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Facebook has endured a massive amount of criticism for the ways it allows its platform to be used to influence elections. On Wednesday morning, Facebook announced a set of new changes to its platform to respond to that criticism and, in theory, create more transparency and accountability.
These new policies have already started rolling out to some users, and as they become universal on Facebook they will affect not just electoral campaigns, but just about every nonprofit. Among the most significant changes is one that will allow users to choose to see fewer social issue, electoral, or political ads.
First, here is some information about how this works:
- Facebook users will have new control options in their user settings to see fewer ads about “social issues, elections, or politics.”
- For Facebook, “social issues” include a wide range of topics, depending on the country where the ads are run. In the United States, that includes ads related to civil rights, crime, the economy, education, the environment, guns, health, immigration, the government, and security and foreign policy. So, yeah, just about everything you care about.
- There are no distinctions between ads for candidates, political parties, PACS, or nonprofits. The new rules apply to any ad about social issues, regardless of the source. Users will be able to turn off all ads with a “Paid For by” disclaimer on them.
Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management at Facebook, demonstrates what this looks like for users:
You can do this on Facebook or Instagram directly from any political or social issue ad or through each platform’s ad settings. Here’s what it looks like on Facebook: https://t.co/UN6CzUb1Kj pic.twitter.com/wMXxxw1WXB
— Rob Leathern (@robleathern) June 17, 2020
So what does this really mean for you, nonprofit marketing director who has come to depend on Facebook advertising?
First, this is an opt-in policy, and we will have to see how many users actually use the new tools to limit their exposure to political and social issue advertising. As we saw with the creation of Facebook’s Ad Library, some of the privacy and transparency tools are not familiar to or used by a wider audience.
Depending on how widely the tools adopted, it’s likely that some nonprofits will need to think about increasing their audience sizes to make up for a drop in available inventory. Given the size of Facebook’s user base, that may not be a major problem.
That said, the continued lumping together of nonprofit organizations under a blanket “political” designation along with Super PACs, candidates, Russian troll farms, and other actors of various intent is alarming. Facebook is working to defend its profits while limiting blowback and criticism, and the needs of fundraisers and advocates working for important causes are clearly not driving these decisions. And it’s not just Facebook—Google rolled out its own set of changes in January, and we had serious concerns about those as well.
Some organizations have discussed pushing Facebook on these critical issues with a unified voice. Other nonprofits are urging more drastic measures. However you decide works best, we certainly encourage nonprofits to be vocal about the impact of these policies and reach out to tech companies, regulators, and their own supporters.
Matt is a Senior Vice President, based out of New York City, working on Advertising, and usually tries to spend more time worrying about re-watching Bojack Horseman again than about Facebook’s policies. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sally is a Senior Digital Advertising Manager. Outside of talking advertising platforms and launching digital campaigns, you can find her at the next Pop-Punk or Indie concert in NYC when quarantine is over. You can reach her at email@example.com.