Just one week before the election, Facebook’s political ads system is coming under fire. As the company rolls out a new policy, frustrated ad buyers saw ad campaigns deactivate, ultimately hampering campaign reach at a crucial moment.
In September, when Facebook announced that it wouldn’t accept new political ads the week before the election, the social media company drew hefty rebuke: Critics called the policy a PR stunt and said it could hurt last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts. Plus, it wasn’t a full ad blackout, as campaigns and other political ad buyers just had to submit their ads before the deadline, which went into effect at midnight Pacific Time today. But the platform’s rollout has been far from perfect.
Campaigns, agencies and political operatives worked all weekend and stayed up late last night finalizing new ads. That process was made even more tumultuous by the Senate’s evening confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. But, despite critiques of Facebook’s rules, buyers rushed to beat the deadline.
“All that work has been for naught,” said Tim Lim, a Democratic political advertising consultant who works with federal campaigns and social interest groups. “To have these problems happen at the most crucial time before the election, it’s a real disservice to voters and it’s a real disservice to democracy.”
Multiple media buyers and political operatives, some under condition of anonymity, told nitronet that Facebook’s rollout has been marred by bugs. Many that were previously approved and running were suddenly paused around the time that the policy went into effect. Others report that the issues have been ongoing this morning and into the afternoon.
One buyer said that Facebook alerted them to the issue, while others have had to contact their representatives for answers today. A Facebook representative told one buyer that the company “started pausing ads” at the start of the “restriction period.”
“We are aware that a subset of ads may show as paused that delivered impressions before 12:01 AM PT,” the Facebook employee said, noting that “it can take a few hours” for these issues to be resolved.
Facebook did not immediately return a request for comment.
Liberal political action committee Priorities USA said the bug affected 586 of its ads. “All the ads had been approved before the deadline, some had been running for a long time. All ads had at least one impression,” the group’s communications director Josh Schwerin told nitronet.
One affected ad featured information about a Spanish-language voting hotline.
“With seven days left, every hour is critical,” Schwerin tweeted. “Even if this gets fixed soon the damage is irreparable.” Liberal digital strategy firm Rising Tide Interactive also aired its grievances by tweeting that the issue was happening “across the industry.”
“This is currently affecting nearly two dozen RTI clients,” Rising Tide vp of client strategy Jake Sticka told nitronet. “Some of the deactivated ads have been up since last week, others from July. Many of our impacted accounts are communicating persuasion messaging, but several are communicating [get out the vote] messaging now. Voters are voting now; and with both persuasion and GOTV affected, the loss of half a day for a Facebook error is really troubling.”
Two other Democratic-affiliated firms confirmed they experienced the same issues with ads pausing unexpectedly. “The context is brutal here,” one buyer said under condition of anonymity. “One week to the election and today will be a huge fundraising day because of the [Amy Coney Barrett] confirmation and it’s devastating to have Facebook hamstring this stuff.”