Facebook clarified its political advertising policy on Thursday. And the update is: No update.
Facebook has been at the center of a PR and policy firestorm over its political advertising policies since October, when President Trump’s reelection campaign ran an ad featuring a lie about Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
At the same time, other social networks and major online ad platforms changed their policies to block political advertising entirely or significantly limit targeting.
“While Twitter has chosen to block political ads and Google has chosen to limit the targeting of political ads, we are choosing to expand transparency and give more controls to people when it comes to political ads,” wrote Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, in a blog post.
In other words, Facebook will neither reject political ads nor limit the targeting capabilities for campaigns and advocacy groups.
The move (or the non-move, rather) has found support on both sides of the aisle, though liberals are split on the issue.
Gary Coby, the Trump campaign’s digital director, wrote in a tweet that Facebook is pursuing “the correct path” by releasing data and an ads archive.
Democrats, especially digital media and technology pros, were anxious about a potential Facebook reversal, which likely would have done more damage to liberal campaigns, despite the Trump team’s heavy use of the platform.
“I am worried that an angry mob will push Facebook into blocking political ads,” Keegan Goudiss, managing partner at the liberal agency Revolution Messaging, told AdExchanger in November.
Not all Democrats feel the same way. And much of the opposition centers on how Facebook enables misinformation.
“Facebook's decision is a major boon to the Trump campaign and the rest of the Republicans that view disinformation as a necessary tactic,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a liberal strategist and President Obama’s communications director.
Facebook could have adopted policies similar to cable networks, which typically fact-check ads and sometimes reject political commercials if they stray too far from the truth.
“We don’t fact-check political ads,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in October during a speech at Georgetown University.
Political advertising has proven a bigger headache and cost for Facebook than it is a major revenue source. But whether it’s a philosophical position among company leaders or a careful balance between powerful interests, Facebook has shown that it’s willing to stand alone on a hill to defend its right to target political ads and post misleading or false information.
“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Leathern wrote. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”