Facebook to Allow Political Ads for Georgia Runoffs

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Social-media giant to maintain broader blackout on political ads unconnected to Jan. 5 Senate races

Facebook said its ad policy is based on feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about using its tools to reach voters.

Facebook Inc. said it would allow political ads for the Georgia runoff elections starting Wednesday but would maintain a broader temporary blackout for U.S. ads about social issues, elections or politics as part of its efforts to curb misinformation.

Facebook’s decision, which follows a similar move by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, said Tuesday that it took into consideration feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about using its tools to reach voters ahead of the two U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia on Jan. 5. Early voting began in the state this week, and the runoffs will determine which party controls the chamber when President-elect Joe Biden begins his administration.

Facebook said it developed a process to allow advertisers to reach Georgia voters about the runoffs and to reject ads that target locations outside the state or that don’t relate to the elections there.

“We will continue to prohibit any ad that includes content debunked by third-party fact-checkers or delegitimizes the Georgia runoff elections,” Facebook wrote in a blog post Tuesday. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company would announce publicly when its broader blackout for political ads is lifted.

Facebook and Google are the biggest digital ad platforms in political advertising. Campaigns for President Trump and Mr. Biden collectively spent about $200 million on Facebook ads leading up to the 2020 election, not including outside groups, according to Facebook’s ad library. But both platforms decided to limit political ads before and after the general election in an effort to reduce the spread of misinformation.

Google, which started allowing political ads last week, said it no longer considered the postelection period to be a “sensitive event” but is still enforcing its ads policies and disallows false information that could undermine trust in elections.

Democratic and Republican campaigns and political groups urged both companies for weeks to lift their bans so they could advertise on their platforms—which include Google-owned YouTube and Facebook-owned Instagram—to persuade Georgia voters to support their candidates and get out the vote.

Spokespeople for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have said the earlier decisions to ban political ads put them at a disadvantage. They cited the Republican incumbents’ larger followings, saying they could share information more easily via their accounts compared with the challengers.

Following Google’s decision last week, people involved in the Georgia Senate runoffs said they weren’t halting their other digital advertising and programs that also reached Georgians.

The Conservative Leadership PAC, for instance, is working with Republican organizing platform SwipeRed to turn out younger voters and volunteers in support of the campaigns for GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, said Lisa Schneegans, co-founder and CEO of SwipeRed parent company Buzz360. The PAC is creating message templates to encourage people to vote Republican, such as critiquing recent school closures due to coronavirus concerns that would also mention support for Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue, she said. Those templates will be shared with app users who can then send them out by text, email or Facebook message or call their contacts directly, she said.

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is campaigning to hold onto her seat in one of two runoff races that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

PHOTO: JESSICA MCGOWAN/GETTY IMAGES

Mike Pfohl, executive director at Organizing Empowerment, said his outfit is working with about 21 organizations in Georgia, including nonprofits Black Voters Matter, Rock the Vote, Showing Up for Racial Justice and Georgia Equality, on behalf of the Democratic candidates in Georgia.

“In an era of misinformation, groups that are trusted messengers on the ground, activating their volunteers to engage friends and family, are critical,” he said.

Political groups are also using influential locals such as church leaders to post on their own networks to encourage turnout, a strategy used in the general election, said Dan Beckmann, chief executive of relational organizing platform Soapboxx, which is working with Community Change Action on behalf of the Georgia Democratic candidates.

Campaigns and political groups have turned to other platforms besides Facebook and Google to reach Georgians, such as Hulu, Snapchat and Pandora, advertisers say. Mr. Warnock has tweeted about using the gaming platform Twitch in recent days.

Some campaigns and political-action committees have also worked to target voters based on the home pages they visit and the videos they watch online, which are logged by web-tracking tools. For instance, SendtoNews, a video distribution platform for news and sports sites, lets political ad-buyers target users in Georgia, said CEO Matthew Watson.

“Local online publishers and platforms like ours serving online local publishers should benefit [from the races and social-media bans],” Mr. Watson said. “If you’re encouraging voters to get out and vote, you don’t need Google and Facebook for that.”

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com and Patience Haggin at patience.haggin@wsj.com

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Appeared in the December 16, 2020, print edition as 'Facebook Eases Ban On Politics In Runoffs.'