September 4, 2020

Facebook steps back from political ads this political season

Facebook has decided not to carry any political ads prior to the coming November elections.  It brings to mind several questions.  What do they mean? Why are they doing it?  What does it mean for the campaigns?


Firstly, the ban is actually not the full run-up to the election.  It's only the last seven days before election day.

How do they define a political advertisement?  Does a meme post count?  Does it count if they deem it was created by a political operative?  How do they then define a political operative?  Do they exclude political discussion among Facebook users?  How does Facebook define a political ad? 

CNN had this to say (after getting in a jab that Trump's posts are what it calls lies):
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would not accept new political ads in the final week of the 2020 election campaign. The company will remove posts that claim that people will get Covid-19 if they take part in voting, and it will label misinformation about the election and voting.

In another potential loophole, Facebook (FB) will continue to allow campaigns to run ads bought before the final week. Those ads can still run through Election Day. And Zuckerberg made no indication that Facebook would change its policy of allowing politicians to lie in targeted ads, meaning political candidates will be able to run false ads on the platform up until election day.
So it appears, if CNN is not fake news on these details, that this will freeze out PACs and Super PAC and other third party ads. Great, no Soros interference.  But who does that really benefit most?

According to, as of September 3rd, Trump supporting Super PACs have raised $67 million, Biden supporting Super PACs have raised $97 million.  So far, Biden is hurt more.  Leadership PACs have seen Republicans out-raising Democrats $21 million to  $19 million.  That's relatively even.  When you look at the top PACs, one PAC, ActBlue has raised and spent over $2 billion.  The PAC is of course a liberal PAC, and it has raised and spent more than the rest of the list of the top PACs combined.  So Facebook appears to be helping conservatives based on the raw numbers.

Of course that all depends on how it defines things and it can be skewed.  For example - COVID safety can be considered a public interest advertisement and without actually saying president Trump it can try to blame the administration and swing the election.  Can you see an add that says "call your congressperson and demand they keep the lockdown going.  Our safety matters."? It's clearly political but on the surface, it's not.


President Trump has proven to be a social media expert.  If he posts something does it count as a political ad? Is Facebook's intent to hurt president Trump?  Less and less I believe so. For reasons I will outline below.

Who has more advertisements in the pipeline prior to that span of time?  For example is Biden advertising now whereas president Trump was planning on a last minute blitz? I'm not saying that's the case, but you can see how the impact could have an uneven effect on one campaign or the other.

Facebook based on the dollar amounts above seem to be hurting Democrats more than Republicans on the surface.  But here's the reality.  They are only banning the ads for the final week of the campaign. And they do not include ad buys made for that time period, prior to that time period.  That means do not want to forego the advertising income. They are simply shifting the income stream to prior to the last week.  There's two impacts from that, but only one relevant to Facebook - the timing of their stream.  In reality they are not giving up much income with this proclamation.

So why do it?  I'd argue it's optics.  Mark Zuckerberg was taken to task this year by Republicans for political bias.  It would appear that they want to look like, to the lawmakers at least, that they are taking actions to be fair and unbiased.  They don't want senate or congressional committees coming after them.  They don't care if the left comes after them (CNN has clearly already started, as noted above).  They don't mention how they will handle political posts by individuals, or items put up that are not ad buys from PACs, just posts.  And lastly, they don't want to be part of any October Surprise.  It might reflect badly on them after the election.  Facebook is being driven by self-preservation.


The money not being spent of Facebook as a result of this will end up being spent elsewhere.  TV.  Other social media.  But other social media are small fish in what is basically Facebook's big pond.

According to Statistica, Facebook and it's properties (Instagram and Messenger) dwarf the social media competition. The other two biggies are Twitter and Pinterest. 

Twitter is a leftist swamp itself and it probably won't change any minds if more ads are bought there.  It may serve as a get-out-the-vote tool.  Pinterest is a predominantly female-used engine.  Maybe an infusion of ads there will help Democrats get out hatred for Trump among women and then get out the votes.  These sort of social media sites could be swamped with ads in the last week.  Especially if candidates have unspent funds in the final days.

I'm not sure there is going to be a significant impact from the Facebook decision with respect to the elections.  But there may be some long term impacts to Facebook itself, especially if liberals feel cheated by the decision, or if Republicans win big, or both.  Facebook may be forced to move to the center as a result.  That's not a bad thing.  Should Democrats win, Mark Zuckerberg may have to make a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to explain in public that he was just trying to be impartial and then in the back room pay homage to the new overlords.  

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