The indefinite ban that Facebook placed on political advertising right after the November election has been lifted, calling to question whether a) Facebook really needs this money, and b) the country is in the clear when it comes to the spread of misinformation about political figures.
"We put this temporary ban in place after the November 2020 election to avoid confusion or abuse following Election Day," Facebook said in a blog post. "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."
As the New York Times reports, Facebook is again allowing ads pertaining to "social issues, elections or politics" starting on Thursday. And the company is saying that advertisers looking to place such ads will need to undergo a series of identity checks — you know, to prevent the Russians from duping old people, etc.
We all understand by now that Facebook's failures are legion when it comes to amplifying lies, sowing discord, and getting someone like Donald Trump elected. Since the 2016 election, the company has come under fire for a host of other issues, including but not limited to its use and sharing of user data and its inability or unwillingness to stop the spread of hate speech.
But when it comes to problems that seem like pretty easy fixes, an outright, permanent ban on political advertising seems like a great place to start. Twitter issued its ban on political ads way back in October 2019, only to come up with a somewhat convoluted policy a month later that allows for certain kinds of "issue" and "cause-based" ads.
Politicos on both the left and the right sides of spectrum don't want the ability to reach new voters taken away from them, of course. But this becomes a debate about whether political ads on a social media platform, no matter who they come from, do more harm than good — especially because they can be "liked" and shared the way any content is, without regard for the veracity of their content.
Even Facebook's own zero-tolerance policy for election misinformation was a failure, with the company allowing a "Stop the Steal" group to balloon to hundreds of thousands of users in the days following the election. And a recent report found that not only did Facebook rarely apply its own fact-checking labels to former President Trump's tweets, it also showed different labels to different users — yet again proving how it wants to play to both sides of the political divide even when one side is spouting democracy-damaging lies.
Lifting the ban on political ads, though, may be a good ting for the "good guys," as the Times notes. Some political analysts note that direct advertising on Facebook, which is relatively cheap, can elevate small-time candidates of all stripes — whereas otherwise we would only hear from candidates who could afford TV and radio ads.
"The ad ban was something that Facebook did to appease the public for the misinformation that spread across the platform,” says Eileen Pollet, a digital campaign strategist and founder of Ravenna Strategies, speaking to the Times. "But it really ended up hurting good actors while bad actors had total free rein. And now, especially since the election is over, the ban had really been hurting nonprofits and local organizations."
So, we're back to seeing political ads on Facebook — at least until the next crisis-inducing, pivotal election involving a demagogue who barely understands what the truth is.
And soon we'll find out whether the Facebook Oversight Board will make the suspension of Trump's account permanent.
Photo: Barefoot Communications