Facebook has announced it will extend its ban on political ads in the US for at least another month, as it continues its effort to keep tabs on the wave of misinformation washing over its platform in the wake of the US election.
The ad ban, which started a week before the vote and was initially projected to last just one week after, frees Facebook from having to make difficult calls about whether individual adverts are potentially harmful to the democratic process.
But its extension well into December is sparking concern, particularly in the new swing state of Georgia, where a pair of runoff elections will determine if the Republican party retains control of the US Senate.
“We are keeping the ad pause and other temporary election protection measures in place as that result moves towards certification next month,” said Rob Leathern, director of product management at Facebook.
“We know that people are disappointed that we can’t immediately enable ads for runoff elections in Georgia and elsewhere,” Leathern added. “It’s taken years to build the infrastructure that supports the Facebook Ad Library and ensure that political ads are transparent. We do not have the technical ability in the short term to enable political ads by state or by advertiser, and we are also committed to giving political advertisers equal access to our tools and services.”
But the decision to continue the suspension has come under fire from some corners. Elizabeth Warren, a senator for Massachusetts, called the concern “a straw man”.
“The problem isn’t the ads,” she tweeted. “It’s Facebook’s unwillingness to regulate those ads and their inability to control organic disinformation on their platform – which they’re now letting run wild during a critical moment for our democracy.”
With political adverts banned across the US, neither Democrats nor Republicans can take advantage of Facebook in their campaigns in Georgia, where both Senate seats are up for grabs on 5 January in a pair of runoff elections. According to Facebook’s own research, the ban is likely to hurt Democrats slightly more, as the company says advertising on its site provides, on average, a proportional advantage to challengers against incumbents.
“There is no replacing missed high-leverage moments in online fundraising, and ads are a HUGE part of that,” tweeted Tim Tagaris, former digital fundraising director for Bernie Sanders, speaking about the Georgia Senate race between Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock and Republican senator Kelly Loeffler. “Every day Facebook and Google wait to turn ads back on they cost [Warnock] a huge number of donations AND volunteers. A big gift to self-funding Kelly Loeffler.”
Google is also continuing its political advertising ban, which was originally announced shortly before the election. Unlike Facebook, the company had never given a definite end date to the suspension, although a Wall Street Journal report suggested that it, too, had previously intended to resume advertising this week.