Facebook Toughens Ad Rules in Lead-Up to 2020 Election

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches, Facebook said it is strengthening how it verifies who is paying for political advertising, in an attempt to curtail the spread of disinformation on the site. Last year, Facebook began to require political advertisers to reveal the names — and prove the identities — of the organizations behind ads. At the same time, as numerous Democratic hopefuls vie for the presidential nomination, the cost for advertising on Facebook is skyrocketing.

The New York Times reports that, “under the new rules, advertisers will need to further demonstrate that they are registered with the United States government … submitting proof such as an employer identification number, a Federal Election Commission identification number or a government website domain.” Smaller businesses, it adds, “will need to provide a verifiable phone number and business email address.” The documentation must be received by mid-October to avoid an interruption of ad campaigns.

Although Facebook set up so-called war rooms to control disinformation during the U.S. 2018 midterm elections, Indian national elections and the EU’s parliamentary elections, it has “applied its political advertising policy inconsistently.” NBC News, for example, discovered that “one political advertiser had sidestepped Facebook’s rules and was running ads under decoy company names.”

Academics also said that Facebook’s ad archive — introduced in late 2018 to allow anyone to search for and analyze disinformation campaigns — is “riddled with bugs and technical issues.”

“This is all much too little, much too late,” said Harvard’s Shorenstein Center fellow Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook privacy and public policy adviser. “We’ve seen incredible impacts coming from illegitimate political ads, including from seemingly legitimate actors. And companies, particularly Facebook, are not doing enough to protect the public and our democracy.”

The new verification policy, he added, is only “incremental baby steps forward … [that would] not particularly position us well in the lead-up to elections.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic candidates trying to reach the threshold of 130,000 donors are barraging Facebook with ads, driving up the cost. Ads on Facebook are sold at auction, so higher demand drives up prices. Also affecting price are “the type of creative content and the type of audience the buyer is trying to reach.”

A media consultant told the AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee focused on Asian-American voters, that “campaigns typically spend between $5 and $9 on Facebook ads to generate one email address … [but] one Facebook push cost it about $279 per email sign-up.” It could take $100 in Facebook advertising to get a donor to give $1 to a campaign, notes WSJ.

As of last week, billionaire and Democratic candidate Tom Steyer had spent almost $3.9 million on Facebook ads, but still “fell short of qualifying for the nationally televised debate next month.” Pathmatics revealed that political advertisers “spent $92 million online in the roughly three-month period that ended Aug. 14, up 24 percent from the same period last year.”