The Online Political Advertising debate

In 2018, the Federal Election Commission struggled to craft new rules for online political ads. The state of Washington passed a law that mandates real-time disclosure of election ad information. It scared Microsoft off and they banned political advertising on LinkedIn and Bing.

In early October 2019, TikTok, the fastest growing social network, revealed they wouldn't run political ads either. The coolest kid on the block forced incumbents to react and refine their political ad policies.

Here's where things stand today (updated Jan 1, 2020):

Allows pol. ads Allows lying Reviews pol. ads Micro-targetting
Facebook Facebook
Google Google
Snap Snap
Reddit Reddit
TikTok TikTok
LinkedIn LinkedIn
Pinterest Pinterest
Twitter Twitter
Bing Bing
Spotify Spotify

You can read what each player believes in their own words below, in chronological order.

Microsoft bans political advertising

Not worth the hassle, and they didn’t make much money from it anyway.

Oct 05, 2018

The regulatory environment for political candidate and ballot measure advertising is likely to continue to evolve rapidly in the coming months, making it complex to adhere with precision. As result, we have made the decision to disallow political candidate and ballot measure ads in the United States. These ads make up a very small percentage of Bing's advertising volume.

Apr 15, 2019

We continue to see shifts in the regulatory environment for political advertising around the world adding to the complexity to adhere with precision. For this reason, we have made the decision to disallow advertising for election related content, political parties, candidates, and ballot measures globally.

TikTok bans political advertising

The currently coolest social network declares it’s too fun for politics.

Oct 03, 2019

"Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience. To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level—including election-related ads, advocacy ads or issue ads."

Mark Zuckerberg’s speech

A couple of weeks after TikTok’s announcement, Facebook’s CEO gave a talk about free speech at Georgetown university.

A former high-ranking Facebook employee explained it best: “Facebook is so pissed that TikTok is the one thing they can't beat that they've turned to geopolitical arguments and lawmakers in Washington to fight their fight.”

Oct 17, 2019
Oct 22, 2019

Twitter bans political ads

In response to Zuckerberg’s speech, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explains in a series of tweets that the company will not allow political advertising anymore.

Oct 30, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Snap & Google find a middle ground

As a smaller platform, Snap announces that it will allow political ads but it will review them. Google will limit targeting and reserves the right to remove ads containing lies.

Nov 19, 2019

"We subject all advertising to review, including political advertising. And I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters, we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don't allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising,"

Nov 21, 2019

"Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters' confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms,"

"It's against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim -- whether it's a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died,"

"Of course, we recognize that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation. So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited—but we will continue to do so for clear violations,"

"So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited - but we will continue to do so for clear violations."

"Political advertisers can, of course, continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy,"

"This will align our approach to election ads with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and print, and result in election ads being more widely seen and available for public discussion."

Dec 02, 2019

"There are ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube."

Facebook makes an exception for the 2020 census

Lying about the census, like voter suppression, crosses the line for Facebook

Dec 19, 2019

Spotify goes the Twitter route

Political ads are just not worth the hassle for some

Dec 27, 2019

"Beginning in early 2020, Spotify will pause the selling of political advertising,"

"This will include political advertising content in our ad-supported tier and in Spotify original and exclusive podcasts. At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content. We will reassess this decision as we continue to evolve our capabilities."