The Shady Truth About Facebook Ads

Americans are consuming thousands of ads everyday. According to Forbes, that number could be anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads in just a single day. It could be from television, magazines, billboards, fliers, or newspapers. But with the rise of social media in the last decade, advertising has found another avenue to reach consumers. Websites like Facebook have been notorious for being one of the main social platforms that have scores of ads to inundate their average day-to-day user.

These ads can range in content. But it all became the center of attention when the 2020 presidential campaign was in progress, and of course political ads either for or against former President Trump and now President Biden made their appearance. Ahead of the election in 2019, Facebook announced that they were committed to protecting users from the spread of misinformation, and would crack down on fake accounts created to sway and influence those they reached. But it would prove to be an uphill battle to control the content of ads of their on the website, and ultimately would lead to the company banning Trump.

Facebook changes policy

But in 2020, things got more complicated. Not only did the company face criticism for allowing political ads that contained misinformation on their website, they also inadvertently blocked ads from both candidates as a result of a new policy to curb election interference. This prompted more criticism, because when they started enforcing their policy against political ads containing misinformation, some accused the company of censorship (via Protocol). It didn't make things better when last summer's anti-police brutality protests were happening, and President Trump posted a controversial statement that Facebook's own employees cited as hate speech, reported NBC News. But it stayed up. Despite the company having a long-standing terms of service against all forms of hate speech, that rule seemed muddied when it came to politics, and specifically Trump.

Just a few weeks after news broke of the internal company discord over the post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was going to update and revise its policy on ads.

The ad approval process

Zuckerberg also stated that the new changes will be modified as needed in an effort to curb hate speech. "We're continuing to review our policies, and we'll keep working with outside experts and civil rights organizations to adjust our approach as new risks emerge," he said.

The company also has an ad library, which is an archival database of all its ads. They also state that there's an authorization process that advertisers have to undergo prior to ad approval, specifically for ads for political parties or figures, and social issues. All of this is meant to showcase transparency.

So what can go out as an ad on Facebook? There seems to be a very long list of rules. On their website, there are specific policies that either fall under their "prohibited" or "restricted" content. For instance, advertisers cannot promote misleading information, like a weight loss product that doesn't work, but they can advertise weight loss products. This might just be a loophole in policy that will still allow that kind of marketing to find its way onto the website. And perhaps it has.

President Trump's ban came long after his post was initially criticized for inciting violence. But the company would take action against his account after the storming of the U.S. Capitol.