Facebook on Tuesday said it would make an exception to its political ad ban to let campaigns and other political organizations run advertising for the upcoming Georgia runoff elections.
The Senate races, which will determine which US political party controls that chamber of Congress under President-elect Joe Biden, take place on January 5th. Facebook says advertisers authorized to run ads on social issues, elections, or politics will be allowed to run those ads starting tomorrow, December 16th at 12PM ET.
Facebook initially faced pushback over the political ad ban and its implications for races as vital as the Georgia runoffs. Democratic campaign officials criticized the platform for hampering its efforts to fight misinformation about the election and voting fraud, while Republicans expressed concern that a lack of advertising would leave them flat-footed in efforts to register voters and combat their own brand of online misinformation encouraging Republicans to abstain from voting in protest.
“In recent weeks we’ve heard feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about the importance of expressing voice and using our tools to reach voters ahead of Georgia’s runoff elections,” writes Facebook product manager Sarah Schiff, in a blog post announcing the exemption. “We agree that our ad tools are an important way for people to get information about these elections. So we have developed a process to allow advertisers to run ads with the purpose of reaching voters in Georgia about Georgia’s runoff elections.”
Facebook’s ad ban, announced back in October, is only a temporary measure the social media giant implemented “to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse.” It was a prescient approach, given how President Donald Trump has spent nearly every day since the election spreading false or misleading information about the results of the race. Facebook said last month after Election Day it would extend the ban for about a month, in response to Trump’s refusal to concede and rampant online misinformation from the president, right-wing media, and other conservative sources about unsubstantiated election fraud.
It’s not clear how long Facebook intends to keep the ad ban in place, as it’s been more than a month since its last extension. But the company says it is taking measures so that its exemption for the runoff elections doesn’t result in any unintended consequences.
For instance, Facebook says it will outright reject any ads targeting locations outside Georgia, or that try to address other political issues outside the scope of the runoff races. It’s also keeping in place its ban on ads with any claims or other content that includes information debunked by its partner fact-checkers, or that “delegitimizes” the races.
Facebook also plans to label any content that “tries to delegitimize voting in these elections” with false claims about fraud and other conspiratorial misinformation. “And, if someone goes to share the content we have labeled, they will first see a message directing them to our Voting Information Center, which provides reliable election information,” says Schiff.