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

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Filed Under: messaging, political ads, politics, social media
Companies: facebook, google, twitter


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  • icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 2:05pm

    How about no?

    How about no political advertising at all?
    It will clearly be abused in the future, and further sow division.
    Keeping it off social media indefinitely seems like the right solution to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 10:31pm

      Re: How about no?

      Did you read the article?

      How do you define political advertising?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2021 @ 11:28pm

        Re: Re: How about no?

        I'd suppose i would ask, "How are Google, et al, and the author defining political advertising for this purpose?" That is, what is actually being affected here?

        I mean, if they are considering organic engagement, discussion, or organizing to be "advertising", fie ont all of them.

        Paid political advertising, all the people and firms whose permanent jobs are getting politicians elected, the lobbying industry, and the current state of "political donation" can all fall in a black hole as far as i am concerned.

        Things were bad enough long before the internet, and before Citizens United. They just keep getting worse.

        I would agree that there is a lot of nuance involved - hell, what is political? And when does it become political just because certain parties keep repeating it is so?

        But for a level field, i can see no wrong with a 10 year experiment of no advertising for any particular politician anywhere. They can make speeches and chat all they like. I'd be more flexible over issues, but issues promoters don't get to complain when someone reality-check them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          TKnarr (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 9:18am

          Re: Re: Re: How about no?

          Problem is that all the problematic political advertising the last election cycle wasn't paid placement, it was political groups setting up accounts to post their articles on which if you can't see inside the mind of the poster is indistinguishable from organic discussion. To ban that sort of political advertising you'd have to ban posting anything political by anybody, which I agree with you would be a bad thing.

          I say allow politics, but allow any post to be fact-checked if it contains false or misleading information. And if a high percentage of an account's posts are false or misleading, say 80% or more, restrict or ban that account.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          James Burkhardt (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 9:46am

          Re: Re: Re: How about no?

          Di you read the article and the sources?

          Is it political advertising to advertise a documentary that touches on the shady past of a politician? Because that is literally why we have citizen's united. A law barring third party political advertising (electioneering communications, specifically) close to an election hit ads for a documentary critical of Hilary Clinton during the 2008 election. Your plan is even more broad, and would likely have barred the documentary from ever being advertised.

          Exposure is advertising. Can a politician not appear on TV? You say they can, but speeches are not just messaging. Trump used anti-caravan messaging to drum up support for republican candidates in the 2018 election. That is, he used his platform to to tell voters to vote for "strong border" candidates. He got his political ads free because the press would swarm to write it down if he farted, but all the hyperventilating was advertising and absolutely political in nature. If no candidate turned a series of his sound bytes on the caravan into a political ad, positive or negative, for one of those candidates I'd be shocked.

          A 10 YEAR Ban on advertising would rip apart the ability of people to state their preference for a candidate, as such endorsements even informal are advertising under the current legal understanding of the term. Arguing for a 10 year ban on political advertising when you can't pin down a definition of such is outrageous.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            James Burkhardt (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 9:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: How about no?

            Mike was not responding to google's political ad ban in the comment you replied to. He was responding to the question "How about no political ads at all", and noted, as he did in the article and in multiple articles in the past, that defining political advertising is hard, because content is advertising. A core tenant of the Techdirt philosophy. In politics what you say can have deeper hidden messages advertising your support and intentions to various groups that back you holding office, as Techdirt saw in its Electioneering simulations. Going back to the clear example, everything Trump did was about advertising the Trump brand, making the Trump brand look good. A lot of fucking political advertising is run through official statements, press releases, speeches in congress, and common people discussing the issue with their friends. Think about the crazyness of determining what is a donation in kind to a campaign, and then start considering what people might consider Advertising-in-kind.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BigKeithO, 20 Jan 2021 @ 2:20pm

    Nah

    Let's just keep them banned, how about that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 2:34pm

    I"m gonna have to go with NO, as well.

    Abusive or not, it's sewer-level pollution, and the public is better off without it. No matter what the level of office, from dog-catcher on up, the rancorous discourse really has to stop.... and shutting down all manner of political posting is a good first step.

    Political advertising can be polite and informative without vituperation, but it's been a long time since we've seen such. It seems to me like the last 40 years or more, ads have been about 80 or 90% pointing out "the other guy's" alleged faults, not so much bolstering your own good points (if you have any, that is - some would posit that wanting to run for office is already on the negative side of desirability). That's called "playing to the public's fears", and it's exactly why Sanders, Warren and a host of other wannabe's didn't get very far - we'd already seen enough of #45's daily (hourly!) trumpeting of fear.

    To paraphrase Stone Cold Steve Austin; "Oh, HELL NO!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fellow New Orleanian, 20 Jan 2021 @ 2:46pm

    As a fellow New Orleanian I felt compelled to look up this organization and Eric Peterson. I wasn't surprised to find out that the Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation is about removing regulations in Louisiana and that Eric Peterson has previously worked for Koch-funded conservative think tanks like Americans for Prosperity. Somehow I don't trust him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2021 @ 2:55pm

      Re:

      Funnily enough, just Today I replied to a head hunter, telling her I had no interest in working for Koch industries, because of Charles Koch.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 3:05pm

    Count me in for “keep the political ads off social media”.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pixelation, 20 Jan 2021 @ 7:35pm

      Re:

      You're cynical. I think they should bring back all of the political ads. Especially since I don't use social media. ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 3:29pm

    Yeah... nah. Keep them gone.

    I think the world would be better with a blanket ban on political ads, force politicans to actually lay out clear platforms and debate oneanother rather than retreating and hoping dark money groups can sling enough mud at their opponents that people overlook how awful they are the way Perdue did.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2021 @ 8:18pm

    No

    bad Russian troll! No one wants political ads, let alone this sponsored by foreign governments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 9:21pm

      Re: No

      Yeah, this whole thing has showed that Facebook/Twitter/Google/Et. Al are the worst sponsors of the political sphere because their only language is the almighty dollar.

      They should be banned wholesale from competing in it or even sponsoring a side in it altogether, but since we can't have that,we can at least diminish their ability to profiteer from it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 10:00pm

    I wish it were over

    "Google eventually returned to allowing ads and Facebook made an exception for the Georgia runoff. "

    I wish it were over. Today, the day after the runoff was certified and the senators were seated, I get a mailing card, about the next election, Feb 9th.
    It never ends....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 9:19pm

    No Mike, they shouldn't end it.
    Do you not remember completely cacking your pants when it became clear that Russia had bought facebook advertisements last election?

    Yeah, let's not do that again.
    What, you thought they should just start doing it because the side you were rooting for won [i]this time?[/i] Mike, I thought you were smarter than this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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