In the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook made sweeping changes on what information it gives to users about political ads. But the changes will have consequences for more than just political groups — and not all organizations are happy about it.
Members of the News Media Alliance — a group which represents nearly 2,000 media organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post — sent an open letter today to Facebook objecting to how their ads will be marked in the new database for political and issue ads. The Wall Street Journal first reported the story.
Under the rules, which are scheduled to take effect on May 22, any ad from a group that Facebook deems as dealing with politics or a hot-button issue — such as when a news organization pays to promote an article that deals with immigration or civil rights — will include a label indicating who paid for it.
Users will also be able to view these ads in an archive next to other political issue ads, such as an ad paid for by a mayor’s reelection campaign, or an ad urging Congress to dedicate more money to tackling opioid addiction.
The News Media Alliance takes issue with the fact that the archive will make it seem to some users as though news organizations are advocating for people to take a certain stance on an issue, like a political organization does.
“By lumping journalism and issue advocacy together, Facebook is dangerously blurring the line between real reporting and propaganda, and threatening to undermine journalism’s ability to play its critical role in society as the fourth estate,” News Media Alliance president and CEO David Chavern said in a statement.
“We call upon Facebook to reconsider its treatment of news in its plan and instead require disclosure from all advertisers on all advertising; exempt news in the ad archiving and labeling process for political content; or label and archive news independently from politics and advocacy,” Chavern added.
Facebook considers an “issue ad” to be one that deals with the following topics: abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values. Given the wide variety of topics that are covered, it’s likely that we’ll see other organizations objecting to how their ads are labeled after May 22.
In order to address concerns about foreign groups using Facebook to meddle in American politics, Facebook also announced earlier this spring that it will be verifying the identities of people who want to run political or issue ads in the U.S.
“Preventing misinformation and interference in elections is one of our top priorities,” Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal in response to the News Media Alliance’s concerns. “All ads on politics and issues will be in a searchable archive, including news content.”
Update at 4:10 p.m Pacific: After publication, Facebook sent an updated statement from Brown, with the following sentence added: “We recognize that news content about politics is different and we are working with publishers to develop the right approach.”
It sounds like Facebook may be open to making ads from news outlets available in a separate archive.