Why political ads shouldn’t have social features

24th Aug 2021 | Share:

Last week, Rob Leathern, formerly a product director in Facebook’s ads team with specific responsibility for political ads, (now working on privacy products at Google) tweeted:

Our guess is this was something he raised while at Facebook, but made no progress on. Nonetheless, it’s an important reminder that it’s a deeply weird state of affairs.

There’s *theoretically* some value to allowing comments on a political ad. Perhaps well-informed users will correct bad claims, or there’ll be some genuine debate around the trade-offs involved in a particular policy. 

In practice, that type of engagement is vanishingly rare. Comments are used for dunks, “I hate what you believe in” replies and so on. Allowing people to comment on them is rather like giving everyone who sees a billboard a spray can and an invitation to add a moustache.

As for including share buttons on ads, it gives advertisers a way to get additional free reach if they can make their ads engaging. But the problems with this are two-fold and the upside even less obvious. 

First, it breaks the link between a paid ad and an organic post. When the shared ad appears in another feed or timeline, it’s no longer marked as an ad. This destroys important context (that a political campaign paid for the message to reach someone in the first place). 

Second, with platforms wishing to avoid fact-checking political ads, it increases the risk that political lies can be ‘laundered’ by unsuspecting users into the feeds and timelines of their friends and family. 

And the idea that people might share ads because they agree with the party or policy being put forward? Well that’s what organic content is for. Quite simply, campaigns buying ads should pay for every last impression that appears in front of a user.

As we’ve said before (and we’re now taking the opportunity to say again), platforms should remove unnecessary and potentially harmful social features in order to “make ads ads again”.

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