In the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook made sweeping changes to the type of information it gives users about political ads. But these changes will have consequences for more than just political groups — and not everyone is happy about it.
Members of the News Media Alliance — a group that represents nearly 2,000 media organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post — today sent an open letter to Facebook voicing objections about 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 Facebook deems to be dealing with a political or hot-button issue — such as a news organization paying to promote an article on the topic of 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 news organizations being included in the archive because it may appear to some users as though news outlets are advocating that people take a certain stance on an issue, as a political organization would.
“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 any of 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 subjects listed, it’s likely 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 U.S. politics, Facebook also announced earlier this spring that it will be verifying the identities of individuals who want to run political or issue ads in the country.
“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 of this story, 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.