Nikhil Pillai

What you need to know about Facebook and Twitter’s new policies

You may have heard of Facebook and Twitter implementing new policies to distinguish between political ads and others. How does this affect nonprofits? It depends on what platform you are using.

Facebook

Facebook defines ads as paid messages from businesses. If you are a nonprofit using Facebook, and you want to run paid ads that include political content, you will need to be authorized by Facebook to do so. However, unpaid posts are not subject to these requirements. For paid messages, authorization involves designating a business manager for your nonprofit, verifying your nonprofit’s identity (including the last four digits of your business manager’s SSN and a physical mailing address in the United States), and receiving an authorization code in the mail.  Once authorized, your political ads will be marked with a “Paid for by” disclaimer. Further, users have access to details on how much money was spent on the ads and the number of people who have viewed them. This information will be stored in a public database for seven years.

Nonprofits should keep in mind that Facebook defines political ads as: 1) ads made by or on behalf of or mentioning a political candidate, party, or committee ; 2) an ad that advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate; 3) an ad that relates to any election, referendum, or ballot initiative, including “get out the vote” or election information campaigns; 4) an ad that relates to a national legislative issue of public importance; or 5) any other regulated political advertising. Facebook’s current list of national issues of public importance includes:

  • abortion
  • budget
  • civil rights
  • crime
  • economy
  • education
  • energy
  • environment
  • foreign policy
  • government reform
  • guns
  • health
  • immigration
  • infrastructure
  • military
  • poverty
  • social security
  • taxes
  • terrorism
  • values

CNN reached out to Facebook with a series of ads to find more clarity.

“The principal architect behind the 9/11 attacks has something he wants to tell senators about President Trump’s CIA pick,” said the text of one ad, which linked to a New York Times article.Facebook told CNN the ad “would be deemed political content as it references President Trump.” This means the ad would include details about who paid for it and be included in the political ad archive.

Another ad run by The New York Times included the following text: “Back in 1992, ‘the idea that a thrilling sexual, openly gay and very butch woman would become a pop idol was seismic,’” and linked to an article headlined “K.D. Lang Doesn’t Have to Indulge Your Constant Cravings.”

Facebook said ads about civil rights will be subject to its stricter rules, but the company told CNN this particular ad “would not be deemed political or issue content as it focuses on the journey of an individual rather than a civil rights discussion.”

Facebook is in the process of hiring new staff to assist with these new policies, though as of the date of posting, many ads that should be regulated under these new policies are not. Nonprofits should keep in mind that unless they are making paid ads, these rules should not affect their posts (unless they are paying to promote them).

Twitter

Like Facebook, Twitter has introduced additional rules for political ads. This policy applies to Twitter’s paid advertising products, which are tweets, trends, and accounts, that are either purchased by a political committee or candidate registered with the FEC or advocate for or against a clearly identified candidate for Federal office. Their policy only applies to advertising related to Federal elections.

Twitter will require nonprofits with ads advocating for or against candidates to verify their identities using a notarized document and by having a US passport (candidates and political committees will be required to provide their identification number from the Federal Election Commission). Twitter will also require that advertisers include a header and profile picture and have valid contact information. Tweets referencing candidates in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections will contain labels. The labels will include information on the office the candidate is running for, the state the office is in, district number (if applicable), and will be identified with a small icon of a government building.

Twitter announced that it will have upcoming policies on issue advocacy in the coming months. Similar to Facebook, these rules only apply to paid advertising products.

Honest Ads Act

If these new policies sound familiar to you, it’s because they echo the language in the “Honest Ads Act.” You can find our summary here. While Facebook and Twitter’s new policies has raised awareness about the Honest Ads Act, the bill has not seen much movement since it was proposed in October of 2017.