Inauguration Has Happened, Google And Facebook Should End The Ban On Political Advertisements
from the it's-not-all-presidential-campaigns-and-nonsense dept
In light of the events at the Capitol, social media and other online companies have been reevaluating who they let speak on their platforms. The ban of President Trump from Twitter, Facebook, and various other platforms has sparked fierce debate over moderation and free speech. But Google?s recently reinstituted ban on political advertisements until at least inauguration day and the continued ban from Facebook are silencing voices that need to be heard the most ? those speaking about state and local political issues.
Before last November?s election, both Google and Facebook restricted the ability of political advertisers to submit and run new ads. This policy was implemented to prevent situations like those in 2016, when Russian agents were able to purchase $100,000 in Facebook ads related to that year?s presidential election. Although these ads did nothing to affect the outcome of the election, they gave rise to the spurious narrative that Russia ?hacked? the election.
But Facebook?s ban has continued far past election day under the stated purpose of preventing ads claiming the election results were rigged or that the election had been stolen. Google eventually returned to allowing ads and Facebook made an exception for the Georgia runoff. However, the companies? most recent bans leave many smaller speakers without two of their most important platforms, despite the policies? failure to prevent the spread of doubt over the 2020 election results.
Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz, while certainly benefiting from social media, can reach an audience without these platforms. But many other speakers who want to speak to local audiences about important political issues have come to rely on them.
Before the advent of targeted online advertisements, communicating and organizing locally required going door-to-door or hanging flyers in your neighborhood. If you could find enough support, perhaps you could even set up a meeting in a public space. The old system was not only inefficient, but often costly in terms of time and money.
This is what makes advertising on Facebook and Google so valuable to those wanting to engage on important issues. Want to inform your neighbors about a city board meeting over a key issue for your community? Want to build a coalition of people to support or oppose an issue at your state capitol? Facebook and Google can do so more successfully, and at a fraction of the cost.
This is often the most important kind of political engagement – forming relationships with your fellow citizens to make your voices heard on issues that carry major personal impacts and are far too often under-reported and less understood.
And make no mistake, the last year has featured no shortage of critical state and local issues.
State legislatures are already in session dealing with important and contentious topics like education, budget cuts, and of course, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Local governments are still dealing with shutdowns and business closures as the pandemic continues into 2021. And as organizing in person gets increasingly difficult, if not impossible, digital tools are becoming even more important.
Key state and local issues are also too often drowned out by politics at the national level. Given the turbulent times we are living through, who can blame people for being glued to the events unfolding in Washington? That?s why Facebook and Google ads are important tools to draw attention to state and local issues.
Inauguration is over and the stated purpose of banning these ads has passed. But more importantly our federalist system of government means that politics don?t only happen at the national level. Rather, the political issues that most greatly affect our lives are those closest to home. Facebook and Google should recognize this fact and end its political ad ban which puts national politics ahead of state and local issues.
The internet is at its best when it informs and connects local communities on the issues that impact them. Blanket political ad bans lessen the opportunity for this kind of much-needed engagement while also failing to improve the national discourse.
Eric Peterson lives in New Orleans where he is the Director of the Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation