Just Days Before the Election, Facebook’s Political Ads System Still Isn’t Fully Fixed


Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with statements from Facebook and Joe Biden’s campaign.

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Two days after a bug ravaged Facebook’s political ads system, some advertisers are still seeing their ads deactivated. Political ad buyers and operatives who bought these ads to run in the final week of a contentious election cycle have lost money and, more importantly, time.

If Tuesday had gone as planned, Facebook’s blockade against all new political ads would have gone into full effect without a hiccup. Despite criticism that it would hurt get-out-the-vote efforts, Facebook maintained that the deadline would afford its internal team, journalists and academics a week to review all paid political messaging in its system ahead of Election Day in the United States. But Tuesday did not go as planned: New ads were blocked and already-running political ads, bought by Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns and other political groups, unexpectedly paused for extended amounts of time this week.

Democratic political advertising consultant Tim Lim said about 90% of the ads he ran for clients were fixed by Wednesday, the rest were resolved by Thursday.

“The biggest point is that with seven days left, we pretty much lost a day of Facebook advertising,” he told nitronet.

Facebook ad representatives told buyers early Wednesday that the bug was fixed and the majority of incorrectly paused ads had been restored, but those same buyers told nitronet that problems still persisted.

Priorities USA, a liberal political action committee, said the bug affected 586 of its ads. The situation didn’t improve until late Thursday afternoon when Facebook informed them it would be turning their ads back on.

“While we are one of the largest spenders on digital ads in either party, it should not take a public campaign and endless calls to get Facebook to act,” Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman, said. “This is much harder for the many smaller organizations that are working to combat misinformation and voter suppression that do not have the connections and resources of a large group like ours.”

Thursday evening, Joe Biden’s campaign told nitronet that thousands of its political ads were still down and, as a result, had incurred losses of more than $500,000. The campaign said the issue has affected its entire digital operation.

“Facebook has, to this point, provided no clarity on the widespread issues that are plaguing all of our ad campaigns since the onset of their new ad restrictions,” Biden digital director Rob Flaherty said in a statement. “We have no sense of the scale of the problem, who it is affecting, and their plan to resolve it. We find ourselves 5 days out from Election Day unable to trust that our ads will run properly, or if our opponents are being given an unfair, partisan advantage.” The Trump campaign confirmed it was affected by the outages but did not provide further details.

Facebook is considered one of the most important digital marketing tools and its political advertising operation has become even more crucial to campaigns and advocacy groups this election cycle. Mark Zuckerberg previously said that he expects to sell more than $400 million in political ads this year, but the nonpartisan group Advertising Analytics estimates that nearly $800 million has already been spent on Facebook political ads through last week. Facebook’s importance has grown further this cycle as Twitter and other social platforms have banned political ads altogether.

Facebook did not indicate how many advertisers are affected by the bug, the financial impact, if they will reimburse buyers or how they will recompense political groups that depend on Facebook in the last moments of the campaign. A spokesperson told nitronet, however, that they believe they have fixed the bulk of the problems.

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