With the midterm elections almost upon us, people in the United States are getting inundated with television and radio ads for local elections. A new trend over the past decade has been the proliferation of the use of social media to inform voters and increase awareness about particular candidates or issues. Questions about the use of social media in the 2016 Presidential Election even led to Congressional hearings where executives for Facebook and Twitter testified. One of the central questions of these hearings was what steps are these companies taking to ensure foreign actors are not using the power of social media adverting to influence U.S. elections. In response, both companies vowed to implement new procedures to prevent foreign actors from running political ads about American elections.
A few weeks ago when creating a Facebook advertising campaign for a client of ours (when to a presidential historian), I was surprised at the notification that my advertising campaign was not approved due to the ads being related to politics or issues of national importance. Although the specific ads I was trying to create was not political, I decided not to request a manual review but rather to investigate the requirements to be authorized to run ads related to politics or issues of national importance.
To better understand the process, let’s first review what Facebook considers Ads Related to Politics or Issues of National Importance. Facebook says that any ad that meets one of the below requirements will be considered in this group, and hence require authorization to run these ads:
Is made by, on behalf of, or about a current or former candidate for public office, a political party, a political action committee, or advocates for the outcome of an election to public office; or
Relates to any election, referendum, or ballot initiative, including "get out the vote" or election information campaigns; or
Relates to any national legislative issue of public importance in any place where the ad is being run; or
Is regulated as political advertising.
Facebook has defined issues that are considered of national importance to be the following (but Facebook expects this list to grow over time): abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.
There are some practical limitations on the actual ad if it falls under this definition. First, each ad must have a disclaimer provided by advertisers that shows the name of the person or entity that paid for the ad. Facebook provides additional specifications for the requirements on their website. “Once authorized, you can run ads related to politics or issues of national importance on Facebook and Instagram using any ad format except dynamic ads and boosted continuous live video. Currently, these ads can't run on the WhatsApp, Messenger and Audience Network placements” (Facebook support document).
Another interesting element is the existence of the Ad Archive. The Ad Archive is a public, searchable database of every “ads related to politics or issues of national importance that have appeared on either Facebook or Instagram. The Ad Archive may include both historical and current ads.” In essence, the information you see in Ad Manager will be public to anyone if the ad is about politics. This includes:
Active or inactive: People can see whether or not the ad is currently running.
Disapproved notice: If an ad in the Ad Archive was active but then became disapproved, it will show as “disapproved” in the Ad Archive.
Duration: People can see the duration of the ad (ex, October 18, 2018 - October 23, 2018).
Impressions: People can see a range for the number of impressions the ad received (ex 1K-5K), not the exact number.
Amount spent: People can see a range for the amount spent on the ad (ex, $1K-$5K), not the exact amount.
Demographic information (Age and gender): People can see the the % of people by age and gender who had an impression on the ad.
Location: People can see information about the location(s) where the ad was viewed.
The authorization process is actually pretty straight forward. In general, it seems like they are most concerned that you are a citizen of and live in the country you want to be authorized to run ads in. For the U.S., you need to first turn on two-factor authentication. Two-factor is a solid security measure everyone should be using, but takes on added importance when you are potentially running ads for specific candidates. The second step is confirm your primary country location (ie. where you live). This is confirmed by receiving a letter in the mail to your mailing address with a 6 digit code that you then have to enter on Facebook. Next, you need to scan and submit a copy of a government ID (US passport, driver's license or state ID). Finally, you need to provide the last four digits of your social security number.
It will be interesting to see over the coming elections if these seemingly thoughtful processes created by Facebook will reinstall trust in their advertising platform as it concerns political ads.