Facebook’s Political Advertisement Regulations in Georgia
On July 15, the International Society for Fair Elections (ISFED) reported that Facebook, starting in August, will “require authorizations for ads about political elections and politics in Georgia.” This measure will increase transparency levels for political ads frequently displayed by Facebook.
The new Facebook regulations for political ads call for those advertisers to meet certain criteria if their ads are to be displayed. These criteria include enabling readers to see who commissioned and paid for the ad, the cost, and what geographic area and age group the ad was targeting. This move has garnered wide support – 47 Georgian NGOs sent an open letter to Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Vice President for Global Policy and Communications Nick Clegg on June 29 petitioning for Facebook to get rid of “anonymous, coordinated, and sponsored political discrediting campaigns.” The letter also called on Facebook to ban the running of political ads from a foreign country. In both December 2019 and May 2020, Facebook removed hundreds of questionable political ads. These large-scale removals are now known as the two “Georgian takedowns.”
The impetus for the open letter is the upcoming October Georgian parliamentary elections. In the previous parliamentary elections in 2018, questionable political ads ran rampantly on Facebook. Many ads were from anonymous sources and used sponsored content to influence voters while discrediting those running for office. There were also ads from anonymous sources that seemed to seek to sway voters in the direction of the Kremlin’s interests. The 2018 election process was an overall negative experience for Georgian politics. The open letter served to correct the mistakes of the past election and to make sure political messages being spread have Georgia’s best interests in focus.
Facebook has similar regulations when it comes to political ads in the United States. Before running an electoral or political ad on Facebook, the advertisers, “regardless of location,” must first ensure the ads are authorized. In the authorization process for Facebook in the United States, the advertiser must put disclaimers in the ads involving foreign interference, spending limits, and reporting requirements.
However, Facebook took up these regulations only recently due to sustained pressure. In 2019, Facebook’s own staff members penned a letter to the company. The employees complained about the website’s practice of allowing any type of political ads. Politicians were able to include false or questionable claims in their advertisements without any notice from Facebook. Civil rights groups, politicians, and others echoed the workers’ complaints. In reaction to the employees’ letter, Facebook spokeswoman Bertie Thomson, asserted, “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”
It appears that Facebook has modeled its regulations for Georgia after those for the United States. This trend could be a sign Facebook is adopting a standard plan to halt the proliferation of fake news in political ads. It is important that, in new democracies such as Georgia (and even established republics like the United States), Facebook respect the wishes of the masses who desire transparent government and untampered elections. Facebook’s putting in place a standardized political advertisement policy would not only be wise, given its powerful global position, but also popular as well. Now is the time for Facebook to not only acknowledge the influence it has on society, but also its responsibilities to society.