Should U.S. social media platforms allow political ads?

All eyes are on the upcoming 2020 election - including where the campaign ads will run.

Earlier this month, social media video app Tik Tok announced that it will not allow political ads on its platform, while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision last week to let politicians run their campaigns on his network.

According to Zuckerberg, simply banning political ads is not a viable solution due to the fact that many topics are inherently political, and most ads tend to showcasing issues rather than candidates.

Yet, Facebook is being scrutinized about the decision, specifically about security issues and concerns about politicians lying in ads. It follows Trump’s campaign trail in which heavy "fake news" circulated across rogue accounts -- many from Russia -- created to discredit the competition. 

This week, Campaign US asked industry insiders to discuss whether any social media platform should allow election or campaign-focused ads. The topic proved to be a hot one, with about a dozen male and female executives declining to provide answers. 

Should U.S. social media platforms allow political advertisements? 

Barry Lowenthal, CEO, The Media Kitchen
No. Because the social platforms are incapable of ensuring that the political messages are true, they should be prevented from running any political ads. As a society we've seen the damage from running false ads so we should prevent social platforms from running any political advertising. The targeting and viral nature of social advertising enables the channel to have an even larger impact than traditional advertising so limiting the channel is even more important, but I'd like to see false advertising prevented in every channel, just like we prevent brands from making false claims. I'm pretty sure this viewpoint would be unconstitutional, but it seems like the fair approach.

Dan Hou, President, Huge DC and Atlanta
We live in a country where freedom of speech is held as one of our core foundational beliefs. As such, social media platforms - like any other media channel - should allow political advertisements in the US.

The key difference in the case of social media is that regulation hasn't caught up. Political ads were running on MSNBC and Fox long before Facebook became a thing. Campaign managers carefully selected when to air which spots on what TV stations based on the demographic profiles of the viewership, so targeting isn't new either. 

At least those TV spots were required to disclose funding source - social advertising should follow suit. And ideally all political advertising should be subject to some form of fact checking.

Daniel Sepulveda, SVP, Policy and Advocacy, MediaMatch
Social media platforms should not carry political ads that are verifiably false. If they cannot or will not do that, then they should not carry political ads at all. Even ads that are true but microtargeted to the point that everyone is hearing a different story may cross a line. This is possible offline through traditional media but much easier online; difference in scale = difference in kind.

The personalization capabilities of social media platforms, the depth of knowledge that they have on their users, and their reach gives them the ability to enable the unprecedented micro targeting of voters at scale - the ability to reach specific people or types of people and lots of them. That enables false ads to be targeted at people likely to find the ad compelling regardless of its validity. Proactively welcoming false ad may invite misinformation and character attacks at scale.

The technology that fuels the delivery of content at the most efficient and effective way ever created should not be weaponized to deceive, especially when the effect would present a direct threat to democracy and a well-informed public. At a very minimum, if a platform is going to invite false ads, the revenue derived from political advertising should be diverted into a fund for voter registration or some other mechanism to enhance democracy and help offset misinformation.

Brad Simms, CEO, GALE
There is an argument to be made that all publishers - digital or otherwise - should be held to the same standard - and therefore they should be allowed. It is a dangerous line to use arbitrary labels like social media platforms as the basis for regulations. The issue for me is not where the ads are, but the targeting behind them; and I believe the level of targeting that can be applied to political ads is the question we should be focused on, not which platforms they should run on.

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