The closer America gets to the 2020 general election, the more pervasive political advertising across social media platforms becomes. However, the inundation of political ads may be about to change — sort of. Facebook, Twitter and Google have all announced changes, or potential changes, to their political advertising policies. When, where and how these policy shifts will deploy varies from platform to platform, and this mix of policies can be a challenge for marketers looking to reach disparate audiences during a campaign year. The best practice for weathering these big tech storms is first-party data. First-party data gives brands the control to reach their audiences via messaging platforms.
Facebook May Amend Political Ad Policy
Facebook is in the eye of the hurricane about political ad targeting. As one of the tech sector’s big four, Facebook has been disparaged for their refusal to fact check or remove political ads that may not be truthful. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that the decision not to scrutinize paid political ads isn’t a financial one, since political ads will likely only account for 0.5% of the projected $84 billion Facebook will take in next year, but instead Facebook asserts a free speech prerogative. “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Public Policy Director.
However, The Wall Street Journal reported that, similar to Google’s recent political ad policy change, Facebook may limit microtargeting of political ads. Mircrotargeting allows advertisers to single out certain small groups, which can be a very successful and personal approach, but in the case of some political advertising can also be used to mislead or falsify ads that won’t be seen by the public at large. It is unknown when (or if) Facebook’s political advertising policy change will take place, with Facebook reiterating prior comments on any changes, “As we’ve said, we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”
Twitter Bans Political Ads
At the end of October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will be banning paid political content. Dorsey said in his statement via a series of Tweets, that “we [Twitter] believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.” Twitter defines political content very broadly, encompassing any advertising from a candidate, political party or official, or appearing to have a specific political objective. The ban will not apply to publishers referencing political content, but cannot appear to be an endorsement. Ads espousing social justice topics will be permitted, with microtargeting restrictions.
Twitter is awash in politics, with every player in media and electoral politics regularly chiming in, so the ban of paid political content is an interesting move from a platform considered highly influential in public perception about news and politics. Political ads only constituted $3 million of Twitter’s $3 billion in revenue in 2018, but in terms of throwing shade at Facebook or drawing a values-based line in the sand, the ban is a win for the social media platform.
Google Modifies Political Ad Targeting
Google will be rolling out a global ban on highly targeted political ads across the Google platform. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Advertisers would no longer be able to target political ads based on users’ interests inferred from browsing or search history.” However, targeting on Google can still take place based on age, gender and zip code, and display ads that correlate with page content are also still permitted.
In a blog post announcing the change, Google also announced that they will be cracking down on political ads “making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.” Google clarified that these tweaks to their political advertising policy are in line with Google’s overall efforts to be provide transparency and truth in advertising.
Snapchat Subjects All Political Ads To Review
Snapchat, which brings in far less advertising revenue than their social platform competitors, with only $200,000 spent by the 2020 democratic candidates so far on the platform, is committed to fact checking all political ads. The messaging app compares their approach to cable networks who aren’t bound by FCC regulations that limit which political ads can be censored. Snapchat’s young audience is also behind the unilateral fact checking policy, because of younger generations high-standards when it comes to transparency and authenticity from brands.
“What we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters, we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising,” said Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO.
First-Party Data Is A Reliable, Direct Route When Targeting For Political Campaigns
With all of the changes in advertising across social media platforms, first-party data remains a reliable, direct route for reaching potential donors and voters. For marketers who own their first-party data, deploying optimized campaigns that aren’t subject to the whims of social media platforms and third-party providers is more effective for political campaign outreach. First-party data can offer opportunities for marketers to scale donor lists and provide direct engagement with audiences via messaging platforms and opted-in SMS.