Facebook announced plans to resume political, electoral and social issue ads in the U.S. tomorrow, March 4, ending a temporary ban it put in place after the November 2020 — to avoid confusion and abuse amid claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that the election had been stolen.
The ad ban was a bit of a reversal by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has in the past has hewn to a hands-off position on content and political advertising, which is considered speech, unless there is the risk of imminent danger. But a lot changed with the unprecedented misinformation that proliferated on social media around the last election and the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
“Unlike other platforms, we require authorization and transparency not just for political and electoral ads, but also for social issue ads, and our systems do not distinguish between these categories. We’ve heard a lot of feedback about this and learned more about political and electoral ads during this election cycle. As a result, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work on our service to see where further changes may be merited,” Facebook said in a blog post Wednesday.
Following the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff election, starting Jan. 6, Facebook also specifically banned ads about that contest in line with its existing nationwide pause.
Facebook initially had stopped accepting new political or issue ads on Oct. 27, the week before the election. “We know it’s important that campaigns are able to run get out the vote campaigns, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims,” it said then.
Then it stopped running all social issue, electoral and political ads in the U.S. after the polls closed on Nov. 3 “to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse.” It defined social issues as “sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election, or result in or relate to existing or proposed legislation.”
Ads related to voting itself were subject to additional prohibitions, including ads that tried to “delegitimize methods of voting as illegal or corrupt, prematurely claim victory and delegitimize an election as fraudulent or corrupt because the result can’t be determined on the final day of voting.”