Facebook has announced that it will allow political ads on its platform once again from Thursday this week, following last year's ban on political promotions in the lead-up to the 2020 US Presidential Election.
As explained by Facebook:
"We’re resuming political, electoral and social issue ads in the United States on Thursday, March 4th. We put this temporary ban in place after the November 2020 election to avoid confusion or abuse following Election Day. Unlike other platforms, we require authorization and transparency not just for political and electoral ads, but also for social issue ads, and our systems do not distinguish between these categories. 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 noted, Facebook first announced a ban on all political ads for the final week leading into the poll, in order to avoid any misuse of political messaging to interfere with the voting process. While the election results remained in doubt, Facebook kept that ban in place, then the Capitol riots prompted Facebook to maintain that hold even longer than it had originally intended.
So now, more than three months after the poll, political ads will return to The Social Network.
But is that a good thing?
It's hard to say whether political ads should be allowed on Facebook, from a societal benefit perspective, because while Facebook's advanced audience targeting options, and massive reach, have provided significant benefit for those looking to utilize division and angst in their campaigns, the platform also makes it more affordable for smaller players to gain traction, and connect with their prospective constituents.
Indeed, Facebook has repeatedly noted that banning political ads on its platform outright would hurt not only independent candidates, but also NGOs, non-profits and other political groups who use the platform to share their messaging. That's why Facebook only sought to implement a short-term ban on political ads, while other platforms went for broader restrictions. And while it is true that Facebook ads provide significant benefit for these less-resourced groups, the potential damage caused by false claims, which can be amplified massively through the same means, could outweigh this element on balance, on a case-by-case basis.
But then again, Google lifted its political ad ban last month (after temporarily lifting it in December, then reinstating it after the Capitol siege), so in this sense, Facebook's moving in line with the broader sector, as opposed to going on its own with its political ads approach.
More debate will need to be conducted as to the role Facebook now plays in political campaigns, and the positive and negative impacts of such. But right now, political ads are coming back to The Social Network, enabling the big spending parties to utilize Facebook's scale and reach once again.