Why are there still active political ads on Facebook?
After the debacle of the 2016 election, Facebook assured users that it would take a much more active role in fighting political propaganda and misinformation during the 2020 election.
This included banning all election ads after November 3. However, there were multiple elections-related ads showing as "active" in Facebook's political ads library on Wednesday, November 4.
Facebook announced in October that it would stop running political ads in America after election day "to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse." Facebook specified they expected the ban to last about a week but that that time period could change. They also specified that they would not accept new political ads the week before the November 3 election, beginning October 27.
However, CNBC found dozens of active political ads on Wednesday morning, including spots run by "Evangelicals for Trump" and "We are Great Again PAC," as well as a few Democratic ads.
The director of product management for Facebook, Rob Leathern, explained on Twitter, "Political ads were paused as of midnight on Nov 4. Once an ad has been actioned (e.g. paused, stopped or deleted - whether by FB or by the advertiser) it can take up to 24 hours to reflect that action in the Ad Library. Ad Library data will soon reflect that."
@LauraEdelson2 @carolecadwalla Political ads were paused as of midnight on Nov 4. Once an ad has been actioned (e.g… https://t.co/XHBMIrwBtb— Rob Leathern (@Rob Leathern) 1604493817.0
Perhaps even more concerning are the misleading ads the Trump campaign were running days before election day. According to Facebook policies, the company would not accept "ads with premature claims of election victory" if they're related to voting around the 2020 election and are targeted to people in the United States.
But multiple ads were run by the Trump campaign that seemed to imply that Trump had been reelected. These ads included a strange, animated video that appears to take place in the world of the Teletubbies. The ad shows Trump's face within a sun, as a voiceover says, "It's morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States."
Then, flowers rise from the ground and human faces blossom out of them, screaming in protestation. Soon, a smiling hummingbird version of Trump flits across the screen.
The ad appears to be intentionally misleading viewers in hopes they'll take the vague message to mean that Trump won the election. But a Facebook spokesperson said, "'President Trump is STILL your President' ads were allowed, since regardless of the election outcome, the president will continue in his role until January 20."
Facebook did, however, remove misleading ads with text that read "Vote today" and "Election Day Is Today," days before election day. In response, Facebook said, "As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say 'Vote Today' without additional context or clarity."
Only time will tell if Facebook is truly allowing election ads to run despite their claims that they would prevent misleading information after the election, or if their dashboard simply needs time to update. Regardless, it's clear that social media (Facebook in particular) will continue to play a dangerously large role in American politics.