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Facebook’s new rules for political ads are causing problems

The aim of the new rules

The new rules have been in force since last week. They are aimed at preventing political interference by Russian trolls and other foreign groups. A Verge article comments about the new verification process: “That verification typically requires a government-issued ID to trigger a verification code sent to a US mailing address, a process that takes several days and significant coordination. The system is meant to be a minor inconvenience for a political campaign, but those same rules also apply to neutral news content, and they seem to have taken many publications by surprise. A limited search by The Verge found 85 news posts that had fallen afoul of the rules in the first week of enforcement, including seemingly innocuous stories on graduation speeches or the British royal family. ”

Showtime trailers

Showtime is a premium cable and satellite TV network. It is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation. The company’s programming mostly consists of movies as well as original television.

Last Thursday, Showtime released a series of trailers for its documentary series The Fourth Estate. The series follows a group of New York Times reporters as they cover the White House. The company paid $1,000 to promote the trailers. Facebook did not run the ads but sent the money back. Facebook claimed the ads were too political without further verification.

On Facebook’s political ads database the Showtime trailers are listed as inactive. A notice says: “After the ad started running, we determined that the ad had political content and required the label. The ad was taken down.” The political ad archive can be found here.

New Media Alliance’s critique of Facebook’s rules

The Alliance represents nearly 2,000 new organizations. When Facebook first proposed its guidelines the group wrote in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg:“Your plan to group quality publishers alongside political advocacy, which the ad archive will do, dangerously blurs the lines between real reporting and propaganda. It is a fundamental mischaracterization of journalism that threatens to undermine its ability to play its critical role in society as the fourth estate.”

Local news aggregator targeted

News Break of Santa Clara California aggregates local news to an app. News Break has two million followers.

News Break has had 37 of its ads blocked for political content. The posts include one on a New Jersey school bus accident as well as another a high school bomb threat in Texas. None of the posts mention political candidates or parties.

Publishing company cannot promote a new book

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Some ads are blocked before being published. Dennis Johnson, Melville House publisher says that the new rules have prevented him from promoting its new Trump/Russia book on Facebook, The words Trump and Russia appear to trigger filters so that the ads are automatically considered political. The company has decided it will just verify itself as a political advertiser. Johnson said: “We’re not finding any ways around it, nothing that makes it possible for us to talk about this book in an ad.. Everything we’ve tried to do in the past couple days has just been shut down.”

Rules define “political” too broadly’

Included in what counts as political are national issues of public importance, the economy, immigration, and even health. The idea is probably to flag non-campaign ads that are nevertheless designed to influence public discourse as apparently some Russian-financed ads did. The list also includes crime. Much news coverage of such events are neutral and not designed to promote some political agenda.

A Hawaiian fusion restaurant ran afoul of rules because it asked fans to vote in a local paper’s “Best of Maui” poll. Facebook needs to do a lot of work before it can determine the difference between a restaurant trying to promote itself or a publisher pushing a new book and a Russian troll.

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