppress voter turnout
- Control all digital political speech.
As big tech companies overhaul their politician ad polices in favor of limiting politicians’ ability to target voters through microtargeting, this will potentially hurt the smaller campaigns who rely on microtargeting to reach new audiences. It could essentially wipe out any of the small plyers from even having a chance to compete. It is actually going to rig the system in favor of only those with large pockets.
Not every campaign can afford television ads. Many can only afford digital ads with smaller budgets. If we kill off that option, we are killing off the ability for new players to enter into a free-market political race.
Will government regulation affect growth?
Limiting how narrowly politicians can target voters and the types of ads politicians can run on social media platforms is not the real issue. The question of government regulation looms over the digital advertising ecosystem. The biggest threat to Facebook and Google will be who wins the next political election. Believe it or not, the greatest thread to digital ad growth is politics. Google controls 90 percent of the market and has no real competition. None of these digital ad platforms are growing as quickly as they used to. The only way they will grow is to buy smaller faster-growing social media networks (like Tik Tok). The prospect of regulation may introduce a real hurdle for ad growth. If these tech companies are broken up in an antitrust probe, this would be a disaster for profitability.
POLITICAL ADS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: KRIS RUBY’S FINAL THOUGHTS
Microtargeting enables politicians to reach specific groups of individuals through digital advertising. It has come under fire by critics because it enables politicians to target narrow groups of voters. Critics say this has to potential to “manipulate” the political debate and upcoming elections.
However, microtargeting on digital ad platforms is the key behind the rapid growth of digital advertising. This is, after all, why so many media buyers have shifted paid media spends to digital advertising in the first place.
If we limit the ability of the Internet to do what it is very best at, aren’t we censoring this powerful form of advertising?
We are telling people this form of advertising works so well that therefore we are going to limit your ability to use it. What kind of message is that to send to consumers?
Imagine saying, this car drives too well, so, therefore, it’s unfair if it stays in the market. We are going to only give you the option to buy a slower car.
Why should one be penalized for the righteous advantage of knowing how to use digital advertising and deploy it to target voters? That is not manipulation, it is having a competitive advantage and skill set of how to deploy digital advertising across multiple channels.
If we start to censor one’s ability to use these marketing vehicles as they were intended to be used, we are going down a very slippery slope.
And, if microtargeting is so controversial, then why has it not been removed in every other area outside of political advertising? It enables anyone to target niche groups of people with tailored messages, not just politicians! It gives people the ability to narrowly reach their target audience and end-user.
That is not manipulation; it is good marketing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group is a frequent commentator on Fox News. She reports on Facebook, Google and Big-Tech Privacy Concerns.